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Overcoming Bad Beats

by Shari Geller

I’ve been having trouble writing again since my friend, co-host and former editor Lou Krieger passed away in December. When something hits you for a loop, it’s not easy bouncing back. But that’s what we all must learn to do, take what comes your way and don’t let it stop you. This is not just good advice for life, but also crucial advice to poker players. How you deal with adversity is much more important than how you handle when everything is going your way.

 The bad beat. We’ve all had them. We love to regale our bored friends and families with the outrage of that miracle card that gave some jerk the hand that should have been ours, conveniently omitting any time we were the lucky recipient of a miraculous suck out. Losing a hand that we are convinced “should have been ours” has a way of taking over our brain. It burrows in there laying seeds of doubt, frustration, and resignation. We lose focus and feel compelled to replay that hand over and over as if on repeated plays we can eke out a different result.

So how do you avoid falling into that black Hellmuthian hole of “self-pity?” When you’ve lost a hand that is going to get under your skin – whether it’s because your opponent hit a one-outer on the river or your opponent played 3-6 offsuit after a preflop raise and the board hit him like he owed it money – give yourself a minute to regroup. Sit out the next hand, get up from the table for a minute, put in your headphones and listen to some music, take a sip of water and a deep breath. Do something to help you get centered, regroup, and start anew.

 If you jump right into the next hand still steaming, your judgment will be clouded. You’ll be angry and frustrated, “on tilt,” and when those emotions take over, common sense and rational thinking goes out the door. So whether it’s falling back on the old standby “that’s poker” or the more generalized (and PC) “stuff happens,” you need to realize that a bad beat is as inevitable as death and taxes. Don’t take it personally as a sign the poker gods hate you. It is part of poker and, as with all things in life, we must take the good with the bad.

 You can go even further and reframe the bad beat in your mind. If you really were the favorite and only a miracle card cost you the hand, what does that actually mean about your play? It means you made good judgment calls and played properly. You managed to get your opponent to get their money in way behind you. Those are great things. Do not let the outcome of any one particular erase that. Recognize that over time, if you continue to play well you will prevail. Lou once wrote, “You have it in your power to turn a bad beat around simply by realizing this simple truth: The more bad beats you encounter, the luckier you are. It’s a sign that you are playing against opponents who continually take the worst of it, and if you can’t beat someone who always takes the worst of it, you can’t beat anyone.” So next time you suffer a bad beat, don’t think how unlucky you are; think instead how lucky you are that you got it in with the best hand.

 You can apply this lesson to life as well. When you suffer a loss, you can think I was lucky to have that person in my life instead of thinking how unlucky you are that they had to leave. I’m feeling lucky.

 Shari Geller is an attorney, journalist, reporter, blogger, poker player, and observer of the poker scene. You can write her at, and read her blog at

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