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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Poker Stories: Bad Beat Bad Beat

Every poker player has a bad beat story, where their opponent caught one of the few cards in the deck they needed to win -- a four-outer, a three-outer, a two-outer. Every poker room is filled with people telling bad beat stories, to the point where we've all heard every possible permutation. One guy in town used to wear a hat that read, "I will listen to your bad beat story for $5." I often want to interrupt the storyteller to ask, "Let me guess -- he hit it on the river?" 


But there are some bad beat stories that are so good I can't resist them. This is one of them.

Most poker rooms have a bad beat jackpot, for those rare instances where a monster hand -- four of a kind or better -- is beaten by an even bigger monster hand. These usually occur in games played at smaller stakes, where it's not too expensive to stick around to see another card ($3-6 limit, $1-3 no-limit hold'em). 

The jackpot is built by the casino taking $1 out of every pot, and putting it into a special fund which can eventually grow to six figures. When a bad beat jackpot hand occurs, the player who came in second (thus suffering the bad beat) gets 50% of the jackpot. The player with the winning hand gets 25%, and the remaining 25% is split between the other players at the table who were dealt into the hand.

At the stakes I play, since two giant hands like those heads-up in a pot is an even more rare occurrence (I can't remember seeing it for several years), we don't want to contribute to the jackpot pool when we're the least likely to win it, so we arranged with the casinos to not take a buck out of each of our pots in exchange for not being eligible for the jackpot.

The jackpot at Ameristar St. Charles was up to about $180,000 when the following hand occurred recently in a $1-3 no-limit game. I was not in the game, but heard the details from someone who was.

Several players were involved pre-flop, but the ones to focus on were Player A with two sixes and Player B, who held the eight and five of spades. The flop came out 966 with two spades. Player A bet right away (surprising since he's flopped four of a kind!), and Player B raised with his flush draw and inside straight draw. The others folded, and Player A just called. The turn was the 7 of spades, giving Player B a straight flush, which is better than four sixes.

Since the $1-3 players don't have much money in front of them (the maximum buy-in is $300), it all ended up in the middle at that point. They both recognized that this could be a bad beat jackpot hand, as Player A said, "I hope you have a really good hand" and Player B replied, "Oh, I do!" Everyone started getting excited.

That's when the dealer put out the river card: the 10 of spades. The players both revealed their hole cards, and everyone at the table went nuts, thinking they'd hit the jackpot -- the table share alone would have been $5,625 each. But Player B wasn't celebrating. His head hung low, because he understood what had just happened.

In order to qualify for the jackpot, players must use both of their hole cards to complete the hand. For Player A, the guy with sixes, that was no problem. But for Player B, his 9-high straight flush using his eight and five of spades on the turn had turned into a 10-high straight flush on the river, using only the 8 in his hand with the ten-nine-seven-six on the board. 

There was nothing he could do about it -- his hand no longer qualified for the jackpot. So, he won the pot, and his opponent's money, but nothing more. 

Talk about a rollercoaster of emotions in one hand. For Player B, when the 7 of spades hit the turn, it was the only card in the deck that could make his hand a winner -- and then the only other card in the deck that could counterfeit his hand for the jackpot came on the river. That ten of spades had cost him $45,000, and it cost Player A $90,000. 

Ironically, the Ameristar poker room also has a high-hand jackpot, so Player A (who had lost $250 in the hand) earned back $200 for his quad sixes, while Player B's one-card straight flush didn't get him any bonus money.

Now that's a bad beat.