Ranking the 8 Most Memorable Tilts in Poker History

By J.W. Paine in Poker
| July 14, 2022 10:27 am PDT
Player hulking out on poker tilt

Everybody’s been there—that moment when a bad beat or a failure to fold brings us to a bad moment, and the game of poker becomes an angry cage match between our anger and sense of betrayal vs. an uncaring world.

And surprisingly, poker tilts happen to the best of us. All of the people featured below are world-class poker players. As you watch the various video clips, you’ll discover that even they—Olympians of the poker world—are susceptible to making mistakes.

They sometimes even let anger control their decisions. But that doesn’t make them bad poker players.

While the poker pros inspire our awe and admiration, it’s comforting to know that even they are capable of some of the worst poker tilts of all time.

They’d still kick our butts at the three-table local poker room tourney. Maybe if we caught them at an online poker room. Let’s move onto our list of most memorable tilts in poker history.

8. Tony G vs. Phil Helmuth, et al (Premier Poker League IV)

Antanas Guoga—better known in the poker world as Tony G—was a member of the Lithuanian parliament, until he announced his resignation on Twitter. Still, until 2014, he was a professional poker player with over $4 million in live tournament winnings.

As you’ll see as you move on down the list, he’s no stranger to tilt.

In this video, Tony G faces a gauntlet of pros, including Phil Helmuth and Roland De Wolfe; he first taunts Phil Helmuth while wearing a Kermit the Frog mask, then goes all-in with a pocket pair of sixes. Helmuth, with pocket fives, folds.

On the second hand, Helmuth and Toy G are again heads-up before the flop—Helmuth with A9o and Tony G with T-9o. The flop comes 7s-Tc-Ks. With a pair of tens, Tony G leads with a bet of $34k, and after a moment, Helmuth folds.

At this point, one of the referees attempts to get Tony G to stop taunting Helmuth.

On the third hand, Tony G goes all-in preflop with pocket sevens. Heads-up opponent Roland De Wolfe calls the all-in with A-rags. The flop is 5-5-Q. The turn, however, is an ace of hearts.

Tony G jumps from his seat and stalks around the room, cursing. The river is the three of diamonds.

Maybe Tony G should have tried live dealer casinos to get in on the action.

7. Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott vs. Tony G

A 2017 inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame, David “Devilfish” Ulliott (a low-level gangster in his younger days) is driven to anger by Tony G. The Devilfish demonstrates a command of invective and insult as he berates Tony G for his play during the first hand.

That firsthand has the pair heads-up. Devilfish is dealt a K-Qo pocket, while Tony G gets pocket fives. Devilfish raises pre-flop to $19k and folds abound until the decision reaches Tony G—who immediately goes all-in. Fish calls.

The flop is A-2-3, so Tony G’s fives hold their value. The turn is an 8, and the river is a three—no help either, but Tony G’s fives take the pot.

There’s a second hand on this clip that isn’t necessarily an example of tilt but shows how difficult the decisions are at the tournament level. The hand is heads-up between Tony G and Marcel Lüske.

The deal snares Tony G a pocket of AQo. The short-stacked Lüske draws AJh and instantly goes all-in—perhaps in a mistaken calculation that Tony G—who usually plays a lot of hands—is pushing his luck. The all-in doesn’t phase Tony G, who immediately matches the bet.

The flop is 4-K-T, giving both players a gutshot straight draw. The turn is an ace, and the river is a three.

6. Tony G vs. Andy Black

In yet another tilt session, Tony G’s mistake costs him dearly.

Thinking his heads-up opponent, Andy Black, has gone all-in (he had only bet 120k), Tony G says “call” and reveals his hand—pocket sixes. He immediately realizes his mistake, but a referee corrects him when he tries to raise, saying the rules require him to only call for the rest of the hand.

His opponent, Andy Black, has Ajo. The flop is 7-T-5. The turn is a six, giving Tony G a set. At this point, Black is drawing dead, and the hand is folded.

Sure, Tony G raked the 260k pot (which had not changed since the preflop mistake), but you can see the despair of a missed opportunity on his face.

