Bluffing is one of the most exciting elements of poker. Many of the most famous and talked about poker hands involve gutsy high stakes bluffs. A well timed and perfectly executed bluff really highlights just how complex the game is and just how talented the players can be.
Here we take a look at some of the best, worst and most questionable poker bluffs ever. First, let’s clear up the purpose of a poker bluff and the factors that make a bluff good or bad.
There are generally two types of bet that players make in poker:
Value bet – When betting for value, you believe that you have the best hand. You are betting with the intention of getting your opponent to call with a worse hand so that you can build the pot and gain chips.
Bluffing – When bluffing, you believe that your opponent has the better hand. You are betting with the intention of getting them to fold, either now or on a later street.
Bluffing is an essential part of poker strategy. It provides an extra way to accumulate chips and also mixes up your play to make you more unpredictable.
Without going too far into the psychology of lying and bluffing, a well thought out bluff should always represent a hand. Your betting line and, in a live game, your body language, should give your opponent the (wrong) impression that you have a strong hand, one that it is possible to make on the board. This is how you can bluff advanced, thinking players.
If opponents are only concerned with their own hand, or they can’t fold a pair regardless of how much you bet, then elaborate bluffs aren’t going to work. Calling stations and newbies are not ideal targets. The best poker bluffs often target tight players who tend to fold when they meet resistance.
As a basic rule then, a good bluff bet:
- Represents a hand
- Considers opponent’s tendencies – whether they will or at least can fold
Now that we know a bit about what makes a bad and good bluff, here are some of the best bluffs in poker history.
At his peak, Tom “Durrrr” Dwan was one of the most feared poker players and creative bluffers on the live and online poker circuit, known for splashing around hundreds of thousands of dollars to pull off multi-barrel bluffs. One of Dwan’s most famous bluffs was a three-way pot against Barry Greenstein and Peter Eastgate during Season 5 of High Stakes Poker.
Greenstein opens under-the-gun. Known as a very tight player, Greenstein nearly always has a monster when he raises in early position. In this case he has A♥ A♣. As this is a deepstacked cash game, Greenstein picks up several pre-flop calls, including Tom Dwan holding Q♣ 10♣ and Eastgate, who comes along in the small blind with 4♥ 2♦.
The flop falls 2♣ 10♦ 2♠, which gives Eastgate Trip 2s. He checks. Greenstein bets his Aces for $10k. Dwan raises to $37,300, turning his top pair into a bluff. Eastgate calls with his Trip 2s, and Greenstein calls.
The turn comes 7♦. Check, check, and Dwan barrels for $104,200 of cold, hard cash. Eastgate folds his winning hand and then, after some deliberation, Greenstein follows suit and folds his Aces.
What makes this hand one of the best bluffs in poker history, is that Dwan knows what he’s doing. He’s not just throwing chips around. He figures from Eastgate’s call that he is likely holding a stray 2. He knows that Greenstein nearly always has an overpair, at this point usually Aces or Kings. Dwan also knows that he can get both opponents to fold. It’s an absolute genius hand.
Phil Ivey is another one of those players who is know for being super tricky and having almost superhuman hand reading abilities. Ivey has made a few notable bluffs in his time, but the standout hand has to be the “bluff vs bluff” at the 2005 Monte Carlo Millions. The event had a $1 million first prize, and Ivey was heads-up against Jackson with a 4:1 chip lead.
Jackson limps in with 6♠ 5♦. Ivey checks the big blind with Q♥ 8♥. A slow hand to start. The flop comes 7♣ J♣ J♥.
This is a decent flop for Ivey to take a stab at, so he bets. Jackson smells a rat and re-raises. At this point, Ivey must have a strong read that Jackson doesn’t have a big hand. His re-raise here looks bluffy. It’s more likely Jackson calls to extract more value on the turn if he has a monster hand.
Ivey puts in the 4-bet. Both players are holding air and the betting is getting insane. But Jackson throws in another re-raise. Ivey asks how much he has behind and realizes that Jackson has left himself room to fold. Ivey pushes all in. By applying maximum pressure and making the final move, he forces Jackson to fold and wins a huge pot.
Isaac Haxton (Ike) was heads-up with Ryan Daut at the 2007 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. At the time, Haxton represented a new breed of hyper-aggressive online player, capable of “clicking it back” with a wide range of hands.
Ryan limps in with 7♣ 5♠ and Isaac checks the big blind with 3♦ 2♦. The flop comes Q♥ 4♥ A♣. Ike checks and Ryan fires a bet… Ike calls. At this point, Isaac has picked up a backdoor straight draw, but other than that both players have bricked. Ike is likely looking to make a bluff on later streets by making a call here.
