Bad Beat Jackpots: A Gamble Worth Taking?
May 3, 2012
Bad beat jackpots are one of the more hotly debated topics in the poker community. With a long history in live poker rooms, a dedicated following among certain parts of the online poker community and prizes that often reach into the hundreds of thousands – and occasionally millions – of dollars, it’s not hard to see why bad beat jackpots garner so much attention.
What might be tougher to see is the true value in chasing a bad beat jackpot, and whether the mind-warping prizes amounts justify the extra cost. But before we can get to that point, we first need to explain for the uninitiated (and those who may have forgotten) exactly how a bad beat jackpot works. If you’re already familiar with the basics, you can just jump ahead to the next section.
Bad Beat Jackpot Basics
While the origins of the bad beat jackpot are shrouded in history, it’s not hard to imagine how the idea came about. Bad beats are such an integral part of poker – arguably the most popular topic of conversation between poker players - that some smart floor person whose name is now lost to history decided to take a negative experience – losing with a great hand – and turn it into a positive one for the customer by offering some sort of reward.
From that kernel eventually sprung the modern bad beat jackpot. There are plenty of variations on the core theme, but here’s how the typical bad beat jackpot operates. Players pay extra rake that goes to fund the jackpot. In live poker rooms, you often don’t have a choice regarding whether or not you participate in the BBJ – generally all tables within a certain stakes range will be participating in the promotion.
Online it’s a little different, with rooms offering special bad beat jackpot tables separate from regular tables at the same limit. Either way, the jackpot grows and grows until someone gets an amazing hand (four of a kind eights is a typical threshold) beaten by an even better hand, at which point the loser, winner and all other players dealt into the hand get a piece of the jackpot. You can read a slight bit more at Wikipedia, but that’s more than enough of an introduction for the purposes of this article.
Here’s a lucky group hitting a nice-sized bad beat jackpot at the Bike in California:
What Do You Have to Lose By Playing for the Bad Beat Jackpot?
In a word: Profit. Paying extra rake is paying extra rake, and the jackpot is an extremely high-variance affair – so even if it was neutral-EV (all rake paid into the jackpot came back to players via prizes), it would still be a losing proposition. Making matters worse is the fact that not all bad beat jackpots are neutral; rooms often take some sort of cut or use large chunks of jackpots to seed future jackpots.
Another sneaky way the bad beat jackpots erode your bottom line: At almost all rooms, bad beat jackpot rake doesn’t contribute to your comps or rewards. Carbon Poker is just one many sites for poker that offers bad beat jackpots where you’re going to want to confirm terms with support – are you earning Carbon Poker cash back when you pay BBJ rake or are you not?
The one potential upside is that bad beat jackpots do tend to attract a slightly looser, slight more gamble-happy opponent, and some argue that this hypothetical opportunity to face weaker competition offsets the amount of extra rake you pay to the jackpot. While there’s an appealing logic in the argument, it’s hard to accept as axiomatic. That means your best bet is going to be carefully observing play at the bad beat tables to see if in fact the general play is softer than a non-bad beat jackpot table. Under those very specific circumstances, playing at a bad beat jackpot table could actually show a positive return that offsets the extra rake and then some.