5. Phill Hellmuth vs. Dani Stern

Luckily, Phil Helmuth is not in as many videos as Tony G because Helmuth is the Poker Brat—whining, cursing, angry, frustrated—you name all the lovely emotions.

Helmuth has had them all, on camera and before a live audience.

The clip here is a compilation of three of Helmuth’s signature “ejection seat” moments when his anger at the hand in play and his opponents lifts him from his chair to stalk about muttering to himself. His wrath is owed in all three hands to his heads-up opponent, the online poker wunderkind Dani Stern.

Rather than give you a blow-by-blow rundown, I’ll let you experience the three rounds for yourself. I suspect you’ll come to believe—as I do—that among his many poker awards, Helmuth has a whole shelf at home filled with trophies for “Biggest Poker Meltdowns.”

4. Ryan D’Angelo and Ben Zamani

Sometimes poker tilt is brief, and the only sign is sudden loud anger, like in this instance, when D’Angelo loses a hand to Ben Zamani, who is ace high.

As with the Phil Helmuth v Dani Stern clip above, this one needs to be watched to be believed. If you need any more encouragement, the pot pre-flop is 1.405 million. Zemani has A5o in his pocket, D’Angelo has Q6c. Oh, yeah.

3. Vanessa Selbst vs. Bertrand “Elky” Grospellier & Scott Seiver

Pocket aces don’t seem to like Vanessa Selbst, even when she’s one dealt them. And sometimes, poker tilt results in bad beats.

In this first-hand, even a pre-flop raise wasn’t enough to protect Selbst’s pocket rockets from Elky Grospellier’s gutshot draw to a straight flush.

Later, Selbst draws another pair of aces, showing how hard it is to give up on pocket rockets, despite mounting evidence that she’s playing second-best hand.

Scott Seiver calls her preflop raise with AK suited. The table flops K-K-7, with the turn being a three and the river a 10. Not a good couple of hands for Selbst.

2. Scott Seiver vs. Phil Laak

Seiver isn’t always the on the receiving end of the poker tilt of others—sometimes, he enjoys a good tilt himself.

In this clip, Seiver raises preflop with pocket aces and is rewarded with three calls: Phil Laak with 4-2 diamonds, Jonathan Duhamel with J-9 hearts, and Daniel Colman with 6-5 spades.

The flop is 10-A-5. Seiver bets $17k, and Duhamel and Colman fold. Laak has a three-card flush draw and a gutshot straight draw, so he calls. The turn is a 3, which fills Laak’s gutshot straight. The river is a king of spades, helping neither—but Laak didn’t need any.

I hope Seiver saved enough for cab fare.

1. Phil Helmuth vs. Daniel Negreanu

During the Premier Poker League’s sixth season, this trio of hands played heads-up between Helmuth and Negreanu.

The first hand has Helmuth in the small blind and Negreanu in the BB position. Everyone else folds, and Helmuth calls the BB with Ks-9s. Negreanu exercises the option with a two-bet bump on his 8s-6c pocket. Helmuth calls. The flop is Ac-As-Kd. Both players check. The turn is 9c, ad both players check again. The river is the 9 of diamonds.

This gives Helmuth nines full and does not improve Negreanu’s hand at all. Helmuth bets $20k, and after a moment’s consideration, Negreanu raises the bet to $140k, triggering an insta-fold from Helmuth.

The second hand has Negreanu under the gun, and with Q-h-5-h, he raises to $44k. Helmut has Kd-6d, calls. The two are heads-up.

The flop is 4h-Td-Jds, giving Helmuth a flush draw. The turn is a 5 of clubs, pairing Negreanu’s five. Helmuth nevertheless bets $70k. Negreanu calls. The river is the 9 of spades. Both players check, and Negreanu wins the hand with a pair of fives.

Third hand, Negreanu is the BB with 7s-2-h, Helmuth has Tc-2d. The flop is 9s-8s-7h. Turn is 6s, giving Negreanu a nine-high straight (with a straight flush draw) and Helmuth a ten-high straight. The river is a queen of spades, giving Negreanu a flush.

