Making a successful bluff is quite possibly the single most satisfying play one can make at the poker table; that irresistible feeling of winning a pot that by all rights you should never have won can easily become addictive. On the flip-side of this deceptive coin lies the failed bluff and a feeling of embarrassment as the whole table sees you with your hand in the cookie-jar, for many players this can actually make them feel like they’ve been caught actually lying, that they’re a dishonest person. Because of this tendency it’s actually well documented that players bluff far less in live games, where they must look their opponents in the eye, than they do online, where they are shielded from their failed bluffs by a veil of anonymity.
What else commonly stops some players pulling the trigger when considering a bluff? The size of the pot is one big factor. Many amateurs feel comfortable firing a standard continuation bet, or a small river bluff if it’s checked to them 3 times but will quickly shut down as the pot grows, scared of risking that big third barrel or check/raise shove, as if the size of their bet were directly correlated to the magnitude of their embarrassment if it were to go wrong.
What makes our Top Ten Televised Bluffs so extraordinary then is two-fold: firstly, the players are often betting literally hundreds of thousands of dollars with the stone-cold nothing. If you think overbet shoving the river $65 into $44 in your $0.5/$1 ring-game is a scary proposition, imagine overbet shoving your house. Secondly, these bluffs aren’t just made by players in front of their poker peers at the felt, but rather on national television; take that normal fear most people have of getting caught bluffing and multiply it by hundreds of thousands of poker fans watching at home: getting caught trying to “buy the pot” just got a whole lot more scary.
With all that in mind, grab a handkerchief and commence sweaty palms as we begin our countdown of the Top Ten Televised Bluffs.
#10 Brad Booth makes huge overbet bluff against Phil Ivey on High Stakes Poker
Brad Booth stamped his mark on High Stakes Poker early with this audacious bluff and what’s more he did it against Phil Ivey himself. With deep stacks Booth decided to float Ivey’s 3bet in position with 42 suited, not a conventional play by any standards. The flop fell 367 with two diamonds and when Phil fired a $23,000 continuation bet it looked like the hand was all over. Booth had other ideas, however, and with balls of solid steel he made a huge overbet shoving all in for $300,000 with nothing more than a gutshot.
As Gabe Kaplan rightly pointed out, Booth probably made this play for two reasons. Firstly, if Ivey has JJ-AA then it’s hard for him to call unless he has some kind of read that his opponent is bluffing. With stacks as deep as they are it is quite possible that Brad Booth flopped a set. Secondly, the play was great advertisement: in one quick shove for over a quarter of a million dollars Brad Booth announced the poker world that he wasn’t afraid to make any play at anytime against any player. Even if he were called, that reputation alone could easily pay for itself over the long run. As it happened Ivey tanked for a while before folding his kings. It’s not often the “greatest player in the world” gets pushed off the best hand.
#9 Isaac Haxton risks his tournament life heads-up versus Ryan Daut
Here’s a great example of a good bluff that is quickly overshadowed by an outstanding bluff. Down to heads up play at the 2007 WPT Caribbean Poker Adventure with a 1st place prize of $1,535,255 to play for, Isaac Haxton pulled off one of the most memorable tournament bluffs of all time, 3bet shoving the river with absolutely nothing and forcing Ryan Daut to lay down his own bluff, which was actually the winning hand.
What makes this play truly special is the fearlessness of Haxton’s play. If he were to make this move in a cash game, it would be a highly impressive display of creativity and read for the game, but to make it not only in a tournament (where being wrong means you’re out for good with no chance to rebuy) but in a tournament in which he’d grinded for several days against over 900 other players and was now down to just two and fighting for a payout of over a million dollars… well that takes extraordinary guts.
#8 Phil Ivey turns trips into a bluff vs. Patrik Antonius and David Benyamine
Most people who have committed to improving their poker game by reading up on their poker strategy will likely have come across the idea of “turning a made hand into a bluff”: this elusive concept can be confusing and is rarely applied, even by winning players. With that said, when it is used it’s usually in a situation where you have a weak made hand with some showdown value but you feel like you can credibly represent a much stronger hand by betting, and potentially make some better hands fold.
