By Steve Beauregard – “Golf doesn’t build character, it reveals” goes the saying. The same can be said for poker.
Whether you’re the classy lady who offers a heartfelt “nice hand” after losing a big pot, or the trash talking hoodie-attired, sunglass-wearing slimeball who somehow feels the need to rub it in after a big win, how you act at the poker table says a lot about who you really are.
This is never more true than when you’re involved in a bad beat.
When it comes to playing poker, bad beats come with the territory, and sometimes they come often. So first let’s talk about how to act when you’re the one giving out the bad beat.
The first thing you should probably do is engage in some serious self-evaluation. Regardless of how many chips you’re scooping to your side of the table, don’t congratulate yourself. You have no reason to.
The fact that you only won because of a bad beat means you played the hand wrong. You had to come from behind to win, which means you either didn’t know where you were in the hand, or simply go outplayed. Neither case is a cause for celebration.
Instead, look back on the hand, to see where you went wrong. Did you observe your opponent and put him on a range of hands? Or were you simply playing your own cards?
Once early in my poker career, I was playing $1/$2 no-limit at The Wynn in Las Vegas, when I flopped a set of sixes. Two other players hung in there with me after the turn card came. I bet my trips, then got re-raised all in by the heavy-set off-duty dealer across the table.
(Go here to see how much money you need to play $1 $2 No limit Texas Hold’em)
“I call” I said quickly and confidently, excited by my future winnings. My opponent however proceeded to reveal a straight – a straight that I didn’t notice was out there due to my excitement about finally flopping a set.
Before I could hand my opponent my entire stack, the case six came on the river. I had delivered one of my first bad beats. Yet even then, when I was pretty new to poker, I knew this was no time for celebration. I may have been stacking a boat-load of chips, but I had gotten outplayed, and everyone (including me) knew it.
My point is that delivering a bad beat is an opportunity for you to improve your game. It’s a lesson. Fortunately it’s a lesson that actually pays you, so be sure to look back on the steps of the hand, to see where you went wrong.
In my case, I learned not to let the excitement and fireworks shooting off when flopping a set distract me from properly reading the board and analyzing the texture to see where my fellow players are, or could be,
(More etiquette: When is it OK to leave the poker table?)
Some other tips when delivering a bad beat to a fellow player:
Don’t say, “I’m sorry,” because you’re not. “Sorry” implies regret. You do not regret having your 9/6 off suit beat a pair of Kings. If you had your choice, you would give him another bad beat the very next hand.
I realize you think you’re being nice an compassionate by uttering an apology, but it will always come across rightfully so as insincere.
So what do you do when your hand is a big underdog and you scoop a pot you had no business being in? Listen carefully: YOU SHUT UP.
Don’t apologize. Don’t shake your head in mock sadness. Don’t say “Wow!” or “I got lucky,” or “That’s my favorite hand to play.” And certainly don’t laugh. Hell, don’t even smile. Jump for joy inside, but stay classy on the outside.
The objective is to both have fun and win money.
(Go here for Tips on how to act when playing live casino poker)
Now, what do you do when you are the victim of a bad beat?
Get used to it for one.
In your poker career, you will receive a countless number of unbelievable, agonizing, frustrating, heart-breaking soul-crush bad beats and coolers. (Here’s the definition of a cooler in poker). They’ll come on the first hand on your poker vacation, or when you’re on the bubble, about ready to make the money in a tournament.
They’ll come from bad players and good ones too. No one is immune from them. The newbie who is playing her first game of Texas hold’em, and who is winning every single pot, who seems blessed by the gods of lucky, will face her share of bad beats, just as sure as you will.
The secret is acceptance. A bad beat is not a sign that the poker Gods hate you, or that you’re due some bad karma. It’s simply math, and the cards don’t care about anything else.
A certain percentage of the time, you’re all-in with Aces pre-flop will lose to a pair of 4’s, or an 8/6 off suit. That’s life. Get used to it.
Shake your head if you must, cuss under your breath, but take your beating like a man. “Nice hand” or “That was a tough one,” are acceptable responses, but the best one is to let it go and move on to the next hand.
I realize how easy that sounds, but do whatever it takes to mentally move past it. Go for a walk, think happy thoughts (and yes I’m serious), or recall those times when you sucked out on someone.
Whatever you do, don’t criticize your opponent. Nothing good comes of it, and it’s bad for the game. As we discussed earlier, the fact they gave you a bad beat means they were behind. It’s likely they aren’t very good player, so don’t scare them away by taunting their bad play. You’ll want them around and see them engage in other situations where they put their chips in the middle while holding the worst of it.
“Nice catch,” – said with an air of disdain, is something you’ll often hear from an immature player who just received a bad beat. It’s his way of mocking the player.
Don’t say that. Don’t sarcastically them tell they’re really good or any other insult designed to do nothing more than blow some steam out of your ears while denigrating what you consider to be an inferior opponent.
Proper bad beat etiquette means acting like a gentleman. Be polite, courteous and always a good sport, win or lose. It’s good for the game.
More importantly, it’s good for your soul.