Bluff like the TV pro with our review of all the best bluffs from High Stakes Poker

The best and worst bluffing attempts ever made on High Stakes Poker

When High Stakes Poker first appeared on our TV screens in 2006 it was a whole new experience for poker fans. We were used to watching tournaments on TV but never before had we seen cash-game action with so much money involved.

One of the best parts of the show is watching the great, and not so great, bluffs that take place. Here we’re going to look at the most successful as well as the most desperate attempts at deception, analysing what happened and exactly why they did or did not work.


David Williams opened the action for $1,800 from middle position with J?-9?. Brad Booth then raised to $5,800 from the cut-off with 4?-2? and Phil Ivey re-raised to $14,000 from the small blind with pocket Kings. Williams folded and Booth, after studying Ivey’s stack and asking him how much he had behind him (Ivey told him 280k), made the call. The flop came 7?-6?-3?. The pot size was $31,100 and Ivey led out for $23,000. Brad Booth waited a few moments and then announced ‘I’m all-in’ and placed three 100k bricks out into the middle of the table. Ivey looked at Booth and said, ‘I wish you’d put chips in – that cash just looks so sweet.’ Ivey thought about what to do while Booth looked casually at the table and played with some chips next to his head. Finally, Ivey folded, glaring at Booth as if he had just hit his mother.

The way Booth played the hand certainly didn’t add up to a hand that could beat Kings. He raised Williams’ opening bet pre-flop, which would often mean he has a hand better than pocket sevens. A big Ace or medium/big pocket pair are the likely holdings here (even though this is not what he had). When he flat-calls Ivey’s re-raise it eliminates a number of those hands. It’s more likely that he has either complete garbage and is playing the hand because of his positional advantage, or he has either a medium pair like tens or Jacks or a big Ace type of hand like A-K or A-Q.

The second problem is the size of Booth’s flop re-raise. While there are two diamonds on the board, he doesn’t really have to worry about Ivey having a flush draw, so if he had a hand like a set he would usually make a smaller raise to induce a call. Instead, he makes a bet large enough to set Ivey all-in, which when coupled with the pre-flop action would lead many players to believe it was a bluff or a big draw like the A-K of diamonds. Why then does the bluff work? The same reason most bluffs work – players don’t like to risk going broke when they are unsure whether they have the best hand. Even players like Phil Ivey can waver under the pressure of making a call with just one pair when the bet is over a quarter of a million dollars.

Any bluff that works is a success. Any bluff that can get a player to fold a monster is an even bigger success, but in this case I think the bluff only worked because Phil Ivey didn’t think it through properly.


Phil Hellmuth opened the pot for $3,200 with A?-2? and Daniel Negreanu called from the cut-off with K?-10?. Antonio Esfandiari popped it from the button to $12k with J?-J?. Hellmuth folded but Negreanu was quick to call. Negreanu checked in the dark and the flop came Q?-10?-6?. Esfandiari grabbed 15k, but as he was contemplating whether to put the chips in Negreanu started chatting, saying that if he bet he would probably put him all-in. Esfandiari eventually put the chips in the middle. Negreanu asked him how much he had left and Antonio told him ‘50.’ Negreanu started talking to himself and finally decided to move all-in. Antonio let out a groan and Daniel said ‘that was nice to hear.’ Antonio asked Daniel if he had A-Q or A-10. Daniel picked up on this and correctly deduced that Antonio had pocket Jacks. Antonio seemed as if he was about to fold the hand when Daniel said, ‘I’ll show you a card after you fold.’ This was enough for Antonio and he said quietly, ‘I call.’ Daniel laughed and said, ‘Your Jacks are good.’ Sadly for Esfandiari they wouldn’t be after a brutal King hit the river.

This was simply a case of Daniel talking too much. While Negreanu’s chatty and playful demeanour is often successful, he made a mistake here. His best course of action after he shoved would have been to keep his mouth shut and let Antonio think he was beaten. Instead he kept talking, and by saying ‘I’ll show a card after you fold’ he was basically begging for a fold. Afterwards Daniel even said, ‘I gave it away at the end.’ Which proves that talking isn’t always the best idea.

