How to Handle Bad Beats in Online Poker

Dean McHugh
20 December 2023

Poker—the greatest card game on earth—is subject to the caprices of skill and luck. While the percentage of skill and luck may vary among poker variants and players, one thing is for sure: every poker player will have to learn how to handle both.

It’s rewarding for players to upskill and implement new strategies to improve their game. But there’s nothing a player can do to improve their luck. Alas, Lady Luck is a fickle mistress—and she doesn’t care how many hours you spend working on your game, whether you’re playing the best poker of your life or whether you’ve suffered through bad beat after bad beat after bad beat.

Dealing with a bad beat can be a source of emotional frustration for a poker player, and it can do a number on a player’s mental game.

The Lowdown on Bad Beats: What Are They?

A “bad beat” refers to a frustratingly unlucky situation or outcome wherein a player with a stronger hand loses to an opponent who had a weaker hand but landed unlikely cards during the turn or the river that gave them the better hand to win a pot.

This kind of situation is referred to as a bad beat because it can feel unfair for a player who initially had a stronger hand and played their hand using an optimal strategy, only to lose to the luck of the draw. That said, it’s important to remember that bad beats are part and parcel of the game of poker, and even players like Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson have been on the end of a bad beat from time to time.

However, by following these six practical strategies to handle bad beats in poker, you’ll be equipped with the right tools to weather the storm of bad luck and get back into your best poker form by the next hand.

1. Accept that Bad Beats WILL Happen

There are no two ways about it: bad beats ARE going to happen. That is not a cliché; it is just a fact of life, just as death and taxes are. You can have a hand with a 90% chance of winning going into a flop and STILL lose some of the time.

Therefore, the first thing you need to acknowledge and accept is the fact that there WILL be bad beats. Accepting their existence is the first step to staying emotionally balanced even after getting on the wrong end of a bad beat. Likewise, appreciate the fact that you will be on the right end and suck out another player with one of your own.

Ultimately, the probability of hitting four of a kind (or “quads” in poker parlance)—or a better hand—and STILL losing is approximately 1 out of 2,000,000. Think about how tiny that is: you’d have to play an average of 2,000,000 hands before you could see a hand of quads get beaten. As you can see, the probability of a bad beat is low, but it isn’t zero, and it never will be. They can happen, but probability resets after every round. Don’t let a bad beat shake you—stay focused on your game.

2. Don’t Chase Losses after Bad Beats

You can get easily flustered after a bad beat. But that’s exactly why you should rein in your emotions and avoid the temptation to go full tilt. When you’re on tilt, you can end up chasing losses—and that’s a common mistake that can get you on a downward spiral of even more losses.

When you’re emotionally frustrated or on tilt after a bad beat, you’re more likely to make bad decisions. This can sidetrack you from playing your game and sticking to an optimal strategy, playing hands you normally wouldn’t.

Always remember that the odds of winning a hand of poker will remain the same whether you win or lose a pot—the same is true if you’re on the wrong end of a bad beat. Chasing losses is simply an attempt at forcing the odds in your favour—and Lady Luck doesn’t take too kindly to that. The odds are the odds, and the breaks are the breaks. Every time you take a bad beat, remember to stay disciplined, stick to your strategy, and err on the side of restraint with your bankroll.

3. Go Let It Out, Take a Break, Then Move Past It

Feeling upset and ready to tilt after eating another bad beat? It’s perfectly normal to feel hard done by at the vagaries of poker and let off a stream of invective at the dealer or your opponents. But by any means—don’t lose your composure at the table. Resist the temptation to melt down or steam.

If you’re feeling upset after a bad beat, take a deep breath. If you must let it out, by all means, do so—step away from the table, take a load off, clear your head, and return once you have regained composure. Taking breaks can save you from making rash, emotionally charged decisions that can lead to further losses.

So, if you need to vent out your frustration, do so in a way that won’t get you thrown out of the casino or the online poker room. Do whatever it takes to get back to your emotional and mental baseline such that when you sit back down, you’re ready to play at your best.

4. Use Bad Beats as a Learning Opportunity

A series of bad beats in a row can get to even the best players. Beyond all of the time and effort spent thinking in a rational, detached, mathematical, and logical way, one thing is for sure: everyone wants to win, and nobody likes to lose. That’s what makes bad beats so frustrating. You can make all the right moves by the book and work so hard to get yourself in an optimal position to win a hand, but it’s your opponent who gets rewarded with your chips for his ill-advised play.

