September 19, 2005
While playing online Poker, I have said
that there are three topics I won't discuss in
table chat; politics, religion, and whether online
poker is rigged. That's because many people's
opinions on those topics are hardened and not
amenable to friendly or productive discussion.
Away from the table, I'll venture a couple of
comments about improbable events in poker. While
not direct instruction in the tactics and strategy
of play, these comments may help you take
"bad beats" in stride -- and that, in
turn, is an essential part of poker maturity.
First, let's consider what most would view as a
typical "bad beat" -- a lower pocket
pair winning against a higher pocket pair in hold
'em, such as KK beating AA. When those hands share
one suit, the chance of the worse hand winning is
about 18%. The chance of the lower pair winning
twice -- that is, the next two times that such
hands happen to go against each other -- is about
3%. If in one session of play, a lower pocket pair
beat a higher pocket pair twice, that might seem a
little, well, weird to some players.
Consider another situation involving chance.
When two dice are thrown, the chance of rolling
"snake eyes" (1-1) is about 3% -- about
the same as a lower pocket pair beating a higher
pocket pair twice.
Suppose there were 600 craps tables using
standard, unaltered dice with nine players around
each table -- a total of 5,400 players -- and
these tables operated for a three-hour
"session." How many players would
observe snake eyes being thrown at least once? The
statistical expectation result is not important.
The point is that it's easy to intuitively see
that a large number of players would.
Further, do you think some players might see
snake eyes thrown several times in an evening --
say, three or four times? (That is equivalent to
six or eight poker "bad beats.") And if
some of those players would be inclined to report
their observation on forums and in chat, then it
might seem to some as if the dice were
Let's go back to poker. Recently, I played a hand
of No-Limit Hold 'Em. An
opponent four seats in front of the button
open-raised pre-flop. It was folded around to me
in the big blind, and I called. I semi-bluff
check-raised the flop, continued with a semi-bluff
bet on the turn, was raised all-in, and called the
raise. I made my draw on the river. After the hand
my opponent chatted:
opponent: ur horrible steve
opponent: why the [****] did u call that?
opponent: horrible that this site rewards that
(Confidential to opponent: I know these
comments were made in the heat of the moment after
a big loss and don't necessarily reflect your
Let's take a look at my call on the turn. I
held Ad Td; my opponent held Kd Kc. The board was
Qd 9d 7h Jc.
With my opponent's actual holding, I had 16
outs to win the pot on the river, making me a 1.75
to 1 underdog. Of course, it could have been worse
for me against other holdings, but even the worst
case for me would have been to be up against K-T
(a made straight), and then I would have been only
a 3 to 1 underdog.
After my bet and the opponent's all in-raise, I
was getting pot odds of 3.7 to 1 to call, so the
call is clearly correct. But it seemed to my
opponent -- and to at least one observer -- that I
made a bad call, and that my winning with a 36%
chance to do so when I called was a bad beat for
The moral of this story: While "bad
beats" (low-probability events) do occur,
sometimes a closer examination of a poker hand can
change first impressions and allow you to continue
to play with a cooler, clearer head.