In this hand Ivey takes the concept and goes wild, rather than turning a weak-made hand into a bluff he turns flopped trips into a bluff successfully pushing out two better hands: Patrik’s better trips and Benyamine’s queen high flush. Benyamine folds because the way the hand went down it is almost impossible for Ivey to reach the river without a made hand, because of this David and Patrik expect Ivey to check the river hoping to win. Ivey, widely considered the best in the world, is having none of it. Harnessing his uncanny ability to always seem to know exactly where he is in a hand, he fires a big river bet when the forth diamond falls turning his three of a kind into a successful bluff. After much agonising Benyamine eventually folds his flush reaching the same conclusion that most good players in his shoes would reach: Ivey can’t be bluffing... The only problem being, of course, he was.
#7 Tom Dwan successfully represents quads vs. JC Tran
A great bluff is a great bluff, but when you can push your opponent off the 2nd nuts, it’s that much more difficult and so that much sweeter. Playing on the UK’s Premier League Poker show Dwan decided to check back an AJ9 board with QT whilst JC Tran held AT for top pair. The turn fell the J♥ which fell well within Dwan’s range and Tran decided to check call a bet. With the pot at 50,000 chips the river fell the case J♦ and Tran checked a third time, what followed was typical of Dwan’s hyper-creative and hyper-aggressive style, he shoved all-in for twice the size of the pot.
People have criticised JC’s lay-down of the 2nd nuts but in reality it’s actually not that bad. With the way Tom played the hand he perfectly represents the forth jack. Furthermore if he had an Ace for the full house it is highly unlikely he would overbet the way he did. Why? Because there is nothing Tran could possibly call with and so it would be a wasted value bet. Because of these assumptions Dwan’s bet is polarised between a total bluff and quads. By betting twice the size of the pot JC figures he has to be right at least 40% of the time to make the call profitable and quickly mucks his hand. Against anybody but Dwan and a select few other players I’d say this fold is totally acceptable, as it happened, however, the player they call “Durrrr” once again snatched a pot that by all rights did not belong to him and made a fantastic read that he could get JC off the full house.
#6 Marcello Marigliano owns Tom Dwan with a crazy triple float
It’s not often that anybody gets the better of Tom Dwan, but in this memorable hand from the Durrrr Million Dollar Challenge Marcello “luckexpress” Marigliano did just that. The hand began normally enough with Dwan 3betting KQ for value (a standard play in a heads-up format) and Marcello making a slightly loose, but by no means bad, call with K9 in position. From here though, things quickly became anything but normal.
The board fell 368 and Dwan fired out a continuation bet, rather than lay down his King high, however, Marcello called Dwan and the scene was set for an epic confrontation. The turn card was the 4♥ and dwan fired out a huge $36,000 2nd barrel. At this point it seemed there was no option but to for Marcello to fold, but once again he surprised everybody by calling a second time. With a ballooning pot of $126,000 the river fell a somewhat innocuous 8♠ and Dwan meticulously counted out a massive $97,000 third barrel. Almost before he’d put his bet in the middle Marcello announced all in and with a laugh Dwan exclaimed “I guess I didn’t pick the right time”.
Marcello’s all-in was for less than an extra $50,000, giving Dwan odds of 6:1 on the call. The only way for his play to work was if Dwan was on a total 3-barrel bluff, and he was. It was an impeccable read that required not just incredible poker insight but stone-cold resolve. It’s one thing to suspect your opponent of bluffing, it’s quite another to wager $200,000 of your own money that you’re right and to do it heads-up, against one of the best in the world, in front of an audience of millions at home.
Gleefully Marcello tabled the bluff much to Dwan’s shock and bemusement, a reminder that even the best in the world aren’t immune to having their soul read.
