Ray Brodersen is no poker pro. He’s one of millions of Americans who learned the game as a kid and enjoys it as an adult. The self-employed businessman doesn’t mind driving a few miles each week from his suburban Pittsburgh home to the Rivers Casino to indulge a hobby that occasionally makes him a few bucks.
“I like it as a challenging game,” he told Penn Bets by phone Friday. “There’s variance, a luck factor, which at times is extremely frustrating and at other times extremely interesting. You never know.”
No, you never do, including last Thursday, when the 67-year-old sat down with $300 in chips at a $1-$3 Texas hold ‘em table when the Rivers Pittsburgh poker room opened at 10 a.m. Six hours later, he was up about $20 for his time spent.
A few minutes after that, after winning a hand with a royal flush, he was up nearly $370,000. Brodersen had become part of the largest known poker “bad beat” jackpot in U.S. casino history, and he didn’t even win the most from it.
When his spades royal beat the quad aces of Ben Flanagan of Huttonsville, West Virginia, it triggered a $1,226,765.80 jackpot that had been building since April 14, 2021. As the bad beat “loser,” Flanagan won $490,708.
Brodersen’s take was $368,029, technically, though his actual take-home pay was a little different, with some money taken out for tips he awarded to all of the room’s dealers, most notably the one who dealt the bad beat. Six other players at the table who watched the hand play out, undoubtedly stunned while doing so, won $61,338 each.
Brodersen was still a little shocked by it all when talking about it in low-key fashion the next day. He said he didn’t do a lot of celebrating with his live-in companion when he got home to her on Thursday evening.
“I was really worn out,” he said. “I had to try to calm down. I think I got two hours of sleep at most.”
Oh, and the ‘mini’ bad beat hit too
The past few days have been exceptional overall for the staff and patrons of the 30-table poker room at Rivers Pittsburgh.
When the bad beat hit, there was still a $316,722 “mini bad beat” jackpot to be awarded at some point, which had been growing each day since December 2021. The main bad beat requires a losing hand to be quad 10s or better, while the mini jackpot is typically triggered by a losing hand with quad 2s or better, or even just a full house of aces over kings for a player with pocket aces.
Sunday morning, some 66 hours after the record-setting Brodersen-Flanagan showdown, the mini jackpot hit for $321,871.62. That bounty was divided among eight players when a player with four 7s lost to one with a straight flush.
“This has been a wild four days in the poker room!” Rivers poker manager Leslie Brittain told Penn Bets in an email. “There is no way to know exactly when these jackpots will hit. The main bad beat grew to a dollar amount we never imagined. … I believe we just experienced something we will never see again!”
It is common for casino poker rooms to advertise high bad beat jackpots as a way to draw extra interest among players, but the criteria and amount awarded varies in each case. The quad 10s requirement at Rivers is unusually high, and the daily buildup from a share of the house poker rake of each hand resulted by late June in surpassing the prior known bad beat record of $1,068,590 awarded at Detroit’s Motor City Casino in January 2018.
The attention the potential prize received drew players to Pittsburgh from far and wide in recent months, despite the long odds of hitting the bad beat. At this point, the largest such jackpot advertised at the seven Pennsylvania casino poker rooms with bad beat promotions is the $174,285 at Wind Creek Bethlehem.
Unusual hand played out in unusual way
To any player experienced at Texas hold ‘em, an interesting aspect of Thursday’s bad beat hand would be not just the prize money, but how it played out.
Flanagan, with his pocket aces, did not raise pre-flop, which is unusual for a player holding the game’s strongest hand. He told CDC Gaming Reports he was influenced by the poker room’s Thursday promotion that awards $200 to the highest hand each half-hour. He had already won the $200 once earlier in the day, and if he bet strong pre-flop, everyone might fold and he’d lose another chance.
Brodersen also limped in, meanwhile, with his 10-K of spades, and the flop brought the ace and jack of spades. Flanagan thus had a set of aces, and Brodersen had a draw to a flush, a straight, or, in an exceptional case, a royal flush. Flanagan bet nothing big, $10 or so, and Brodersen just called.
“I’m pretty much going to call anything at that point,” Brodersen explained. “I got the feeling he might have pocket aces and was trying to hit a high hand again. With my hand, I didn’t want to chase him away. … Neither one of us was playing for the pot — we’re both playing for the high hand” of the half-hour.
The two of them had each started the hand with a little more than $300 in chips. A $200 high hand prize in itself would have given either a successful day for their time. The turn card brought Brodersen the queen of spades and his royal (Rivers also offers promotional prizes for royal flushes, with the size varying).
There was no need for Brodersen to bet anything big at that point, and then the last ace hit on the river.
“He must have bet something — I can’t swear to it, because my mind went blank,” Brodersen recalled, sort of. “I think I went into shock. He made a bet or I made a bet. … He must have bet $100 or something. Then all I remember is I went all in and he snap-called.”
This was beginning to feel like a bad beat
The players hadn’t yet shown their cards, but Brodersen had an inkling of the big moment that was taking place.
“He was getting really nervous. By that point, I’d have bet money he had quad aces. I said, ‘You better have quad aces,’ and really calmly, he said, ‘I do.’”
At that point, bedlam set in. The two men reached over to shake hands while the rest of the table’s players were jumping and shouting, drawing interest from players at other tables who come over to gawk. For months, they had been dreaming of being part of just such a scenario.
Then there was a lengthy two-hour or so process of the casino verifying the hand and arranging the payouts. And for Brodersen, figuring out the impact for himself, which isn’t much initially. He’ll keep playing occasional recreational poker, he said, and keep working, but with a tidy nest egg now added.
As for the bad beats at Rivers, they’re quite different now after being reset due to the wins. As of Monday morning, a table would share $10,177 for the main bad beat and $558 for the mini. The amounts will grow every day, but perhaps never to the point they reached in August 2022.
Photo courtesy of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh