Long hours at the tables, late nights, clashing personalities, frayed nerves, strong words, and mental fatigue. These are all some of what players face when hitting the poker tables. Sometimes these aspects of the game can really boil over and bring about some real blow-ups.
In these situations, the tension, frustration, and anger a player may experience just becomes too much, leading to some real explosive situations. Despite the more sanitized version of poker found in casinos today as opposed to the Old West and unground days, some players’ rage still occasionally rises to the top and is all captured for the television cameras.
Whether exhibiting some real rage or threats, these scenarios really stand out and can make for some interesting and dramatic viewing. Keep reading to check out some of poker's biggest blow-ups.
1 – Phil Hellmuth Ready for Some Matches?
No list of poker blow-ups would be complete without something from Phil Hellmuth. He may have 17 World Series of Poker bracelets, but the “Poker Brat” has plenty of meltdowns on his record as well. In 2021, Hellmuth was at another WSOP final table, hoping to grab a win in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship.
After making two pair and never being behind in the hand, Hellmuth lost it after Stephen Chidwick found three of a kind on the final card. Three-time World Poker Tour champion Anthony Zinno then completed a full house to beat Hellmuth’s two pair as well.
A short time later, Hellmuth is once again involved with a hand versus Zinno. His split Queens are soon on the short end of a Zinno flush – sending him into orbit. Hellmuth “loses it” is putting it mildly. The Poker Hall of Famer went nuts and unleashed a vitriolic rant that included more than 40 F-bombs and numerous other expletives.
Hellmuth soon exited the tournament and the diatribe continued. Things got really serious and earned him plenty of criticism when the Brat adds: “I think I'm going to burn this f***ing place down if I don’t win this f***ing tournament.” This poker blow-up might be one for the record books.
2 – These Cheating Accusations Aren’t Cool
This list could go on and on with Hellmuth blow-up highlights, but there are plenty of other poker players who have lost their heads through the years. A few players might commiserate with Jeffrey Lisandro in this case. The six-time WSOP bracelet winner and 2009 series player of the year wasn’t pleased with being accused of not posting a blind in the 2006 WSOP Main Event.
Prahlad Friedman continued to needle over the missed blind and felt that Lisandro was the culprit. “He says he did … I don’t necessarily believe him,” Friedman said. He later added that the winner of the pot “just gets robbed.”
Lisandro took exception with that insinuation and tempers flared quickly. “You’re acting like an idiot,” he later replied. Having his character questioned was apparently too much and things quickly escalated. Tournament officials stepped in to discuss the issue with Friedman and then Lisandro got up as well and threatened to knock Friedman’s teeth out.
“I’ll take your head off buddy,” he added. “Last time I want to hear it.”
The exchange continued and the tension at the table certainly thickened. The two immediately mixed it up heads-up in a hand with Friedman winning the pot. Instant replay later showed that Lisandro indeed posted his ante. Lisandro later took a pot from Friedman with pocket fours, and Friedman bluffed a couple times to take a pot himself as the tension slowly began to subside. The mood may have lightened but things certainly looked ugly just a few minutes earlier.
3 – Tony G Cuts Loose
Antanas Guoga (aka “Tony G”) took anything but the high road in the Intercontinental Poker Championships in 2008. After making a preflop call with A♠2♠, he announced that he wanted to play but had a weak hand.
“I’m still calling if you raise, unless you go all in,” he announced as poker pro Ralph Perry, originally from Russia and now living in Las Vegas, considered what to do. “I might still call if you go all in.”
Perry, holding K♣J♠, considered his options before making a raise as Tony G continued talking. That brought more talking and Tony moved all his chips in. Perry was unable to get away from his hand, perhaps sensing that his opponent’s hand might be light. He called, which was a bit of poker-playing blow-up, and got no help on the board – eliminating him from the tournament.
This brought plenty of ridicule and over-the-top antagonism from Tony G, a verbal blow-up of epic proportions that seemed to go on and on.
“You’re a champion … send you back to Russia,” Tony mocked. “Putting all his money in with King-Jack, all in? This is not something for someone to learn from.”
When the final card was dealt, Tony jumped in celebration and the real diatribe began.
“Come on Russian, get out,” he announced. “It’s time to go. Look at this. Look how he’s playing, look how ugly this is. You’re a professional player and I can do this to you? You’re a terrible player. This is disgraceful. Bring more Russians on, I’m here to get them all. You played that as bad as you can. Your career is finished. You are gone.”
