Bad Beats are the ultimate insult in Poker – those rare or not so rare occasions in which your sound game and superior cards are busted by a probability freak, and Lady Luck seems to have it against you like a vengeful ex-wife. We have all heard and told the stories, and there are even forums especially dedicated to Bad Beats, with post titles such as “do you even see the fkin board moron?”, “OMFG…108 is the nuts” and “Idiots get me everytime” along with lots in even more colorful language (titles courtesy of PocketFives’ BadBeat forum.)

Everybody hates bad beats. Everybody. The world would be a better place without them, and if we cannot avoid them we should at least try to ignore them and hope they go away. So why are bad beats in the recent news? And why are some people so glad to be “badly beaten”?

Enter the Bad Beat jackpot, the consolation prize to pay for the furniture you broke in a rage last time your Quad Kings were cracked. If you play at a Bad Beat table, you may even find yourself wishing for a bad beat, since the accumulated jackpots tend to be into 5 figures, and even a percentage of such a prize is more than you would have made in the hand anyway unless you play at stratospheric stakes – at the time of writing this, Party Poker’s jackpot was over $47,600 at the time of writing, and counting! Bad Beat jackpots are very popular with players who like to hedge their bets, and this is why most casinos and poker networks offer them.

To make the most of all these jackpots, you have to understand how they work. You must of course be playing for cash, and in the tables especially designated as “Bad Beat” tables. The conditions on most poker sites tend to be a permutation of these:

  • The money for the prize can be supplied by the casino, or players add a little extra to the rake to accumulate into a Jackpot. For example, Party Poker takes 50 cents off the rake for the jackpot, which can build up quickly into $1000 per hour!
  • The winners sometimes receive a percentage of the jackpot according to the stakes, and the house sometimes keeps back a percentage as a “processing fee”. In the case of Party Poker, 70% is given out as a prize, 20% is the base for the next Jackpot, and the remaining 10% stays with the site as admin fees.
  • The minimum hand to qualify as a bad beat can be any 4-of-a-kind, quad 8s, or even Aces full of Kings in the stricter sites.

Poker maestro Mike Caro was brought in to testify on a case against awarding jackpots in casinos, since the general argued that jackpots were given out due to mere luck. Although Caro is not fond of the jackpot concept himself*, he did indeed make a winning case for jackpots being won through skill:

Under oath, I testified that there was skill in jackpots. You had to decide in what ways to modify your normal tactics in accordance with the remote chance of hitting a jackpot. That added an additional level of complexity and increased the skill. I also pointed out that the most skillful players would win fewer jackpots, simply because they were more selective and were more likely to fold hands that might claim the prize.

Bad Beat tables are not for everyone: some, like Mr. Caro, prefer to stare at luck straight in the face and take bad beats in the chin, but if you prefer to be on the safer side you should definitely give the bad beat tables a try. This may encourage you: in the past week, four Party Poker players have won between $18,000 and $63,000 in jackpot prizes… not a bad way to get over seeing your beautiful quad Aces run over by a pesky straight on the river!

* In Mike Caro’s words, why he thinks jackpots are not the thing for him. They have good reason for calling him the Mad genius!

Although I did the best I could in support of the casinos, I was secretly rooting for the attorney general. How come? It’s because, while intellectually I believed the casinos had every right to offer jackpots and that there was certainly skill involved, I hated the jackpot concept. Jackpots were bad for poker, because they caused players to make strange decisions in pursuit of the prize, and because money was taken out of each pot to build that prize. It wasn’t pure poker.

Another thing I hated about jackpots was that they took money out of the poker economy. When players made small, reasonable, everyday wins, they’d likely bring that money back to the tables and it would be recirculated. But when you awarded a $2-limit player $50,000 all at once, that money would disappear from the games and get used to buy vacations and refrigerators. There’s nothing I hate more than to see someone show off a new refrigerator bought with jackpot money. Sell that sucker and come back to the games like a responsible adult!

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