The Truth About Bad Beat Jackpots

The Paper!

When you first enter a live poker room, it's hard to miss the display flashing the current size of the bad beat jackpot.

But remember: a guaranteed bonus is always worth more than the hope of a jackpot.

Many poker rooms, both live and online, have bad beat jackpots. These are cumulative jackpots awarded in set proportions to players participating in a "bad beat" hand being dealt. Typically the payout is divided as follows:

  • 50% of the jackpot total is received by the player who LOST the bad beat hand.
  • 25% of the jackpot total is received by the player who WON the bad beat hand.
  • 25% of the jackpot total is divided equally among the remaining players at the table dealt into the hand.

Although every room is free to choose its own rules for its bad beat jackpot, most rooms stick to a fairly common formula:

Live poker bad beat - Full house, aces full of tens (or better), beaten by quads (or better)

Online poker bad beat - Quad eights (or better) beaten by a better hand

There are tons of different variations of the specific rules; we're going to use the most common for this scenario.

This means both players have to use both of their hole cards to make the best five-card hand (you can't make a straight flush in which you use only a single card from your hand), and you must have a pocket pair to make quads.

Can You Really Win a Jackpot?

Obviously the odds of winning a bad beat jackpot are much better live, with the more relaxed qualifications. Since it's easier to win in that context, we're going to use it for our example.

The odds of a live bad beat jackpot being hit at your table are 0.00002359% or about 1-42,391 (the online ratio is much worse at around 1-192,678).

This ratio of one in 42,391 is actually giving you better odds than you will get in reality. This number assumes 10 players are dealt a hand every hand, and every hand sees the river.

In reality you will have people fold hands before that river which would have hit the bad beat if they had remained in the hand.

A Hypothetical Scenario

John Juanda
Your odds of winning the WSOPE are better than those of winning a bad beat jackpot - plus it's a lot more fun.

Since it's impossible to calculate such a number, we will use what we have. To make this concept simple we're going to imagine a scenario.

In this scenario there is a poker room with a bad beat jackpot, and only one table. Casinos take $1 from every pot to go toward the bad beat jackpot (this is on top of any rake). This translates into a couple of things.

If your table is dealt exactly 42,391 hands, your table will have collectively paid a total of $42,391 to the bad beat jackpot. We're going to assume that every player paid an equal share (again, in reality, some players will take down far more pots than others).

This means every player paid $4,231 to the jackpot total.

Assuming the jackpot was won on the last hand, we can calculate the win/loss for the players.

  • The player who lost the bad beat hand won $21,195.50 for a net gain of $16,964.50
  • The player who won the bad beat hand won $10,597.75 for a net gain of $6,366.75
  • The remaining eight players each won $1,324.71 for a net loss of $2,906.28

Two players made money, eight players lost money.

This doesn't take into account the casino taking a cut of the bad beat drop for "administrative fees," or the fact that poker rooms will hold back a percentage of the total money as a reserve, so the next bad beat doesn't start dry.

In the real world, there will be a minimum of 16% less money in the total prize pool, and a much worse chance at hitting the jackpot in the first place.

Not only that, even if you sit for 42,391 hands, and don't get dealt a bad beat after 42,390 hands, you still only have a 0.00002359% chance at hitting it on the next hand. (If that seems strange to you, you might be suffering from the Gamblers Fallacy.)

Multiple Tables, One Jackpot

Once you add multiple tables into the mix, the numbers get even more depressing.

If you have four tables, all getting dealt hands at the exact same rate, statistically one table will hit a bad beat after getting dealt 10,597 hands. (Well, somewhere in those hands it will happen. Again, we're going to assume they get it on the very last hand dealt.)

In this scenario, the winner and loser of the hand both make money, the table share players each lose around $200, and the other 30 players in the room on other tables all lose $1,597 each. The more tables you add, the more losers you will have.

Are Bad Beats ... Bad?

Thinking ahead
Big jackpots fill the tables.

Before you throw up your hands and start complaining, remember one very important aspect to bad beats - when the jackpot is large, the room will be filled with unskilled players hoping to get lucky.

At these times, the money you make from these hopeful players should greatly outweigh the money you lose to the jackpot drop. Players who are playing exclusively for the bad beat are most likely compulsive gamblers, players living and playing solely on hope.

These are the players you want at your poker table. Sometimes having just one of these players on your table will be enough to allow a good player to have a very good session.

The big jackpots bring the big fish; the big fish book your largest wins.

Look at the bad beat jackpot as the cost of bait. You have to buy bait if you want to catch fish. As long as you're a winning player who can take advantage of a real live fish, the bad beat can be your best friend.

Take the Guaranteed Money

If you'd like to avoid the bad beat situation altogether, the solution is to play at tables which don't take an additional bad beat rake. Online poker is the simplest way to play poker bad beat-rake-free.

Not only do many sites not even offer a bad beat jackpot, the ones that do offer you the choice of playing a jackpot table or a non-jackpot table.

If you're looking for free money, the best way to do that is by taking advantage of sign-up bonuses. Not only will you receive a bonus shortly after you start playing, almost all online rooms also periodically offer reload bonuses to loyal players.

If you want to roll the dice on a jackpot, the general sign-up bonus will make up for all the money you donate to the jackpot pool along the way.

After all, even a long shot's not a gamble if it's free.

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