This bluff actually started out very promisingly. Esfandiari was considering folding the best hand because of how Negreanu was talking and the way he had played the hand. In the end though it was over-talking that scuppered the Canadian.


Mike Matusow raised first to act in early position with K-K to $1,800. Hellmuth re-raised out of the big blind to $7k with 7?-2?. Matusow counted out the chips and flicked them into the middle. The flop came Q?-J?-6; and both players checked. The turn was the 8? and Hellmuth took nearly no time in making a $17,000 bet into a $15,100 pot. Matusow called making the pot $49,100. The river was the 6?. Hellmuth looked over at Matusow with chips in his hand. He looked a bit perplexed and set the chips down. He asked Mike how much he had and Mike told him $65,000. Hellmuth said ‘40,000’ and set the cash in front of him. Matusow looked back at his cards and said, ‘I know Phil never makes the big bet on the river unless he has it.’ He went on by saying ‘I know he hit a fucking two-outer on me,’ and then flipped the Kings over and tossed them into the muck. Hellmuth showed the bluff and Matusow leapt out of his chair as the Brat said, ‘It’s a new game today boys.’

There are two main reasons this hand worked. The first is that Matusow never got any information about the strength of Hellmuth’s hand. He let Hellmuth seize control of the hand and as a result he was left guessing. When Hellmuth re-raised pre-flop, he could have found out if Phil had a big pair or trash by putting in a third raise. Instead, by just calling he is left not knowing what Hellmuth has. Matusow compounds this error by not betting the flop when Hellmuth checks to him and by flat-calling Hellmuth’s overbet on the turn. When Hellmuth places a large bet on the river, Matusow has no idea where he stands. The biggest reason this hand worked though is that Hellmuth used his image to scare Matusow and to represent a hand much bigger than he had. Matusow knew that Hellmuth liked to make smallish bets with hands like second pair and that when he had bigger hands he would make larger bets. Hellmuth knew that Matusow knew this and made large bets on the turn and river. Matusow makes the fold because he doesn’t believe Phil is capable of making that big a bluff against him on the river.

Unlike the Booth hand this one is a doozy. Hellmuth pulls off a successful bluff, gets his opponent to fold a monster, and does it in convincing fashion by using his history with Matusow to represent a bigger hand. Pure class.


Jamie Gold opened the action with a live straddle of $1,200 under the gun. Daniel Negreanu raised to $3,600 with A?-J? and it was folded around to Gold who made the call with 5?-4?. The flop came A?-5?-3? and Mike Matusow started making comments about how loose Gold was, telling Eli Elezra that Elezra was tight compared to Gold. The 2006 World Champion checked and Negreanu bet $6,000 into the $8,900 pot, which Gold called without hesitation. The turn was the K? and Gold checked once again. Negreanu bet $12,000 and Gold didn’t waste any time in calling. The river was the 8? and Jamie visibly shook his head as the card was turned over. Daniel noticed and said, ‘What was that? You did that obviously on purpose. Is there a reason behind it?’ Apparently unfazed, Gold went ahead and threw $20,000 in cash into the pot. Negreanu looked as if he was going to call but hadn’t committed to it yet when Gold said, ‘your hand is good.’ Negreanu responded, ‘I haven’t called yet,’ but promptly did so and took down the $84,900 pot.

There are two reasons this bluff failed. An important factor when deciding whether to bluff or not is figuring out what your table image is. Bluffs are more successful when people will believe you. If you have an image of a wild and crazy player who bluffs often, the chance of your bluffs getting called will increase proportionally. When Mike Matusow is telling Eli Elezra that Eli is tight compared to Jamie, he should know what his image is. The chances of being able to pull off a successful bluff are slim and none. In fact, if Jamie was smart he would use this image to his advantage and tighten up. He would likely get paid off on his made hands much more and once he won a few legitimate pots he could revert back to bluffing. The second problem was with Jamie’s actions. What worked for him at the World Series of Poker wasn’t going to work for him here, but he tried it anyway. He made the visible head shake and despite Negreanu picking up on it he still made a bet. He then abandoned any semblance of credibility by telling Negreanu his hand was good ñ despite the fact that Daniel hadn’t decided whether or not to call.