#5 Phil Ivey 5bet shoves with 52 off suit vs. Lex Veldhuis
A hand of pure beauty and instinct: after Barry Greenstein raises from middle position and Ivey to his immediate left reraises with to $18,000 with just about the worst hand in the deck, 52 off suit. Everybody folds around to Lex Veldhuis who’d elected to straddle and he looks down at KJ suited and makes a fantastic read that Ivey is getting out of line and makes a ballsy cold 4bet to $51,000. The action folds back to Phil Ivey where it seems a certainty that he will be forced to fold. Surprising everybody once again, he thinks for a moment or two, puts conventional logic aside, and announced “I’m all in”. Lex folds: “I thought you were mad at Barry.” Ivey replies with a knowing smirk, “I was.”
This is the kind of hand that would rarely occur online and was almost certainly made possible by Ivey’s at the table reads of Greenstein and Veldhuis. Making a move like this with 52 off suit leaves a person open to looking unbelievably stupid if it goes wrong but conversely legendarily cool if it works out. It’s a testament to Ivey’s skill and uncanny ability to know where he’s at in a hand at all times that in all the years I’ve watched him play in televised cash games I’ve never seen him embarrass himself with a terrible call or a crazy play that didn’t work out. Not for nothing is he known as the best in the world.
#4 Tom Dwan fires 3 barrels vs. Phil Ivey in one of High Stakes Poker’s biggest ever pots
This hand is fascinating on several levels. Firstly we have Tom Dwan doing what Tom Dwan does best, fearlessly bluffing huge amounts of money. Squeezing pre-flop for $28,000 with 89 suited is a strong play in and of itself but to get called by Mr. Phil Ivey and continue to fire 3 barrels with no pair and no draw, out of position, and building one of the largest pots ever witnessed on television in the process, well that’s quite another thing altogether.
It’s fascinating secondly because of how long Phil Ivey thinks on the river with just fourth pair. Given the action it seems almost inconceivable that Ivey could have the best hand and yet his uncanny instincts are at play again as he thinks for a full 4 minutes about making what would be the sickest call in television history. Eventually laying down the hand the relief on Dwan’s face is palpable. After firing quarter of a million dollars into the best player in the world with a total airball it’s easy to see why he is so feared and respected but the story wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if it wasn’t for Ivey’s sixth-sense read which helped to create one of the most tense 4 minutes in television history. When your palms have stopped sweating we’ll move on to number #3.
#3 Dwan decides to take the 72 off suit game seriously vs. Sammy George
Another hand from the Durrrr Million Dollar Challenge but this time Dwan comes out the victor. When this hand went down Tom and Sammy were playing the 72 game which means that if either of them won a hand with 72 the other player would be obligated to hand over an additional $5,000 chip. This game is known for creating a more bluffy atmosphere as players are always worried when facing a bet if they might just be up against the worst hand in poker.
As Tom opened for an oversized 6x the big blind with the 72 there should already have been suspicion in the air, once Dwan jokingly stated he had 72 it was the beginning of a levelling war which would end up with the largest bluff in televised history and Sammy George with a sore head and a very light wallet.
With A6 off suit Sammy called the raise and flopped two pair on an A♥J♥6♥ board. Dwan fired a $10,000 continuation bet and things quickly got serious. Sammy George check/raised it to $27,000 and for a normal player this would be a nice spot to lay your hand down. Unfortunately for Sammy, Dwan is not a normal player and he decided to flat call the raise with 7 high. Sammy slowed down on the turn, the 3♣, checking it to Dwan who fired close to a pot sized bet, $48,000 which Sammy quickly called with his two pair. The river paired the board, the 3♦ and once more Sammy checked to Dwan.
With a pot size of $162,000, enough to buy a small house, Dwan could only win by betting, and yet it seemed clear that Sammy George had a made hand he wasn’t ready to let go. What followed was the most audacious overbet bluff ever witnessed: Dwan shoved all in for $479,500 or 3 times the pot putting Sammy in possibly the most uncomfortable spot ever witnessed on national television. After agonising for a full 4 minutes he finally decided to lay his hand down.
To rub salt in the wound Dwan tabled the 72 offsuit saying “I’m sorry, I wouldn’t normally show” and collected an extra $5,000.