Tony went on to urge Perry to “feel my power.” Perry remained stoic and classy throughout, simply telling his opponent, “good hand.” Even upon Perry’s exit and a smattering of clapping from the audience, Tony G didn’t relent and the entire ordeal may have been a bit much.
“He doesn’t deserve any applause, he called with King-Jack,” he said. “If you read my poker strategy, I tell everyone to never overplay King-Jack.”
4 – Eric Persson Turns Tables on Hellmuth
There was plenty of trash talk between Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson and Phi Hellmuth in PokerGO’s $25,000 Heads-Up Showdown in 2022. But Hellmuth seemed thrown off kilter a bit as this time Persson brought the heat.
The casino executive and poker player took issue with Hellmuth saying he would eliminate his opponent in 20 minutes. Hellmuth also questioned Persson’s skills and called him “obnoxious. Persson offered to bet $100,000 on the match and that brought more trash talk and things seemed to really get personal.
Overall, both players seemed to blow up a bit when it came to the verbal back and forth. This matchup featured fireworks throughout. Persson showed no fear and gave the “Poker Brat” some of his own medicine that left Hellmuth muttering to himself.
“You’re so obnoxious, it’s just crazy,” Hellmuth said after losing one pot.
His opponent quickly noted that coming from Hellmuth, that was a compliment. He later called the 17-time WSOP champion “a bitch” and gave him the “double bird” at the table as he laughed. Commentators felt the move crossed the line and the action heated up even more from there.
By the time the match ended, it’s a bit difficult to determine which player blew up more. Persson kept going after Hellmuth, and Hellmuth kept launching verbal barbs at Persson.
“You have no chance,” Persson said. “You have no chance today.”
What might be a bit shocking was Hellmuth noting that his opponent “was embarrassing himself on TV.” The reversed roles seemed to frazzle Hellmuth at times and he struggled to get traction. By the end of the match, Hellmuth became extremely annoyed and even asked staff for some “protection” from the perceived verbal assault. He claimed Persson had been out of line for an hour, dropping plenty of F-bombs in the process.
The cursing continued from both players and Persson eventually vanquished his opponent with pocket Aces. Hellmuth went on a long rant after the match and exited the stage quickly after vowing never to play another event against Persson.
However, Hellmuth later apologized for his own actions, as did Persson, and the two later met on PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel – this time with Hellmuth coming out on top. At a time when some poker fans complain that too many players sit quietly at the table without mixing it up, this match delivered in the verbal jousting department and is worth checking out.
5 – Chip Flip … Tempers Flare
Jamie Gold built a massive chip stack on his way to the biggest WSOP Main Event win in history in 2006. He went on to win a massive $12 million, but getting there didn’t come without some controversy.
Later in the tournament, Eric Molina got a bit chatty and made an all-in raise over Gold’s initial raise. The two got into a bit of a brief war of words with Molina at one point flipping his all-in chip across the table toward his opponent, landing behind Gold’s chip. He didn’t take that well and Gold returned fire by throwing it at Molina.
“Hey, don’t be an ass,” Molina responded. “It’s just because you’re losing, that’s fine.”
“I’m losing?” Gold responded. “Who’s sitting there with no chips?”
The back-and-forth jawing continued, all in front of the ESPN cameras. The bad blood continued, but Gold ultimately folded.
“I’ll see you at the end,” Gold added. “Sorry, no I won’t.”
Molina went on to drop an F-bomb after raking in the pot and earned a six-minute penalty in the process, much to Gold’s delight as the scoreboarding antics continued. Gold eventually added the eight-figure score, but things didn’t turn out too badly for Molina either. He finished 31st for $329,865.
While Gold remains synonymous with the record-setting Main Event win, he was pleased to see the WSOP pass his record and set a new record for entries in 2023. The 2006 tournament drew 8,773 entries while 2023 saw 10,043 total players with the ultimate winner, Daniel Weinman, taking home $12.1 million.
Gold made it a nice return to the Main Event as well, finishing 1,081st for $17,500. After facing some medical issues over the last few years, the entire scenario made for quite a comeback.
“I feel like it's just been an incredible summer,” he told PokerGO, “and I am just so lucky to be here.”