I don't really care whether poker is or isn't a sport, but if it is, it delivers the sort of moments no other sport can deliver. In other sports, no matter the drama or the stakes, at least you're physically up and running around, and whether you win or lose is solely a function of your ability.
In poker, you sit completely motionless as your rational half and your irrational half slug it out until there's only one standing. That's a recipe for insanity, I reckon, especially when the stakes are in the millions of dollars. Sometimes they shriek nonsensical arguments or taunt incessantly. Other times they bug their eyes and stagger away like they just saw the face of God. People just snap.
Here are five such moments!
Tony Guoga vs. Ralph Perry
The context: I haven't watched a ton of poker, and most of my viewing experience comes via the stuff people bother uploading to YouTube, so my assessment of Tony G might not be entirely fair. My assessment is that he is the world's biggest jerkhole punkass in the history of the entire universe.
Ralph Perry, meanwhile, looks exactly like you imagined the coolest guy in the world looking like when you were six years old.
The situation: Guoga and Perry go all in before the flop. Guoga, with Ace, 2, has a 60/40 shot at beating Perry's King, Jack.
The result: Perry hits nothing, Guoga hits a pair of 2s to win the hand, and then this happens.
All of a sudden, Guoga -- despite having won -- unravels into this weird hyper-aggressive creep. Perry sits there and takes it like a champ, so Guoga just keeps going. The crowd gives a round of applause to Perry as he exits, prompting Guoga to say, "He doesn't deserve any applause!"
I don't know. Maybe "insecure jerk with crummy haircut" is his hustle, and maybe it benefits his success on the table. But he's such an unbelievable troll that even I, a troll enthusiast, can't keep myself from hating him.
Jean-Robert Bellande vs. Sarkis Akopyan
The situation: Before seeing any table cards, Bellande goes all in with Ace, Queen in his pocket. He's immediately dismayed when Akopyan calls with 10, 9 -- these cards are inferior, but offer plenty of outs. Bellande's anxiety turns to joy when he hits a pair of Aces on the flop, and he celebrates further after the turn, which is a 6.
He should not be celebrating yet! That 6 gives Akopyan a slight chance of hitting a straight. Someone points this out to him, and he freaks out all over again.
"Don't do it to me like that," he says. "That would be ugly."
Bellande's nightmare scenario: If the river card is a 7 -- mathematically, a nine percent chance -- Akopyan wins.
The tragicomic result:
The instant of realization:
As someone who is not terribly good at poker, this hits home. Actually, anyone who doesn't play poker that often should be able to relate to this. You regress into Idiot Mode and totally forget to watch for a straight or a flush, instead going all I HAVE A PAIR OF ACES OMG BEST HAND IN POKER!!!! And when you end up losing, you experience this unbelievably weird feeling that's equal parts agony, confusion and trying to play it off as though you are neither agonized nor confused.
Pro tip: When you play poker, never look at anyone or say anything or do anything ever.
Phil Hellmuth vs. Cristian Dragomir
The context: Phil Hellmuth is one of the most well-known figures in the world of poker, and if (like me) you only follow the game casually, you probably associate him with his tendency to totally flip out like a baby pee-pants crying stupid crybaby whinefraud crying baby.
In this particular tournament, he was previously burned after having a pocket pair of Kings, only to allow someone with garbage cards to sneak into the hand and win. This did not make him very happy.
The situation: Dragomir is dealt 10, 4 suited, and raises to $80,000 before seeing any table cards. Hellmuth, who has Ace, King, pounces on it and re-raises to $255,000.
Dragomir totally should not call. He does call! And Hellmuth is sure he has Aces, or at least something a lot better than 10, 4 suited.
Poker is lorded over and influenced by the stupidest meddling ghosts in the universe, and that's why the flop lands 9, 10, 7 and gives Dragomir the top pair. He makes another big bet, this one for $300,000, and Hellmuth gets cranky. He gets even crankier once Dragomir shows that, yes, he had garbage, and he beat Hellmuth with it.