#2 Phil Ivey and Paul Jackson play a game of chicken
Down to heads-up play with at the 2005 Monte Carlo Millions with a $1,000,000 first prize up for grabs Phil Ivey and Paul Jackson had been passing chips back and forth for a while before the following hand took place. Pre-flop the action was rather tame, Jackson raised 6♠5♦ and Ivey called with Q♥8♥, the flop fell:
What followed was one of the most astonishing games of chicken ever witnessed across the poker felt and a constant reminder never to mess with Phil Ivey.
Ivey made a continuation bet of 80,000, a pretty standard play.
Jackson suspects Ivey is weak and reraises to 170,000, a nice move; he’s telling Ivey he won’t be pushed around. Against most players we might expect a fold right here as Ivey only has Queen high. Phil Ivey is not most players, however.
Somehow smelling weakness Ivey 3bets back to 320,000, a fantastic play, forcing Jackson to lay down his hand… Except…
Jackson raises it back to $470,000! Reaching deep and discovering he has balls of granite Jackson just cold 4-bet bluffed the best in the world, and was right to do it. Ivey has absolutely nothing. A great read by Jackson.
“I don’t see how Ivey can call here” proclaims commentator.
“I’m all in” proclaims Ivey.
And with that move, the 2nd greatest televised bluff on our list, Ivey won a massive pot with absolutely nothing helping him to go on and win the tournament, a million dollars richer and immortalised on film as one seriously sick maniac.
#1 Tom Dwan cements his legacy bluffing out Barry Greenstein and Peter Eastgate
Coming in at no #1 is, surprise, surprise, Tom Dwan who has the most entries on this list with four all to himself. We’ve thought long and hard, and we feel that this is not only his best ever bluff, but also the best ever televised bluff, period.
The hand began unusually from the get-go, Greenstein opened with AA and everybody called for a rare eight-way family pot. The High Stakes Poker editing team were having a high time fitting everybody’s card graphics on the screen! The flop fell:
Greenstein continuation bet $10,000 into seven players with his aces looking extremely strong. It’s doubtful there was a player at the table who didn’t put Greenstein on at least JJ+, only Dwan would have the audacity to do what he did next. Turning his QT off suit into a bluff, Dwan raised Barry’s bet to $37,000 at which point everybody quickly got out of the way until it folded around to peter Eastgate who had woke up with trip twos in the small blind. Eastgate’s problem was that he had 4♥2♦… just about the worst kicker and was facing what looked like extreme strength from Dwan. He elected to cold call the $37,000 and Barry elected to call with his aces as well.
With a pot of $106,000 and holding worst hand the action was checked back to Dwan. In this spot 99.9% of players would give up on their bluffs, Eastgate’s cold call screamed that he had at least trips and Barry clearly had a big overpair or better, surely trying to get two strong hands like these to fold would be an exercise in burning money. Dwan thought otherwise:
“He’s bet $104,000″ announced Gabe Kaplan. And with that Tom Dwan made a permanent stamp on the poker landscape, advertising to the world that he could have any cards at any time and was capable of risking hundreds of thousands of dollars making bluffs nobody had ever seen before. Eastgate laid down his hand, realising that he could only beat a bluff, and after some deep thought Greenstein eventually laid down his aces.
After the hand was over the always charming Eli Elezra commented that Barry had the best hand, with a smile Dwan pointed at Eastgate and declared “He had the best hand” making it absolutely clear that this was not just some random bluff that got lucky but that he knew exactly where he was in the hand, that Eastgate had trips and that he could make him fold them. Tom Dwan had arrived.
Disagree with the top ten?
As with any list of this kind, it is all a matter of personal opinion and there will always be disagreements. Was your favourite bluff left off the list? Please post it in the comments below. Do you feel a specific bluff should have been higher or lower on the list? Please leave your feedback. I’d love to see some discussion on where people agree and disagree with my assessments. Also, if you enjoyed this article, please share it with friends using the social bookmarking buttons below. Thanks a lot, and good luck with your own bluffs at the table.