Every serious or semi-serious no-limit Texas Hold’em player has experienced at least one truly atrocious bad beat, one that made him stand up and stare blankly at the board for several minutes as if the whole thing was a cruel joke. Some days I expect Ashton Kutcher to jump out from behind me and declare that I’ve been “Punk’d” and that the runner-runner one-card flush my opponent caught to crack my flopped set of aces was a setup. But it never happens. The game goes on as usual; poker waits for no one. Even the most insanely improbable bad beat doesn’t hold up a game, and it shouldn’t.
Sometimes, though, the person on the losing end of the beat takes it a little too personally. An otherwise decent player with a good head for mathematics and hand-reading, our hero falls victim to one of the most difficult aspects of the game: disappointment. The very next hand on Full Tilt Poker, he finds himself in middle position with a medium-strength hand like king-jack Looking back at two limpers (one of whom was the villain on the previous hand), he angrily reaches back and shoves the whole remainder of his stack into the pot. It folds around to the limpers, and the villain shrugs and calls the ridiculous overbet with king-nine. A nine comes on the river and the he takes down the pot.
Our hero rebuys for a full stack after the devastating loss, determined to bust that moron if it’s the last thing he does. The next hand he grins broadly as he looks down at a pair of tens in the pocket. He brings it in for a raise, and the small blind reraises him. He moves all-in, and the small blind thinks for a few seconds before calling with a pair of jacks. Again our hero is fuming and ready to put his fist through the table.
By the end of the night, our hero may find his bankroll depleted or worse. Even if he manages to catch some cards, he doesn’t play them as well as he could, and his demeanor is so wrought with emotion that his opponents can read him like a book. He makes mistakes that even an amateur wouldn’t make, and he bluffs away a ton of chips into opponents who are waiting and eager to call.
This kind of devastating turn of events can bust anyone at any time. The initial beat may have only been for peanuts, but the subsequent plays end up costing a ton of chips. Our hero may even find himself so furious and disappointed that he considers quitting the game. What caused him to lose so many chips, however, is that he neglected to take advantage of an opportunity; in fact, he played it exactly opposite of the way he should have.
At a table full of aware and decent players, and sometimes at a table full of rank amateurs, taking a horribly bad beat opens up a window of opportunity. For the next several hands (or even the next few rounds of hands), your opponents are going to be watching out for you. They know you took a bad beat, and they’re waiting to snap off the series of bad bluffs and out-of-place overbets they expect you to make, sometimes with hands they wouldn’t normally play. Expect to be called down by weaker holdings than usual by your more observant opponents..
As with any change in your table image, you ought to ride this pony for all it’s worth. Unfortunately, the way to do that is not what you’ll want to do. You’ll want to throw chips into the pot, not because it’s sound strategy, but because you are angry and really wouldn’t mind throwing the chips at the person who took your money so unjustly.
What you need to do, though, is to simply play solid poker from that point forward, and nothing else. Play as if you’re at a table full of loose, unsophisticated suckers who call down way too many bets with second-best hands. You may want to make it seem as if you’re steaming by balling up your fists, staring angrily at your opponents every so often, etc., but make sure that it’s only an act. Don’t think about bluffing, or even semi-bluffing, until you’ve convinced your opponents that you’re not on tilt. And definitely don’t try to single out the person who dealt you the bad beat.
You may even be able to put in a big overbet as a big favorite and get called down. In the situation above where the hero moved all-in over the small blind’s reraise with pocket tens, he could just as easily have made that play with aces or kings and gotten a call, where the small blind might have normally folded jacks. These kinds of opportunities are a way to refill the void in your stack created by the bad beat.
Of course, you won’t always catch good cards after the beat, but in that case you must grin and bear it. Bad beats are part of poker, and they always will be. If you think that you cannot keep calm enough to take advantage of the situation, it might be a good idea to take a break until you’ve cooled off. If you do take a break, though, you’re leaving a table that, at least temporarily, has become very profitable if played correctly. Instead of being angry about an event in the past, try to focus on how good your table just got. Bad beats can leave you reeling, but the potential profits that await should give you something to be happy about.