Dragomir is called "an idiot" and "the worst player in history," which was plucked straight out of an eight-year-old's put-down arsenal. The most telling quote, though, comes at the very end:
To you it's poker, man. To me this is my life!
That is a super-sad life! Not because throwing yourself completely into a particular discipline is sad, but because said discipline is the one that's more dependent on blind stupid luck than almost any discipline I can think of. You want certainty? You want things to work out like they're supposed to? Try painting, friend, in which the paint will hit the canvas 100 percent of the time. Or bowling, with the perfectly round ball and the lane that's flatter than flat.
Hellmuth is a super-smart guy and he understands 1,000 times more about poker than I do, so maybe there's a dot I'm not connecting. But I don't know where that dot would be. He's upset by a guy who isn't playing like Hellmuth thinks he's "supposed" to play a ridiculous and unpredictable game. I'm telling you, dude. Bowling.
Justin Phillips vs. Motoyuki Mabuchi
The context: It's the World Series of Poker's Main Event. And Ray Romano is playing at this table, you guys! Ray Romano! From the television!
These are some scary table cards. Someone could have three Aces, or a straight, or a flush, or something better. Mabuchi goes all in with a flourish, shoving his stack across the table. Phillips immediately calls him. So what do they have?
The absolutely ludicrous result:
The instant of realization:
For an instant Justin Phillips turned into Andy Dwyer, which is perfectly appropriate considering the circumstances. Mabuchi had four Aces, an exceedingly rare hand that beats everything other than a straight flush. Phillips turns over not only a straight flush, but a royal flush, the greatest possible hand. The odds of seeing both quad Aces and a royal flush in the same hand, they say, stand at about 2.7 billion to 1.
Actually? Watch as he shakes the hand of Mabuchi, who is taking this amazingly well, and wails, "WHAT A HORRIBLE RIVER CARD FOR YOUR HAND!" Watch as he hugs the dealer, flexes his muscles, turns to Ray Romano, and says, "I LOVE RAYMER! EVERYBODY WATCH THAT SHAAEEEW!" This guy didn't just have a fleeting Andy Dwyer moment. Dude is Andy Dwyer, in the flesh.
The context: A year ago, Affleck came very close to reaching the final table at the 2009 World Series of Poker. He has managed to conquer long odds. If he wins this hand, he's overwhelmingly likely to reach the final table in the 2010 tournament.
The situation: Affleck is dealt pocket Aces, and Jonathan Duhamel is dealt pocket Jacks. The two quickly push the other players out of the hand, and the two go heads-up. After the turn, Affleck -- who has the better hand and stands a 79 percent chance of winning -- goes all in. Duhamel, with two Jacks and a straight draw, is convinced to call.
Affleck's nightmare scenario: If the river is a King or 8, Duhamel makes his straight and wins. He can also win with a third Jack.
The tragic result:
The instant of realization:
Mathematically speaking, this actually isn't that bad of a beat. Affleck has an over pair, but with these cards, he has to know that Duhamel could very well have a straight draw, or a diamond flush draw, or three of a kind. Nonetheless, when the river falls, he's absolutely devastated.
Poker isn't like most other sports. If you lose, say, a Super Bowl, it hurts. And it hurts badly, because in order to be in that position to begin with, you are almost a hyper-competitive person, and you would never have gotten this far if you weren't monastically obsessed with your craft. Financially speaking, though, the difference between winning and losing that Super Bowl isn't enormous.
Matt Affleck, meanwhile, finished 15th at the 2010 World Series of Poker. When he goes out here, he does so with about $500,000 in winnings. But had he won that hand, he would have almost certainly advanced to the final table and made upwards of a million -- perhaps, if he won, as much as eight million.
Perhaps day traders and CEOs bug their eyes out like Affleck did when they lose tons of money. But in these moments, they're never on television. Here, we see a display that absolutely, 100 percent real, and yet more spectacular and dramatic than most of the scripted drama we see on TV.
Man. That face he's making up there. That isn't a human person face. It's like it's one of those weird attention-grabbing faces in the ads about Saving Hundreds On Insurance Thanks To This 1 Simple Weird Tip. Well, here is your 1 simple weird tip: never play poker, ever.