On Whining About Bad Beats

Jeff Madsen

Today, let’s have a little riff on the psychology of bitching, whining and complaining about bad beats.

Bad beat stories have been discussed to death on chat rooms and poker forums. A consensus has emerged:

I. They never get you the sympathy you think you deserve.

But there's a deeper story here:

II. Complaining about your misfortunes at the table is likely to backfire and result in more abuse being dumped on you.

The first is obvious. You don't get sympathy because no one cares. Every poker player alive has had their flopped nuts cracked by a two-outer and doesn't give a rat's ass that it just happened to you. I used to get really ticked at players, especially ones who repeatedly tell these stories and, worse, wouldn't listen to mine.

I finally developed a simple rule. I will listen and nod the first time I get assaulted by someone. But that's their only shot at it. If they come back for a repeat performance, I hand them a card that I carry with me. It reads, on one side:

"Your bad beat story has touched my heart. Never before have I heard a story like that. You have my sincere sympathy. Now fuck off and stop bothering me."

And, just to drive the point home, I flip it over so they can see:

"Pardon me, but you have evidently mistaken me for someone who gives a shit. Here's a quarter. Go call someone who gives a fuck."

Okay, that's one way to take something vaguely annoying and make it amusing. But it's the second point that I want to get to.

There's a lot of psychology going on here, in the bad beat stories themselves as well as the range of responses that people have to the person telling them. Let's get our intuitions rolling by considering two "real world" situations.

Case 1 -- A bad beat to a neutral person: A tornado totally leveled his house and smashed his car. Here, suffering garners sympathy; this person's pain draws others to empathize.

Neighbors, friends and total strangers rally around in a chorus of support. In fact, he can complain about the injustice of it and they will listen and acknowledge. No one doubts his sincerity; no one wishes further pain on him.

Case 2 -- A bad beat to a member of a discriminated group: Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The inner-city poor took the brunt of the disaster. At first, their suffering drew support and concern.

But further complaints of neglect and injustice were often not greeted with sympathy but with continued scorn and not-so-subtle prejudice. This reaction against those clearly suffering was so dramatic that it shocked many.

But most psychologists weren't shocked. For some time we've known that despised individuals and groups who are suffering often garner, not sympathy and support, but further abuse. When we dislike the one in pain, we are quite comfortable with increasing the pain.

In fact, as recent work by Roland Imhoff has shown, this pattern is found even when, initially, there were no negative feelings about those suffering.

I hope you can see how these findings apply to the teller of bad beat stories.

The whiners, the complainers end up getting treated like a despised minority.

We may briefly see ourselves in their eyes, we may even feel a fleeting dollop of empathy, but basically we view them as weak, pathetic creatures who haven't yet learned the lessons of life, poker life. They deserve what they get.

So, even in those cases where the poor sucker you've cornered to bitch at seems to be sympathetic, he's probably not. In fact, he is almost certainly increasing the level of disdain he holds you in and looking to inflict even greater pain on you the first chance he gets.

For the poker player the lesson is dead simple. Stop bitching; no more bad beat stories. Not only are you not getting the sympathy you are looking for, you are lowering your reputation, damaging your image and making it more likely that opponents will want to pummel you more, just to see you suffer.

Is there any upside here? Yes, but it's one that is tough to pull off. It is possible to use whining and bitching as a weapon to put others on tilt or, more subtly, to make them try to target you.

It is a fundamental mistake in poker to try to "get" someone for it almost invariably leads to errors and misplays because you're focusing on the wrong things. I'll have a future column on this.

If interested, you can find Imhoff's research here.

More articles by Arthus S. Reber:

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Arty Smokes 2011-06-18 04:31:49

Another thought-provoking article. Nice one Arthur.
I'm too sympathetic a person to wish evil on someone that's already experienced a personal disaster, although I do feel more than a tinge of shadenfreude when I see someone like Mike "the Mouth" Matusow being silenced by a 2-outer.
With regard to things like hurricanes and earthquakes, there's that wonderfully horrible phrase "compassion fatigue". There's only so much video footage of tsunamis you can watch before you're like "Yeah, yeah. Thousands of people have been killed and made homeless. Now what are the football scores?"
I think we all have compassion fatigue when it comes to bad beat stories. The thing is, part of the human way of dealing with problems is to put them into words. We can only move on to something new once we've "told the world" of the horror we've experienced; a problem shared is a problem halved.

Real life example:

Daniel Negreanu busted out of a WSOP event yesterday, and immediately posted on twitter about his bad beat. He wrote and I quote "What the hell! Last hand AQ vs 9T spades. Flop QJJ turn J. River K I lose. He made a straight flush. Out in 26th and ready to break stuff." (He went on to smash his headphones).

I felt somewhat sympathetic and almost sent a "Poor you" reply.

Today, Daniel bought some new headphones and entered another event. He wrote this: "Called raise with 3567 3 clubs. Flop 789 clubs straight flush! Busted 2 guys."

Now I think he's such a smug bastard that I might go on tilt myself!

Not that anyone cares. ;)

playing a rigged game 2011-01-03 18:37:55

i love it, internet poker has taught me to show no sympathy for anything nor anyone now, if i see 'car bomb kills 93843948 people' on a newspaper, good for them, if i see some1 being stabbed, good for him, why? because no one cares and they deserve it, HA HA!

ChipExcess27 2010-05-26 10:05:22

the card thing would be extreme and very bad karma, you wouldn't want a bad whiner on your back trust me..

CLINT 2010-05-08 19:40:41

But what happens if it is constantly happening to you... over lets say a months period of time.

Sniff sniff.. that really sucks man... whimper snifffffffff.


Stukha 2010-04-28 02:07:23

And guys please don't start a bad beat story festival here....keep it for the time when you can acctualy make something out of it ;)

Stukha 2010-04-27 20:10:08

@ nononako has a good point....I am crying at tables,not helmuth style but i do it to see how people react to it and what ideas they come up to after that...sometimes I can see when they think of:"this guy is on tilt,i'll run over him in a second" and maybe they'll not do it in first hand and with nothing but if I can keep my head to the main goal and to what I do,then they'll have some surprises,doesen't allways work and you have to chose who you cry to very carefully,because this strategy backfired at me as many times as it worked for me....so what can I say....just keep your head at your game...cry a bit if you like but once the dealer gives you another 2 cards it's a new story...you have to get over it,but never forget it.

JMC 2010-03-14 06:43:29

I've taken that beat myself. No, there can't be a worse one, but several equal beats-1 outers. EG, You have Ace Queen of hearts and the flop comes 4h 2h Ac and you get it in against your opponent and they have KsKc and obviously can't catch the Kh but instead river the King of diamonds. And on and on....Better luck to you in the future.

has there been worse? 2010-03-05 13:51:46

and no im not complaining,,, it happens build a bridge

has there been worse? 2010-03-05 13:49:41

AAAA on flop beatn by royal on river, can there be worse? !!!!! luky im only playn .25/.50

nononako 2010-03-04 00:35:10

This article contains a lot of hubris. What makes you think the teller of the bad beat story gives two shits if you sympathize or not? Sure maybe micro-stakes losers do, but many long-term winning poker players are acutely aware of their image and tell stories for other reasons: either to get tilt out of their system or to get you off of your game. The most interesting psychological point here how pervasive egocentric fallacies are. You, me and everyone reading this article are pretty insignificant in the lives of the vast majority of people with whom we interact.

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