Being on the wrong side of the bad poker beat

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In a recent GT issue, we discussed the situation when you were certain you had “the nuts” – the best possible hand – all the way from the flop, until the river card hit the board. At that point, an opponent caught quads – four-of-a-kind – and devastated your full-house. Very rare; but it can and does happen.

Today, we examine a somewhat more common situation – one in which I have twice personally been involved. On one occasion, I was the lucky winner; on the other, slaughtered. Oh well, that’s poker.

In a game of hold’em, say you are in a middle position, and have been dealt A-Q spades in the hole. That’s a very nice premium drawing hand! Several opponents limp in and you call along to see the flop. Raising might force out some opponents yet to act. You would rather keep them in for a while in case you make your hand, or catch four to the Ace-high spade flush. Then, you can better build the size of the pot you, hopefully, will win.

On the flop, the dealer deftly places Js-7s-2c on the board. With your A-Q of spades in the hole, you have a great draw to the nut flush. And, in addition, you have lots of good, solid outs – at least 12, counting the 9 spades and 3 Aces remaining unseen in the deck. (Being conservative, we are not counting the remaining 3 Queens.)

The Big Blind opens the betting after the flop. Three others call before you. From your middle position, you decide to raise it up; with your 12 outs, the pot odds sure look good. They all call your raise.

Five of you see the turn. It’s the 10 of spades. You now have the nut flush. Wow! And, what’s more, you have an inside draw to a royal flush.

Since you raised on the flop, your opponents respect you, and all check to you. So, you make the big bet; and three of them call to see the river with you. Holding the nut flush, you try not to show your great excitement. No tells from you.

Observing your opponents as the dealer lays the river card down on the board, you think you saw a tell when the Big Blind sat up straight in his chair, and then looked down at his stacks of chips. At least it makes you a bit apprehensive. The river card is the 8 of spades. Now there are four spades on the board. Scanning the board, you relax. You already had your nut flush, so a fourth spade should not matter. Thankfully, with no pair on the board, a full-house is not possible. At least that’s your thinking at the moment – optimistically.

The Big Blind comes out betting. His presumed tell comes to mind. Giving the board another quick scan, you assume he has caught a big flush. With four spades on the board, that is quite likely. But you have the A-high nut flush! After one other opponent calls the Big Blind’s bet, you calmly announce: “I raise!” And, you pile up the chips on the table in front of you. It’s a huge pot! Then you sit back to see how your opponent will respond. He reraises! That was not expected.

Time to pause and think. With just the two of you still in the hand, there is no limit on the number of raises allowed. Your inclination is to raise him back. But, then you pause to think. Carefully studying the board now, you realize it is possible he made a straight flush – if he has the 9 of spades in the hole. So you decide to just call his last raise.

Showdown: Your opponent turns up his holecards. He has pocket 9’s, one of which is the 9 of spades. He caught the straight flush on the river – with just one out – the 8 of spades. It was a “bad beat!” Boy, did that ever hurt!

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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