The ultimate bad beat

According to Ace Hunter, commander of Megaforce: "Life's like a wheel: it all comes around." And the poker table is the ideal venue for Commander Hunter's philosophy to play out, oftentimes with dire consequences.

While attending college at Arizona State University, I would often play poker at Casino Arizona, a good-sized card room with a wide variety of games. For those of you who haven't mixed it up in one of the Grand Canyon State's casinos, they are all Native American-owned, and the majority offer impressive perks and giveaways. But since poker is our primary concern, the only "perk" worth mentioning are the bad beat jackpots.

If you've never played in a poker room with a bad beat jackpot, the rules are simple: using both hole cards (for hold'em), if your high hand (normally aces full of 10s or better) is cracked by a higher hand (often quads or better), congratulations, you just netted yourself a hefty bonus. At most card clubs, the loser of the hand receives 50 percent of the jackpot, the winner gets 25 percent, and the other players seated at that table divide up the remaining 25 percent. What's more, most of AZ's bad beat jackpots are progressive -- increasing daily until they are hit. If memory serves me correctly, Fort McDowell Casino in Fountain Hills holds the record for the world's largest bad beat jackpot ever paid, somewhere in the neighborhood of $160,000.

While biding my time for a more lucrative $20/$40 limit hold'em game, I snagged an open seat in a $6/$12 game. Shortly after unracking my chips, I realized there was a significant amount of tension at the table, all of it between two players: the No. 3 seat, a young guy, mid-30s, stocky, with a crew cut, and the No. 9 seat, an older woman, possibly way north of the century mark. Had someone handed her a broom, I would've grabbed Dorothy and Toto and whisked them to safety.

Seated in the center of the table, the first few hands I played felt like a ping-pong match as Crew Cut continuously spouted muttered-but-audible off-color remarks, all directed at the Wicked Witch of the West, who had absolutely no qualms about issuing verbal retaliations. Being impartial, I nevertheless gave props to the elder combatant; her replies were much more creative: "The height of your hair is a direct reflection of your IQ," and other statements along those lines.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I turned to my neighbor for enlightenment. Apparently, the bad
blood began the way it usually begins at a poker table: he had a high pocket pair (in this case, queens) and she stayed in with a small pair (fours), and eventually snapped him off when she paired her kicker (an unsuited 7) on the river.

OK, it happens, let's move on. However, Crew Cut had no intention of letting the events of Bad Beats Past
fade quietly into the night. Oh, no.

A few hands later, nearly the entire table stuck around to see the preraised flop (Casino Arizona is well known for ultra-live action, regardless of the game -- must be the desert sun!) of K-K-A. After a bet and a call, only two were left in the hunt: yup, you guessed it, Crew Cut and the Witch (sounds like the title of the next Harry Potter novel, doesn't it?).

Something irrelevant, an 8, I think, hit the turn and all hell broke loose. Because they were heads-up, there was no cap on raises, and the two kept coming over the top of one another as if they were playing leapfrog to the death.

The rest of us were amped by the furious action and we were all reasonably confident that a boatload of "found money" was about to land in each of our laps. Expecting to dole out some serious cash -- the jackpot was around $60,000 at the time -- two floormen raced over to watch the hand play out.

Crew Cut got it all-in first and the pot was now somewhere in the vicinity of $500, pretty decent for a $6/$12 game. With no betting action left, and only the river to come, Crew Cut proudly flipped over his hand, pocket
rockets, giving him aces full of kings, the minimum qualifier for Casino Arizona's bad beat jackpot.

"Go ahead and beat it," Crew Cut said antagonistically. "Gimme a bad beat."

A rag on the river changed nothing and all eyes turned to the old hag, now nodding her head in the affirmative. "Okey-doke," she said, and turned over her pocket kings, giving her quads, the winning hand, and the small end of the bad beat jackpot.

Crew Cut threw up his hands in victory. "Boom!" he screamed, mentally spending his lion's share of the jackpot, right around $30,000.

But the drama wasn't finished yet. Before anyone could convince her otherwise, Witchy-Poo scooped up her pocket kings and held them out to her younger, wise-cracking nemesis.

"Here's your bad beat," she said with unflinching satisfaction and casually tossed her hand into the muck.

We were all dumbfounded -- the players, the dealer, the floormen, not to mention all the lookie-loos who always run to a table when a jackpot has been declared. A chorus of "Holy [expletive]" spread through the crowd.

As for Crew Cut, he turned more colors than a chameleon on a Twister board and collapsed heavily into his chair, mouth agape, his hands locked onto his near hairless scalp.

"Why would you do that?" he queried, mouth aquiver. "You were gonna get 15 grand."

"I don't need the money," she said with complete disdain, while racking up the remainder of her chips. "But knowing you did … " She stopped racking, stared at him and smiled wide, a grin so wide, it would give a fly the chills.

To say we were all pretty pissed was a major understatement, as we were just intentionally hosed out of our players' shares, a smidge over $2K each. But I gotta hand it to the old gal -- she definitely got the last laugh, and taught that kid a valuable lesson he'll never forget.

Ol' Ace wasn't kidding: Sooner or later, it all comes around.

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