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Steve Brecher
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Tips From The Pros
Steve Brecher
Lesson: 27
How Bad are the Beats?

My name is Steve Brecher and I play online poker at Full Tilt Poker. If you
want to learn more about my poker career, keep reading.

The first time I played poker with strangers was in 1966, at age 21, at the
Cameo Club in Palo Alto, California. The game was No-Limit Ace-to-Five
Lowball with a Joker in the deck. In the ensuing years, I occasionally played
lowball, but mostly played limit during periods when I lived in California.

I first played Hold 'em on Aug. 25, 1993. I was edging into retirement from a
career in computer software, and played quite a few local tournaments and
Limit Hold 'em games. Starting in the mid-1990s, I played a few major
tournaments; my best finish back then was eighth out of 350 entrants in the
1999 $2,500 No-Limit Hold 'em tournament at the WSOP.

In December 2003, encouraged by the boom driven by TV and online poker, I
started to play most of the World Poker Tour and some other $5,000+ buy-in
tournaments. As of October 2005, I have cashed six times in WPT events,
and made one final table - a sixth-place finish in the 2004 WPT
Championship. In five Professional Poker Tour tournaments, I have finished
11th once and ninth twice. Additionally, I recently placed third in the 2005
United States Poker Championship.

While playing on Full Tilt 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 "fixed."

Let's go back to poker. Recently, I played a hand of No-Limit Hold 'Em on Full
Tilt Poker. 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 considered

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 my opponent.

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.

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