But instead of seething, consider your bad beat as a learning opportunity. Bad beats can serve as an opportunity to identify what you can improve about your play style and go over your moves. Analyse what happened and determine if there were any other plays that could have led to a different outcome. If you can identify mistakes in the build-up to the bad beat, these can serve as an opportunity to improve your game in the future.

5. Stay Calm and Get a Hold Of Yourself

It’s important to keep calm whenever you get on the wrong side of a bad beat. Maintaining a tight rein on your emotions, keeping a positive mental attitude, and staying in perspective are everything in poker. Ultimately, we’re all human, and emotions can and will get the better of us sometimes—but no matter what, you have to resist it to avoid tilting.

Take a deep breath and remember that bad beats are a part of the game. Don’t let emotions get the better of you and make emotional decisions out of impulse, especially after eating yet another bad beat.

Sure, you might feel better about yourself by making remarks about your opponent’s skill level (or lack thereof), but it’ll be in bad taste and make you look like a loser, whether in a brick-and-mortar casino or in online gambling. Just take the high road, compliment your opponent’s hand, and stay above it all. Keeping it fun and not letting it get to your head will give you a better chance to get back to your emotional and mental baseline.

6. Accept the Element of Variance and Luck in Poker

It might be cold comfort after running into your nth straight bad beat, but ultimately, think rationally and realise that despite your bad luck, you still made the right play. The advent of online poker has made it easier for players to run into bad beats more often due to the scores of new players and the faster pace of online games.

Nevertheless, poker has never been more profitable for players who can overcome temporary flights of bad luck. It’s vital to remember that while poker is a game of skill, the game is still subject to variance and luck. Don’t change up your playstyle just because you’ve been through an unbelievable stretch of bad luck—short-term results don’t reflect your skill level.

The final word

If poker could be distilled to a set of rules and probabilities that separate the winners from the losers, then it would become a boring exercise in who can follow the most optimal ruleset. It’s the variance and the luck that makes poker so thrilling.

Learning how to overcome your reactions to bad beats and streaks of bad luck is a life lesson that applies at the tables, in online poker rooms, and in life. Following the practical strategies in this article will help you improve your response when things inevitably go south in poker, as they sometimes unexplainably do.

Bad Beat Poker FAQs

  1. What Is A “Bad Beat” In Online Poker?

    In simple terms, a bad beat is losing a poker hand where you were the odds-on favourite to win.

  2. How Common Are Bad Beats In Online Poker?

    Bad beats seldom happen in poker. Some players may get bad beats more or less frequently depending on factors like variance and luck. The cards don’t “remember” the previous result—every hand will generate a new random result.

  3. Can You Avoid Bad Beats?

    Bad beats are an inevitable and ever-present part of poker. While it may not be possible to completely avoid bad beats in poker, you can do your best to minimise their frequency and mitigate their impact. Ultimately, poker is a game of skill and luck, and by focusing on improving one’s skills and making smart decisions, players can increase their chances of success and minimise the frustration caused by bad beats

  4. Should I Change My Playing Style After Experiencing A Bad Beat?

    Don’t change your playstyle after experiencing a bad beat unless you’ve made a clear mistake, such as calling a big bet with a weak hand. If you simply got the short end of the stick in luck and lost to a stronger hand, then you don’t need to make any drastic changes to your playing style.

  5. How Can I Emotionally Cope With A Bad Beat In Online Poker?

    Bad beats are inevitable whether you play live or online poker, and they are definitely emotionally frustrating. However, you can prevent them from ruining your game by accepting that they happen and by not taking them personally. Bad beats are a product of variance, which is the natural run of results in poker.

  6. Can Bankroll Management Help Mitigate The Impact Of Bad Beats?

    Even world-class players like David Negreanu and Doyle Brunson have eaten their fair share of bad beats. You can’t avoid bad beats every time, but you can learn how to handle them.Managing one’s bankroll is crucial in avoiding the negative impact of bad beats. By setting aside a dedicated bankroll for poker and only playing with a portion of it in each session, players can protect themselves from significant losses caused by unfortunate hands.

Author Dean McHugh

I am a full-time Sports Betting & Casino Content Writer based in the UK. I have years of knowledge, covering a broad range of different sports. If I don’t know about it, it's not worth knowing! My favourite sports are Football, Tennis, Golf, Snooker, Cricket, Boxing and MMA. As you can tell...I love sports! I have a passion for the Casino and iGaming industry, I have worked in and around it for the best part of 20 years.