For a poker player, there's no surer way to lose a pile of chips than to hold terrific cards that turn out to be second-best. It's known as the dreaded bad beat, and every card player can regale you with a bad-beat story or two, or a dozen.
However, there are rare exceptions when a bad-beat jackpot turns the misery of being second-best into the score of a lifetime. Such special bonuses reward the loser in a showdown of great hands.
On Sunday, an 84-year old King of Prussia man pocketed a little more than $336,000 when his four sevens were bested by an opponent's quad aces at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. At the time, the Taj Mahal's bad-beat jackpot had been building for about two months and was worth $672,115, an Atlantic City record that eclipsed the old mark of $553,958 at Caesars in January.
John Bazela, technically the loser in the Taj Mahal game, received half of the big prize. The guy with the quad aces, a visitor from Queens, N.Y., pocketed a quarter of the jackpot, slightly more than $168,000 (plus an estimated $30 to $40 in the actual pot). The remaining seven players who were dealt into the hand each collected $24,000.
One player who had been playing in the Texas hold 'em $2-$4 limit game had left for dinner and returned to find her tablemates dividing the spoils. Her absence disqualified her from a share of the loot (but had she been at the table, the cards obviously would have fallen differently).
"It's like waiting for a baby to be born," said Tom Gitto, Taj Mahal director of poker, of the jackpot that had been growing for weeks.
Like an enormous lottery jackpot that attracts customers who normally don't play the lottery, a giant bad-beat prize pulls in players who might otherwise play in other casinos.
In Bazela's case, the 84-year-old didn't even know about the building jackpot until hearing about it on the bus to Atlantic City, Gitto said. Bazela, who could not be reached, plans to share the money with his daughter, according to a Taj Mahal news release.
Bad-beat jackpots have become popular at Shore casinos over the last few years. Gitto said the Taj Mahal's program is a couple of years old and the Borgata, with Atlantic City's largest poker room, has been doing it since December 2008.
The Borgata has paid out more than $6.4 million in bad beats, with the average being $127,000 and a frequency of 10 to 11 days.
Rules for bad-beat jackpots vary among casinos, but the Taj Mahal's rules are generally representative:
The only games eligible for the bad-beat jackpot are Texas hold 'em no-limit and limit cash games, from the lowest bet limits to the highest. Tournament games and other styles of cash games, such as Omaha and stud, are not eligible.
The losing player has to have at least four-of-kind.
Both the winning and losing hands have to use both of their hole cards in making their best possible five-card hands.
At the Taj, the losing player in the bad beat gets 50 percent of the jackpot; the winning player gets 25 percent, and the remaining players at the table receive 25 percent. Those percentages differ by casino. For instance, the Borgata is 40-20-40. At Bally's Atlantic City, 30 percent goes to the bad-beat loser, 20 percent to the winner, and the remainder goes to all the players in the poker room active in Texas hold 'em cash games (not just at the table).
Jackpots usually are funded by putting aside a small amount of each pot over a certain threshold, say $1 from every pot over $20.
Test your poker IQ. In Texas hold 'em, Player A has 3s-4s (s being spades). Player B has 9s-10s. The flop and turn come 5s-6s-7s-8s and the river card is inconsequential. Does this hand - in which a higher straight flush beats a lower straight flush - qualify for a bad-beat bonus under Taj Mahal rules?
Speaking of bad beats. A Northwest Pennsylvania man had to forfeit a $2,001 slot machine jackpot that he won last month at Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie. The man, whose name was withheld, had placed himself on a self-exclusion list for people with gambling problems and, as a result, made himself ineligible for any winnings.
Under the self-exclusion program, people voluntarily place themselves on such a list that bans them from being in a casino for one year, five years, or life. Even entering a casino means that self-excluded persons can be charged with criminal trespass. The forfeited money goes into a fund to support programs for compulsive and problem gambling.
Borgata Summer Open. The Borgata's summer poker tournament begins Friday and continues through June 30. The tournament includes 22 events, many in the $200 to $350 buy-in/entry fee range, with the main tournament a $2,200 event June 25-29.
Poker IQ answer. The hand featuring the two straight flushes in the example does not qualify for the bad-beat jackpot. Taj Mahal rules (as well as rules at many other casinos) require players to use both of their hole cards to make their best hands. The losing player with the 3s-4s and a board of 5s-6s-7s-8s is using only one of his hole cards, the 4s, to make his best possible hand, the 4-through-8 straight flush.