It’s every poker pro’s job to deal with the inevitable swings of the game but there are moments in every player’s career that can either elevate them to a different level or cast them into obscurity.
The greatest moments - like Phil Hellmuth winning his first WSOP bracelet or Chris Moneymaker changing everything with his improbable victory - are impossible to forget but for a large number of players it’s actually the inescapable low moments of their careers that haunt them.
Matt Affleck losing a potential tournament-leading pot at the 2010 Main Event or Connor Drinan's recent AA vs. AA disaster in One Drop are just a couple examples of the sometimes cruel nature of the game.
Bad Beat "Slowed Down" George Danzer in 2006
George Danzer has had a wildly successful poker career and is currently leading the 2014 World Series of Poker Player of the Year race but even he encountered major setbacks in the early stages of his career.
Perhaps the biggest hand of his early career saw him get extremely unlucky against Dimitri Nobles in an enormous pot in the 2006 WSOP Main Event, during the height of the poker boom.
Danzer was an 80% favorite with pocket kings against Nobles’ ace-eight. An ace spiked on the turn sending Danzer to the rail and extinguishing his hopes in the event.
“It was a hand that changed the direction of my poker career,” admitted Danzer. “It slowed me down a bit.”
Fortunately for Danzer it didn’t knock him out completely. He eventually got over his bad fortune and battled back to become one of the game’s elite players.
Rousso: Poker Forces You to Get Over Bad Luck
Vanessa Rousso, another long-time pro, has had a lot of good results over the span of her career but one bad beat was particularly deflating.
Rousso was on the bubble of a $60k bubble on the Epic Poker Tour in 2011 ended up getting pocket queens cracked by Joe Tehan’s 2-4.
“That was really disheartening for me,” she said.
“That was my first really rough beat. It left me stunned. It made me really hate poker for a minute. It felt really unfair but that’s the way the game is. It forces you to get over things like that.”
The tournament clearly had an effect on Rousso who only had one cash the following year and played significantly less poker.
Six Years of Partying Took its Toll on Esfandiari
It’s not just one bad moment that can derail a poker player’s career, however.
Esfandiari explained that after winning his first WPT title (which essentially put him on the poker map) he partied for about six years after. He didn’t win another until he got that out of his system.
“Those six years were kind of a set back for me,” he said. “It wasn’t until I started focusing again that I started winning tournaments.”
Of course the beats in poker are balanced out by runs of good fortune and most of the top pros have had plenty of those.
“I’ve had my share of winning days like winning the EPT Grand Final High Roller in 2009 for nearly a million dollars,” Rousso said.
“Not many people can say they’ve won that much money in a day. It was an amazing thing and it made me very appreciative.”
For Esfandiari it wasn’t just poker tournaments that made the difference in his career.
“When I got ESPN commentary gig for the Main Event,” he said. “That was pretty big for me. Also winning One Drop. Those were crucial moments for me.”
While the swingy world of poker can simply be too much for some people to handle, it’s also part of what makes it so compelling, according to Rousso.
“It’s a constant journey,” she said.
“At the end of the day poker is the best illuminator of flaws. I think I’m a definitely a better person, a better sportsman and more self-aware than I was nine years ago.”