When playing any type of game, it can be frustating to find that events are not unfolding in quite the way you expected them to. This is true when playing something as modern as Fortnite as well as when playing more traditional games like chess or poker.
The classic card game of Texas Hold’em poker, which shot onto the scene from a small Texan town called Robstown in the early 20th century, has created a vibrant industry of online and offline players.
One of the biggest challenges for poker players is dealing with setbacks at the tables. The key to winning at poker is playing with the probabilities firmly stacked in your favour. However, even if you play in a hand where you’re a 95% favourite to win, there’s always the potential that remaining 5% will rear its ugly head.
An opponent winning with a hand which had a miniscule chance of succeeding earlier in the round is known as a ‘bad beat’. It’s one of the most popular phrases in poker terminology used today, referring to when a player catches the only card or one of two cards left in the deck capable of winning them the pot.
Below, we look at some of the most dramatic bad beats in poker history, including some jaw-dropping moments with life-changing prize money on the line.
Chris Moneymaker rivers a full-house against Phil Ivey (2003, WSOP Main Event)
Phil Ivey is considered one of the finest professional poker players ever to have walked this planet. Ivey is still without a WSOP Main Event bracelet. Ivey came close to making history in 2003 but instead fell foul of someone who made even bigger history. With Ivey flopping two pair and Chris Moneymaker flopping three-of-a-kind queens, it promised to be a huge hand.
The turn card was the nine of clubs, which gave Ivey a full house, nines over queens. Moneymaker needed an ace on the river if he was to win and effectively eliminate Ivey. Sure enough, one of his four outs appeared on the river, making a better full house, aces over queens. Moneymaker went on to make history by winning the Main Event and becoming the first person to do so after satelliting into the tournament via an online poker room.
Matt Affleck all but knocked out by Jonathan Duhamel despite being 79% pre-flop favourite (2010, WSOP Main Event)
Matt Affleck was in good shape to make a deep run in the 2010 WSOP Main Event, an event that’s recently moved to the Horseshoe, one of the iconic Vegas Strip resorts, after a spell at the off-Strip Rio resort. However, a 42-million-chip hand with Jonathan Duhamel put paid to those chances. Affleck had a 79% chance of winning with his pair of aces pre-flop against Duhamel’s pair of jacks. A flop of 10-9-7 left a backdoor straight open to Duhamel. Affleck managed to fade the eight on the turn but the eight of diamonds landed on the river, reducing him to tears.
The worst hand ever played – and won – by Phil Hellmuth (2022, U.S. Poker Open)
Phil Hellmuth enters the U.S. Poker Open in 2022 and the “Poker Brat” gets incredibly lucky in a hand with Alex Foxen. Foxen was re-raised all in by Hellmuth with Q-4 offsuit. Foxen called with his pocket nines. A queen landed on the flop, immediately landing Hellmuth a better pair. One of the two remaining queens landed on the river too, giving Hellmuth an almost miraculous three-of-a-kind. It was a staggeringly loose play from someone who’s famed for showing emotion to players who try to bluff him.
Vanessa Selbst dumped out by Gaelle Baumann’s quads (2017, WSOP Main Event)
Vanessa Selbst was knocked out of the 2017 WSOP Main Event on the opening day. One of the world’s most talented female poker players was dealt pocket aces and looked in great shape when the flop came 3-A-7. Selbst smelt danger on the turn when another seven landed to give Baumann three-of-a-kind sevens. Bizarrely, the last remaining seven in the deck appeared on the river, handing Baumann an unbeatable four-of-a-kind and knocking out a dumbfounded Selbst with her full house. Selbst soon retired after this event to work for hedge fund Bridgewater Associates.
Mike “The Mouth” Matusow falls in a hand with eventual champion Greg Raymer (2004, WSOP Main Event)
Poker icon Mike Matusow was on the verge of a deep run in the 2004 WSOP Main Event. The hugely popular poker pro finished sixth in the 2001 Main Event and he looked in good shape to clinch a similar finish in 2004 before running into a hand involving eventual winner, Greg Raymer. Matusow shoves all-in with A-K offsuit, calling Ed Foster’s raise with A-Q offsuit. Raymer decides not to get involved with his own A-Q offsuit. This means Foster had just two outs to beat Matusow, with one of the remaining queens in Raymer’s hand. Unfortunately for Matusow, it appears on the river in gruelling fashion.