At one Vegas chain, holding a great hand that doesn't win is no longer a total loss

ON GAMBLING

February 21, 2006|By BILL ORDINE

Bad beats and the stories that go along with them are to poker players what "the one that got away" is to fishermen - essentially hard-luck occasions that lend themselves to colorful, if sometimes tiresome, yarns.

Bad beats occur when an exceptionally good hand winds up losing to an even better one; the defeat is all the more galling when it comes on a final, lucky card.

Those who have watched the most recent World Series of Poker main event on TV saw one of the game's top woman players, Jennifer Harman, take a debilitating bad beat early in that No-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament.

Harman held a pair of queens, including the queen of diamonds. Her opponent had the 8-9, both diamonds. Harman had three queens after the flop, the first three community cards. That improved to a full house, queens and 10s, after the turn, the fourth community card.

But with the 10 and jack of diamonds on the table, her opponent still had one chance to win - the 7 of diamonds. Naturally since this is a bad beat story, he hit it on the river, the final community card. Harman never recovered.

It made for juicy TV since Harman's antagonist, Cory Zeidman, acted like he might be beaten before turning over the straight flush.

Hang around card players for any length of time and the bad beat stories just pour out.

But bad beats don't always have to be, well, bad.

Many casinos and online poker Web sites offer bad beat bonuses, which are rewards for being a victim. The bonuses are based on a bottom-limit threshold hand, say four jacks. In such a case, anyone who has four jacks - and loses - collects some type of bonus. Frequently, the actual winner of the pot also shares in the bonus. And occasionally, even the whole table gets cut in.

One of the more interesting bad beat bonus systems is in place at the Station Casinos in Las Vegas.

Station owns a chain of so-called locals' casinos, which cater mainly to Vegas residents as opposed to casual tourists. The gambling halls, such as Palace Station, Boulder Station and Texas Station, are away from the Las Vegas Strip. A few years ago, Station opened the upscale Green Valley Ranch Resort in suburban Henderson and in April will introduce the Red Rock resort in Summerlin.

Two things are significantly different about Station Casinos' Jumbo Hold 'em bad beat jackpot. For one, it's a progressive prize starting at $100,000 and increasing incrementally daily. And second, when it does hit, everyone playing Texas Hold 'em at one of the six, soon to be seven, Station Casinos shares the bonus.

So, you can be playing down at Green Valley Ranch, about a 10-minute drive southeast of the Strip, and up at Palace Station someone has four queens lose to a straight flush, and you collect several hundred dollars, maybe even more than a thousand.

Each week the bonus fails to hit, the threshold comes down one notch. The cycle begins with four 10s, then drops to four 9s, and so on. The victim of the bad beat gets $35,000; the winner of the hand earns $20,000, and all the other players share the rest.

Weldon Russell, director of ancillary games at Station Casinos, said that big-screen TVs at each casino's poker room alert players when a bad beat is in the works.

"The Jaws music comes on," Russell said. "Then the supervisor checks with surveillance to make sure everything is OK. Then the numbers come in with how many players are in the casinos. Finally, the celebration music comes up and they all go crazy. It's kind of cool when it hits."

The biggest Station jumbo bad beat jackpot occurred in late December when it had accumulated more than $418,000 in the prize pool and the threshold had dipped to a full house, aces full of kings.

However, it was a 5-high straight flush losing to a 7-high straight flush that tripped the jackpot. There were 263 players participating when the bad beat happened - at 4 a.m. - and each pocketed $1,373.

Russell said the biggest players' share has been about $2,600 - there were fewer players participating for that one - and the smallest has been approximately $300. More typical is $600.

The bad beat jackpot is funded by a special rake, meaning the small sum the casino takes out of most pots that represents the house's commission for dealing the game. The maximum rake for the bonus is $1 per eligible pot.

Discussion of a hand among players while the game is in progress could void the hand, but it is not hard to imagine that some players might actually change their betting strategy. For instance, someone holding a potentially qualifying hand and also looking at the possibility of an even better one on the board might be tempted to not push the wagering so that drawing hands stay in to the river.

Regardless of the circumstances, though, a player whose four of a kind are cracked by a straight flush - and still manages to collect a five-figure bonus - will be more than happy to repeat that bad beat story for a long time.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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