Bad Beats Lessons From the Track
Ashley Adams
June 26, 2022

World Series of Poker footage shows Daniel Negreanu suffering a bad beat while playing the $250,000 high roller the other day. The moment was caught on video. We can watch him slam the table in anger and then throw his camera on the ground, as he leaves the table in frustrated rage.

The moment was captured well by CardsChat reporter, Kevin Taylor.

The hand in question saw Andrew Robl raise to 90K at blind levels of 20K-40K. David Peters, who won the $100K High Roller Bounty event to start the WSOP, three-bet shoved for 1.5 million with Q♠-10♠. Next to act, Negreanu woke up with a dominating hand, a pair of 10s, and called to create a huge pot early on.
The flop came K♦ 9♠ 6♥, which gave Peters some more outs. The 7♠ turn gave him even more. A third spade came on the river, giving Peters the flush, and causing the outburst from Negreanu.
Though few if any of us play $250,000 tournaments, nevertheless, there is a knowing feeling we have when we watch the scene. Though many of us may have secretly enjoyed the spectacle – seeing that even the poker greats like Kid Poker aren’t immune to the frustration of a really bad beat – we can all appreciate the pain, having had equivalent moments in our own play.

Yes, it was surely a bad beat – going from favorite to loser on that hand. But how bad was it really? Some pundits described it as “soul crushing”. Was it?

Let’s look at it from the perspective of how far behind the underdog hand was. Pre-flop, Qs Ts loses to Td Tc 62% of the time – making it a little better than a 2 to 1 underdog. On the flop of Kd 9s 6h, it goes down to losing 66% of the time – almost exactly a 2 to 1 dog. The turn of the 7s returns the odds to a bit better than they were on the flop – 59% — making Peters, once again, a little better than a 2 to 1 underdog. And then Negreanu’s TT lose to the flush on the river.

It’s an awful feeling to go from being a favorite to a losing hand. Within the context of poker, the outrage and explosion seem to fit. But when you put it in the perspective of another gambling endeavor, horse racing, the feeling of outrage seems oddly misplaced.

This is horse racing season – with the recent end of the sport’s most popular series of events, the Triple Crown. There was first the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness, and finally the Belmont Stakes. Each of these races were won by a horse other than the favorite. As it turned out, the betting favorite finished second in each race.

In the Kentucky Derby, the winner was a true longshot – 80 to 1 shot Rich Strike. He beat the favorite Epicenter who went off at 4 to 1. In the Preakness it was Early Voting, the second favorite. He went off at 5 to 1 and beat the 6 to 5 betting favorite, who was, once again, Epicenter. Finally, in the Belmont, Mo Donegal won as the second favorite, paying 5 to 1, beating favorite Nest, the 7 to 5 favorite.

For the favorite, these were surely bad beats. They were actually worse beats than what Daniel suffered against David Peters in the $250,000 super high roller. But there was no gnashing of teeth, no storming off the track, no demonstrations of rage and fury. In all three big horse races, the favorite just lost. Sure, the beaten favorites weren’t happy about the outcome. But they accepted it. In horse racing, a 5 to 1 shot winning is no big deal.

We poker players seem to make much more of these bad beats than our horsemen brethren, even though our beats are often much more common. When AA loses to 7-2, it’s treated like an impossibility. But it’s the equivalent of a 9 to 1 shot winning a race – something that happens regularly. We all act as if AA losing to KK is a terrible, soul crushing bad beat. But it’s no worse than the 5 to 1 shot winning in the Preakness and Belmont. And, as we saw, Daniel’s bad beat, called “soul crushing” by some, was so common as to be more likely to happen than a 2 to 1 betting favorite winning a horse race.

I don’t know why we poker players get so upset about events, that in the rest of the betting world are considered par for the course. But I do think we have something to learn from horse racing. Perhaps we should hang around the track more often. Maybe some of their acceptance of underdogs winning will rub off on us, and we’ll be more likely to take our bad beats…in stride.

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Written by

Ashley Adams

Venerable grinder, 7-stud enthusiast, host of “House of Cards Radio” and author of Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day (D&B Publishing, 2020).

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