Straight Skinny: Bubble Boy (bad beat)

Fred wrote to tell me his latest bad-beat story. He played in a large, free-roll tournament held at his local casino’s ballroom and squeaked through the early levels by stealing blinds and catching an occasional hand.

After eight hours the director announced that the tournament paid one hundred players and that one-hundred-and-one players remained. The director also upped the blinds to 1,500-3,000.

Fred had 25,000 in chips in middle position when he peeked at his hand and saw Kh-Kh, the best hand he held all day! Fred raised to 9,000 and everyone folded except the button, who raised him all-in. Grasping his chance to double-up, Fred called. They tabled their hands and Fred’s heart sank when he saw the button’s aces.

PokerStove™ informed us that Fred had an 18 percent chance to prevail over those aces before the flop. Knowing he had little chance, Fred stood and started to collect his belongings. The dealer flopped these three cards.


Fred had flopped a full house! He sat down, beaming at his good fortune. PokerStove informed us that he went from an 82 percent underdog to a 91 percent favorite! Only an ace barred him from doubling up.

The dealer burned a card and turned an ace. Fred rose again for he had only one out, the remaining king, a 2.2 percent chance.


Stepping off his emotional roller coaster ride, Fred watched the dealer put a blank on the river. He wished everyone, “Good luck,” and went gently into that balmy evening.

When he got home and explained what happened, his wife asked, “Why didn’t you wait until someone else busted out?”

Fred explained about M, the ratio of one’s stack size to the size of the big blind. With an M less than twenty, he told her, the experts recommend shoving all-in with any reasonable hand, much less than pocket kings, the best hand he held all day.

“Isn’t there an asterisk,” she asked, “in those experts’ recommendations which allows for an exception when you’re on the bubble? If there isn’t, then there should be!” Fred agreed with his wife and changed the subject. Later that evening he e-mailed us the whole story, bemoaning his bad beat.

We agreed about his having bad luck and disagreed about using the term bad-beat. With two outs, the probability of Fred’s opponent not hitting either out equals C(43,2)/C(45,2), which equals 0.912. So, we know that a player hits either of two outs on the turn or river with a probability of 0.087, or about one time in eleven.

Should he just dump his pocket kings and wait until someone else bubbles out, or should he shove? He had odds of about 25-to-1 against any one of the other eight players having pocket aces. He also had enough chips for at least one orbit of the dealer button, giving him time for someone else to bust out. Surely, someone else had a very short stack.

We think Fred forgot that tournaments differ from cash games. In a cash game if someone draws out on you, then you can reload. In a tournament if someone draws out on you, then you must pick up your stuff and go home, because they booted you off the island! He didn’t heed the first principle of tournaments: Survive!

However, in Harrington on Cash Games, Vol. I, p9, Harrington and Robertie wrote, “…in tournament poker, your time horizon is very limited. You need to seize every opportunity as it presents itself or risk getting blinded away…” No asterisk in that statement, so Harrington and Robertie endorse Fred’s action.

You choose.

Mark Brown
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