For a man who is known to bluff a lot, Gold doesn’t do a very good job here. He doesn’t understand his table image and his acting job is worse than you’d find in a high school musical.


Todd Brunson opened for $1,600 from middle position with J?-8? and was called by Sammy Farha with K?-5? and Daniel Negreanu with A?-9?. The flop came J?-5?-5? giving Farha trip fives and Brunson two pair. Everyone checked. The turn was the 9?, giving Negreanu two pair plus the nut flush draw. Farha led out for $10,000 into the $5,600 pot and Negreanu and Brunson both called. The river was the Q? and Farha checked. Negreanu, with the nut flush, checked as well. Brunson bet $21,000 and Farha folded. Negreanu was clearly puzzled by how the hand had played out, and stood up to study the board. ‘I just think he’s got a full house,’ he said. ‘It’s so obvious he’s got to have me beat.’ He then folded his hand. Todd grinned and turned over the 8 and the table roared in approval.

It worked because, as is often the case with small-ball players like Negreanu, he was trying to keep the pot small and checked the river despite having a very strong hand. By doing this, he allowed Brunson to convince him that he was beaten. To Brunson’s credit he did play the hand as if he had the nuts. He raised pre-flop first to act and checked the flop. He just flat-called a $10,000 bet on the turn ñ a substantial overbet ñ and then made a nice sized but not oversized bet on the river. If he had pocket Jacks or fives as Daniel believed, this is probably exactly how he would have played them.

The one thing Daniel could have done that would have likely changed the outcome is to bet the river. By checking the river, Daniel put himself in a position to be guessing. If he had led out for $15,000 he would have won the hand, and if Brunson really did have the monster, he would have found out quickly when Brunson put in a value raise. Brunson, on the other hand, made a great play. Given the way the hand played out his river bet had be one of two things: a bluff or a monster. Brunson knew he could not win the pot by checking behind so he made a bet that would hopefully convince the other players that he had a monster. It worked.

The only reason this bluff isn’t perfect is because Negreanu let Brunson get away with it. All in all though it was a well-executed, well-timed bluff.


Phil Laak raised first to act from middle position with K?-3? to $1,700 and Mike Matusow called the additional $1,100 from the big blind with Q?-9?. The flop came J?-10?-3? and Matusow looked at his chips and made a $4,000 bet into the $4,500 pot with his open-ended straight draw and flush draw. Laak had a brief think then just flat-called with the second nut flush. The turn was the 5; and Matusow fired another barrel, this time tossing $10,000 into the $12,500 pot. Laak looked like he might raise, but instead just peeled a $10k bundle of cash off his stack and made the call. The river was the 6? and almost as soon as the card was turned over Matusow announced, ‘I’m all-in.’ Just as quickly, Laak made the call and flipped his cards over, leaving Matusow despondent. As his chips were being shipped to Laak, Matusow muttered, ‘I wasn’t sure if he had the draw or not.’

This one is actually pretty easy to explain. Matusow’s bluff didn’t work because his opponent had the second nuts. It’s hard to get an opponent to fold when that is the case. Judging by his final comment Matusow thought Laak was on a draw, but there were several things he could have done to avoid going bust. Firstly, his bet-sizing was bad as he bet nearly the full pot on the flop and over three-quarters of the pot on the turn. His river bet was horrendous, as the only thing that was going to call him there was something that had him beaten. If he felt Laak was on some type of flush draw, he should have made a smallish bet of $15,000 or so to induce Laak to fold. The Unabomber’s play wasn’t indicative of someone who has a marginal pair or is drawing. He raised pre-flop and then flat-called large flop and turn bets on a very coordinated, draw-heavy board. He either had to have a monster or he was playing a big pair or set cautiously because of the three diamonds on the board.

Of all the bluffs we’ve looked at, this is by far the worst. Matusow never took into consideration how Laak played the hand and was punished accordingly.

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