In poker lingo, they're known as "bad beats." And an upstate New York woman has taken a couple recently, in real life as well as at the table.

On Saturday, Nicole Rowe, 40, of West Windsor, N.Y., placed second in a poker tournament at the Borgata in Atlantic City.

Second place is usually nothing to sneeze at, but what really miffed Rowe was that she lost to a man in what was supposed to be a women-only event.

Rowe, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, had hoped that the top prize in the Ladies No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament would pay for her living expenses while she recuperated from the mastectomy she expects to have at the end of the month.

She was among more than 260 women who each put up $300 to play in the tournament, but when the dust cleared, Abraham Korotki, 65, of Ventnor City, N.J., took home the trophy and $20,982 first prize.

"When you're a woman and you play poker, 99 percent of the time you're at a table with nine men," Rowe, who won $11,889, said yesterday during a phone interview, adding that playing against a field of women is "something I look forward to.

"Why did he have to ruin it for us? Why would he do this?"

So what was a man doing in a game clearly meant for the XX chromosome set?

Korotki - a semiretired real-estate developer who said yesterday that he's donating his winnings to three charities, including one dedicated to breast cancer - said his motives were purely innocent.

He explained that he entered the women's competition after quickly being eliminated from another, more-expensive tournament in which he went "all-in" with a pair of aces against two pair.

He said that he simply "wanted to get back on the horse," and signed up because he had earlier seen "five to 10" other men in the registration line.

Borgata officials said that they were not aware of any other male participants, nor were any other men pointed out by female players.

Korotki insisted that Borgata staffers never told him that he couldn't play in the tournament and insisted that he wouldn't have made a fuss if he'd been asked to stay out of it.

"I have great respect for the people at Borgata," he said.

"If someone had said, 'Abe, you can play, but please don't,' I would have said, 'Fine,' and gone home and been bored until the next tournament."

From the casino's standpoint, there was no option other than to seat Korotki.

"Borgata offers specialty tournaments, including the Ladies event," Joe Lupo, the gaming hall's senior vice-president, said in a statement.

"In the spirit of this event, it was our hope that only women would have participated, as has happened in the past. . . . However, given legal requirements, we must allow anyone who is over the age of 21 the opportunity to participate."

Korotki's entering the tournament aside, Rowe also was steamed that he refused to "chop" the pot with her as they began one-on-one play.

In poker tournaments, remaining players can agree to split the prize pool (in this case, each would have claimed more than $16,000).

But when Rowe asked Korotki to chop: "He said, 'The money is not important to me. The only way I will chop the pot is if I get the trophy,' " she said.

Rowe rejected the deal. "I could have used the [extra money], but I couldn't do it," she said. "I'm a competitor. And I was competing not just for me, but for every woman in the tournament."

Korotki didn't dispute Rowe's account.

But he said he didn't think it right that "she wanted to take the title without playing for it." And when one-on-one play commenced, he noted, he had the lead by about $200,000 (in tournament-play chips).

Nevertheless, both players claimed that there are no hard feelings.

Each acknowledged that earlier in the contest Korotki, after hearing from Rowe about her illness, purposely played a weak hand against her in hopes of helping her build her chip stack (she doubled her amount by winning the hand).

"She's a very lovely woman," Korotki said.

"My wife and I wished her the absolute best."