The Bad Beat and the Good Loser
by Rich McComas (updated Feb 6, 2004)
For new players, the most painful experience they will ever experience in poker is playing the best possible cards, doing everything right, and losing to a bad beat. The bottom line is that there simply is no insurance against bad beats. Bad Beats happen a small percentage of the time, frequently at all-in times when they are most painful. but they happen to everyone equally. In order to keep you from becoming discouraged and leaving, some casinos make special pay-outs to those who have great hands and lose the pot.
For most players, losing a lot of chips is both an emotional and financial blow, and many have developed complex sour grapes scenarios to deal with the loss, including making comments like, "he is a bad player" or "I played the odds right." One key to success at poker, however, is deciding when it is strategic to play a losing hand, and deciding who you should try to lose to. Losing to the player of your choice isn't always possible, but it is amazing how many times you are in position to decide or at least influence the final outcome of the game, even when you aren't going to collect anything from the pot.
Losing to the Right Player
I am always a good sport about losing a hand to the player directly to my right. In fact, given equal playing skills, sometimes I re-raise the player to my right on questionable cards simply because I want to isolate them and force everyone else out, and I would rather lose money to him than anyone else. At a poker table, money moves clockwise from him to me, and I will almost always be in a better position than him. Over time, I expect to collect some of his money as I later raise against him with superior cards forcing him to fold his chips to me or meet me at a showdown.
There are several other circumstances under which I would prefer to lose to someone other than the player on my right, including the following.
BAD PLAYERS: If you feel that you are facing more bad beats than normal, it might be that you are playing against a bad player, someone who stays in on a lark even though the odds tell them they shouldn't. I even met one player who regularly pays for the flop in online poker, because they are certain that the game is rigged, that the computer produces cards that benefit the lowest player in the pot in order to increase the size of the pot and therefore the size of the rake. I look for this guy at tables, because over the long run, I cream him. In fact, I have even considered spreading this rumor myself so that I can encourage more players to play just like him. The way he plays, he may win a few bad beats, but overall, he loses more than he makes.
NOT THE TIGHT PLAYER: When I find myself with a losing hand going up against two players, one who likes to stay in for the river against all odds, and the other an older tight player who wants to extend his play as long as possible, I prefer to lose to the bad player than to the tight player. Therefore, even if I have bad cards, I raise in order to drive the tight player out. If the tight player gets the money, it will be like extracting teeth to get it back. If I lose to a bad player, I can get the money back much quicker. If I drive the tight player out, I am then free to either call or fold depending upon the strength of my hand. I consider losing money to a player who is not as good as me to be a temporary loan.
RECENTLY SEATED: In a similar vein, I also don't mind losing to a person who has been recently seated at the table. Since they are not yet ready to get up and leave, they will probably stay long enough for me to win the money back. But, because I know that other people think the same way that I do about new players, if I am given a big pot early in my play, I sometimes leave the table as quickly as possible while trying to be as least offensive as possible.
GOING FISHING: Some really bad players with more money than brains or too much alcohol in their system stay in for every flop and bet to the river on very questionable hands. These "fish" may actually win a sizeable number of their pots, because others may have weak cards and a lower tolerance for pain in trying to stay in for the river. Since you only stay in for good hands, it may take you a very long time to take down one of these fish, but when you do, it will be very big. Also, since you know that every hand is going to go to the river, you are going to fold a bunch of small pots along the way, but don't let that bother you. The big kill will be more than satisfying when it happens.