The Many Flavors of Tilt

Poker cards

Poker tilt is invariably the misplaying of hands in the hopes of recouping previous losses.

But while the defining acts of poker tilt are simple–poor decision-making and a growing sense of anger and betrayal, the reasons behind the tilt—the root causes—are legion.

Although some poker tilts last for hours, some are as brief as a single hand. The duration of one’s poker tilt is irrelevant: Even if you make a single wagering decision based on anything but your reads of your opponents and your knowledge of the various odds as the hand progresses, you’re on tilt.

Experts say there are at least five distinct types of poker tilt, and while that may be true, most actual examples of tilt tend to be a mixture of at least two of those types. Here are the distinct types.

Loser Tilt

The most common cause for tilt is typically triggered by a run of bad luck, a couple of bad beats, or a mixture of both.

Vindictive Tilt

Somebody had beaten you when they did not deserve to win. Therefore, you must crush them. Your revenge will be as swift as it is merciless. I’ll hold your beer.

Dissociation Tilt

This one usually manifests toward the end of a many-hours-long poker fest. You start to notice that you don’t really care about the cards, the bets, or the other players.

But you have nothing better to do, so you keep at it. The problem is that you don’t care –and your playing style shows it. Sometimes you radically change the way you play (not always a bad idea—except right now, you’re in no position to judge that).

Own-Goal Tilt

Nothing hurts like beating yourself—i.e., making an error in strategy that you should never have made. You’re better than that, for crying out loud! Still, we’re all human, and making mistakes is kind of our schtick.

But sometimes, a shrug of the shoulders and a silent vow to be more careful isn’t enough to mollify our tilt-o-meter, and we do a slow burn until we’re boiling with bad decisions.

Winner’s Tilt

Didn’t see this one coming, right? Just like a losing streak can bring on the tilt, so can the heady experience of a winning streak. Pessimism turns to anger, which leads to the loser’s tilt.

Optimism turns to hubris, leading to every Greek play ever written and incidentally to the winner’s tilt.

Tiltmeisters

As every poker player with more than a few hours under their belt knows, poker tilt happens. But it sometimes takes a while longer to note that there are poker players out there who thrive on driving other players at the table into full tilt mode.

As you may have noticed from his frequent appearances in the videos above, Tony G is a grand master of getting other poker players to full-tilt.

Frankly, most of the top-level poker professionals worldwide have honed multiple techniques to annoy, enrage, embarrass, or otherwise put their opponents off their games.

How to Avoid Tilting in Poker

There are plenty of bromides and straightforward advice concerning tilt and avoiding the same. Most of it is the worst sort of “winning is teaching, losing is learning” Stuart Smalley nonsense. Sounds pithy, but when you’re red-faced at a bad beat, how will that bromide keep you from raising your next hand UTG with 72o?

Top Tip
Learn how to recognize your own personal signs of tilt.

You may suddenly notice you play twice as many hands as you usually do. Or you may find yourself drinking more as the game degrades it. You may simply start talking to the rest of the table more.

Whatever the sign, mark it well, and make yourself a promise that you will step away from the cards for a set period of time. It should be long enough to matter—no taking a bathroom break and calling that enough.

If you are a frequent flyer on the online casino express, force yourself to harshly judge your motivations for any wager you make that doesn’t feel “right.”

And it often helps to remember that bad beats are typically a result of variance rewarding the unworthy rather than bad strategy punishing you. Remember that while you can’t change variance, you can ensure your poker strategy remains sound and on track.

Tilt Happens

Now that you know that even the pros make mistakes or let their emotions interfere with their judgment, how are you and I—the lowly grinders at the local $1/$2 NL poker table—supposed to avoid poker tilt?

Important

Always be aware of yourself and your game, and when you see that you are slipping into old bad habits—or even unconsciously trying out a new bad habit—stop.

Practice is key, as with poker and virtually all other enterprises worth doing. Learn the game you’re your own abilities through constant practice. A good (and convenient) place to work on that is playing at one of the many best poker websites available.

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