The losing hand: Tale of a would-be bad beat

July 12, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 12, 2014

Thursday night. The early tournament at Oh’ Mulligan’s in Morrisville, N.C. It’s about 10 minutes to 9 p.m.; the early tournament, which started a bit after 7:30 p.m., has just shrunk down to the final table. My group of players has been summoned to what I think of as the head table, near the largest television in the establishment. I am sitting facing the screen on the far right.

Blinds, I think, are 2,000 and 4,000 chips. I am second to act. The man who is first to act — at this moment, the player on the end of the table, who’s sitting directly opposite tournament director John Martin — folds.

My hole cards are the king and queen of clubs. “All in,” I say, shoving 29,000 in gray and black chips that represent nominal units of value.

Fold, fold, fold, fold — action proceeds around the table, with no one wishing to call my bet. I stare down at the black surface in front of me, trying to maintain a perfect expression of impassivity as one person after the other returns cards to the dealer…

The dealer folds. The small blind folds. The big blind — hesitates.

The player in the big blind is a lean, balding man white named Mark, whom I’d cleaned out at the second game in Oh’ Mulligan’s precisely one week before. He’s probably in his mid-40s.

I glance at Mark’s chip stack and notice that he’s got a lot more chips than I do — perhaps twice as many, and maybe even more than that. I return my gaze to the table, trying to present blankness and indifference.

But I wonder: Is he going to call me? Is he about to fold? Mark sighs and fiddles with his chips.

At one point, I flinch. I immediately chastise myself for showing a sign of potential weakness. Mark continues to mull things over…

Finally, he calls. He has a pair of sevens. I reveal my cards and hope for the best.

And the best is — almost what I get. The first card in the flop is the ace of clubs. The second one is the nine of clubs. I need only one more club to make the nut flush, and I’m just two cards away from a royal flush, the ultimate poker hand.

But that’s it; no more clubs come out.

Neither does another king or queen, which would give me a higher pair than Mark. And neither does jack-10, which would give me a straight. (A six-card straight, in point of fact.)

Result: Mark is victorious with his lowly pair of sevens. I stand up from the table, vanquished.

I’ve got about 40 minutes to kill until the next game. Mark, to my chagrin, is soon knocked out, despite having won all my chips.

On Friday, I go to a poker odds calculator and plug in the cards in the hand. The calculator reveals that starting out, Mark’s sevens had a higher chance of winning than my suited king and queen. (The probability is in his favor, roughly 50.8 percent to 48.8 percent.) To my surprise, those victory odds remain unchanged even with two clubs going onto the board.

So even though I thought of my experience as a bad beat, the initial odds held true. It speaks, I suppose, to the power of the pair.


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