You can’t win at poker with your value hands alone – find out how to run the perfect bluff with our eight-step guide from the pros
1. Get your story straight
Peter Eastgate v Tom Dwan – High Stakes Poker
Bluffing isn’t just about randomly deciding you’re going to take a pot down with a big bet. For a bluff to work your story needs to be believable.
In this hand from High Stakes Poker, Barry Greenstein raises UTG with Aces and picks up every single player on the table, including Peter Eastgate in the small blind with 4-2. It’s not an ideal situation for Aces! With $21,600 in the pot, the flop comes down 2♣-T♦-2♠ giving Peter Eastgate trips and Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan top pair with Q♣-T♣.
Eastgate checks, Greenstein bets $10,000, durrrr raises to $37,300 and gets called by Eastgate and Greenstein. At this point, durrrr knows that Eastgate probably has a Two. Game over? Not for durrrr.
The opening for the bluff comes when both players check to durrrr on the 7♦ turn. He bets $104,200 into a pot of $133,500 and both players fold.
With the action eight-handed on the flop it’s easy for durrrr to represent a huge hand here, with either A-2, K-2 or a full house. Eastgate is also out of his depth, playing for stakes that are definitely out of his comfort zone, making him more likely to fold. It’s a masterclass in story-telling, from a player who was on top of his game.
2. Keep it cool
Sara Chafak v Ronnie Bardah – Shark Cage
Proof that you don’t have to restrict your bluffs to players that are worse than you came on the recent Shark Cage TV show. Sara Chafak, aka Miss Finland, limps with A♥-2♦ and Bardah checks the blind with 8♣-4♠. Bardah bets the Q♠-5♠-4♣ flop and Chafak min-raises. Bardah calls and is rewarded with the 4♦ turn. It’s bad news for Chafak, but after Bardah check-raises she three-bets and Bardah just calls. After Bardah checks the 6♥ river, Chafak moves all-in.
It’s a pretty incredible bluff from an amateur who seemed to have worked out exactly what she was going to do all the way through the hand.
The min-raise on the flop could easily have been read as top pair by Bardah. Chafak’s three-bet on the turn is enough to make anyone believe that she doesn’t have any bluffs in her hand. Would she ever do this with a Queen?
Her bets set up a natural shove on the river and it’s probably the only way she gets Bardah to fold. What can he beat at this point?
If the story’s not enough, the way she acts seals it. She’s so cool and so comfortable all the way through it looks like she has to have Bardah beat. If Ivey did this we’d call him a genius, so it has to go down as one of the best televised bluffs of all time.
3. Don’t give it away
Daniel Negreanu v Antonio Esfandiari – High Stakes Poker
It’s tough to run a bluff when you’re playing live – and even the very best players can mess it up by giving off too much information.
In this hand Daniel Negreanu calls Phil Hellmuth’s raise with K♦-T♦ and Esfandiari three-bets to $12k with Jacks. Negreanu makes the call.
Negreanu checks in the dark and flops second pair on the Q♠-6♠-T♣ flop. Esfandiari bets $15k and Negreanu moves all-in.
When Esfandiari doesn’t snap-call, Negreanu starts talking saying, ‘I was worried for a bit there. For me it was a coinflip, I wasn’t sure if I had you there.’ Negreanu goes on to call Esfandiari’s hand correctly.
He can’t shut up though and when Esfandiari says he must have the Queen, he keeps talking. With Esfandiari tanking, Negreanu tells him he’ll show him a card after he folds. Esfandiari calls almost immediately and Negreanu sheepishly admits, ‘I gave it away at the end.’
If you’re faced with a similar situation, just don’t say a word. If Negreanu had done the same he’d have won this pot without a showdown. As it was he got lucky and won when a King hit on the river. It was desperately unlucky for Esfandiari, who saw through the bluff and should have picked up the $173,900 pot.