The turn is K♦, so no improvement for either player. Both check. The rives comes the Q♣. Again, both players have missed. Isaac Haxton makes a bet for 700k. Ryan’s check on the turn showed weakness and there aren’t many hands he could have hit.
Haxton’s bet could have been the end of it, but Ryan re-raises to 2 million, looking to shut down Haxton’s bluff. Ike won’t be deterred. He finds the “all-in button” for 7 million, giving Daut no option but to fold his 7-high. Haxton went on to finish runner-up in the event.
This hand is very similar to Ivey’s hand described above, but in this case the action takes place over multiple streets and the final barrel is fired with a 4-bet all-in on the river. It’s top level stuff.
This is the bit you’ve been waiting for. The worst poker bluffs. The hands that make you cringe. How did he do that? Since when was 10-high a valid shoving hand?
A little disclaimer. It’s easy to scrutinize when you know the hole cards. It’s not so easy to play at the highest level without occasionally mistiming a bluff. So laugh and learn, but know that every pro in the history of poker has probably bluff-spewed in a big way at some point in their career. On a different day, or even a different minute, the worst poker bluffs could have been the best, and vice versa.
Still, these bluffs are crazy.
Let’s warm up with Sorel Mizzi and Liviu Ignat in The Big Game VI. Just to set the scene, the players know each other well. Liviu has just lost a big hand. He is looking down at K♠ K♦.
Liviu raises pre-flop. Mizzi puts in a re-raise with 10♥ 7♣. Liviu makes the 4-bet bluff.
You could make a case here for Liviu calling to get more value on the turn, but instead he looks to stack off with his Kings pre-flop, not a bad line if you consider that his opponent could perceive him to be tilting. Mizzi should probably give up, but he has other ideas. He makes the 5-bet (yup!). At this point, Mizzi is already leveling himself.
Liviu re-raises again.
This should surely put the hand to rest. Mizzi is facing a 6-bet and is holding Ten high. Liviu is showing extreme strength and, even if he is holding something weak (which he isn’t), looks to be in the mood for confrontation. Mizzi still doesn’t believe him. He shoves all in, and Liviu makes the call. Liviu’s Kings hold up to win the hand.
This bluff, in retrospect at least, seems excessive and totally mistimed.
Viktor “Isildur1” Blom has always been known for his loose aggressive style. His bluffs often paid off, but one particular hand has become known as one of the worst poker bluffs ever.
It’s Day 2 of a major live tournament. Blom open raises K♦ 2♦ in the high jack. Munns, an amateur player from the UK, re-raises from the button with A♥ 7♠. Blom calls and sees a flop, already a questionable play out of position with such a marginal holding.
The flop comes A♦ A♣ 3♣, giving Munns a huge hand and reducing Blom to tiny percentages. Blom checks and Munns goes ahead and bets. Blom responds with a huge 3-bet. At this point, you could argue that Blom has made a fair attempt at a bluff. Although mistimed, he represents an Ace well enough here and often gets weaker opponents to fold.
Munns could just call the 3-bet here with his Trip Aces, but doing so is a pretty obvious sign of a monster. Instead, Munns 4-bets, clearly looking to get his chips in the middle on the flop. It takes Blom less than 10 seconds to re-jam all in with his King high.
This is still a tad scary for Munns. Blom could be holding a flush draw, better Ace or even a Full House. After a little think, he makes the correct call with his Aces, busting a rather rash Viktor Blom from the event.
We’ve actually quoted this next one before as being one of the best poker bluffs of all time. We’re not going back on that. In terms of entertainment, and even in terms of pure guts, it’s up there. Yet you could say that this one is more of a questionable fold…
Miss Finland, Sara Chafak, was in a pot against Ronnie Bardah on the poker TV series Shark Cage. She limps in with A♥ 2♦. Ronnie is in the big blind with 8♣ 4♠. He leads 15k with his bottom pair on a Q♠ 5♠ 4♣ board. Sara puts in the min re-raise, completely throwing Ronnie off guard, not only with her bet, but also with her smile.
The 4(d) on the turn gives Ronnie the trips. He checks, Sara bets just over half pot, Ronnie re-raises and Sara 4-bets. Ronnie makes the call, and the river comes 6(h). Ronnie checks and Miss Finland shoves all in for a little over the pot.
Bardah is under pressure from the 30-second time limit. He calls his time bank, twice. He scratches his head. He can’t work out Miss Finland’s line. Or perhaps he doesn’t want to eliminate her from the show. Either way, he makes the fold with Trip 4s, leaving Sara Chafak to reveal her bluff and show her Ace high.
Good bluff or bad fold? You decide. Check out the Miss Finland bluff below: