Abstract The dynamics of a premixed hydrogen/air flame propagating in a closed vessel is investigated using high-speed schlieren cinematography, pressure measurement and numerical simulation. A dynamically thickened flame approach with a 19-step detailed chemistry is employed in the numerical simulation to model the premixed combustion. The schlieren photographs show that a remarkable distorted tulip flame is initiated after a classical tulip flame has been fully produced. A second distorted tulip flame is generated with a cascade of indentations created in succession before the vanishing of the first one. The flame dynamics observed in the experiments is well reproduced in the numerical simulation. The burnt region near the flame front is entirely dominated by a reverse flow during the formation of the distorted tulip flame. The distorted tulip flame can be formed in the absence of vortex motion. The pressure wave leads to periodic flame deceleration and plays an essential role in the distorted tulip formation. The numerical results corroborate the mechanism that the distorted tulip flame formation is a manifestation of Taylor instability.