The survival benefit of liver transplantation depends on candidate disease severity, as measured by MELD score. However, donor liver quality may also affect survival benefit. Using US data from the SRTR on 28 165 adult liver transplant candidates wait-listed between 2001 and 2005, we estimated survival benefit according to cross-classifications of candidate MELD score and deceased donor risk index (DRI) using sequential stratification. Covariate-adjusted hazard ratios (HR) were calculated for each liver transplant recipient at a given MELD with an organ of a given DRI, comparing posttransplant mortality to continued wait-listing with possible later transplantation using a lower-DRI organ. High-DRI organs were more often transplanted into lower-MELD recipients and vice versa. Compared to waiting for a lower-DRI organ, the lowest-MELD category recipients (MELD 6–8) who received high-DRI organs experienced significantly higher mortality (HR = 3.70; p < 0.0005). All recipients with MELD ≥20 had a significant survival benefit from transplantation, regardless of DRI. Transplantation of high-DRI organs is effective for high but not low-MELD candidates. Pairing of high-DRI livers with lower-MELD candidates fails to maximize survival benefit and may deny lifesaving organs to high-MELD candidates who are at high risk of death without transplantation.