4. Show and destroy
Tom Dwan v Sammy George – Million Dollar Challenge
Some people say you should never show bluffs, but if you’re playing the 7-2 game you don’t have much choice. And showing here won Dwan far more than just a $10k bonus.
Dwan kicks things off by raising to $6k – double his previous raises. At a lower-level game this would be suspicious, but Dwan announces his hand which makes George level himself: ‘You don’t have 2-7.’
Dwan goes on to represent his only other possible hand – a monster. He pots the J♥-A♥-6♥ flop and calls when George check-raises with A♦-6♣
Dwan bets two-thirds pot on the 3♣ turn and George calls. George checks the 3♦ river and gives off a tell, picked up by Neil Channing on commentary. When Dwan goes to bet, George defensively picks up his big chips – a move which Channing says Dwan would see straight through. it enables him to move all-in and it looks like one of his classic value shoves. George knows Dwan has either a flush/full house or air. He’s already convinced Dwan has a monster and can’t call.
To rub salt in his wound Dwan shows, collects another $10k and, more importantly, leaves George looking absolutely destroyed. Dwan went on to win $750k off him.
5. Go for the muscle bluff
Brad Booth v Phil Ivey – High Stakes Poker
There’s always more than one way to skin a cat – even if that cat is Phil Ivey, as Brad Booth shows in one of the craziest bluffs of all time.
After David Williams raises to $1,800, Brad Booth – sitting on a monster stack and in a ghastly shirt – slams in a three-bet to $5,800. Ivey is sitting behind with Kings and pops it up to $14,000. Booth calls the $8,200 with 4♠-2♠ and hits a gutshot on the 3♦-7♠-6♦ flop. Ivey bets $23,000 and Booth moves all-in with three $100k stacks of cash, covering Ivey. Even under this sort of pressure Ivey can’t help a joke: ‘i wish you’d just put the chips in, that cash looks so sweet.’
If you credit Booth with putting Ivey on a big pair, it’s a brave and ballsy play. Booth doesn’t show the bluff afterwards, which would have made sense, but he claims he’s been dining off it ever since. ‘It wasn’t so much about making a name for myself,’ Booth said, ‘it was just about me winning that pot and picking up a free $45,000 and getting those implied odds for the rest of my life.’ Ivey’s alleged response to finding out that Booth had 4-2? ‘You sick f♣♥♠.’
In logical terms, the bluff doesn’t add up though and on his day Ivey would have worked this out and called. However, it shows with testicular fortitude, you can muscle-bluff your way past even the best players.
6. Use your image wisely
Phil Hellmuth v Mike Matusow – High Stakes Poker
This might just be one of our favourite bluffs of all time, which Hellmuth nails, using his image to get Matusow off a monster and winning an extra $500 off everyone at the table with 7-2.
In reality, Matusow traps himself when, after raising with Kings, he elects to just call Hellmuth’s three-bet and checks the flop back. Hellmuth then fires out $17k and Matusow just calls. With a pot of $49k and Matusow sitting with $65k back, Hellmuth fires pot and Matusow folds after saying, ‘I know Phil never makes a big bet on the river unless he has it.’
Hellmuth knows his image and leverages it to the max here. You’ve never heard him as happy as when he shows and announces, ‘It’s a new game today, boys. It’s a new game.’
Daniel Negreanu v Jamie Gold – High Stakes Poker
Jamie Gold – WSOP champ from 2006 – was a regular donator on the High Stakes Poker show, where he came up with the following unfortunate quote: ‘I don’t want to be the best player in the world, I want to be the best bluffer in the world.’ That didn’t help his wild image, which people were well aware of after his antics were televised at the WSOP.
In this hand (which starts 4 mins in) he tries to bluff one of the best readers of people in the game. On the river he shakes his head and looks at his chips before betting. Daniel Negreanu picks it up instantly, makes a joke out of it and still Gold tries to bluff him, telling him his hand is good. Negreanu calls quickly with top pair. When your image is loose, it’s going to be a lot harder to take people off hands.
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