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Poker Strategy | Beginner's Poker

Bluff Like The Pros

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When High Stakes Poker first started airing on GSN, it was a whole new experience to poker viewers. We were used to watching tournaments but never before had we seen cash game action with so much money involved. One of the thrilling parts of the show is watching the great, and not so great, bluffs that have taken place. This article is going to discuss some of the best and worst bluffs that have gone down on the show. What happened? Why did they work or not work and just how good a bluff was it? On the other hand, how bad was the opponent's fold?

The ones that worked

Bluff #1 – Brad Booth versus Phil Ivey,

David Williams opened the action for $1,800 from middle position with {J-Spades}{9-Clubs}. Brad Booth raised to $5,800 from the cutoff with {4-Spades}{2-Spades}. 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 tells him 280K) made the call. The flop came {7-Spades}{6-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds}. 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 told him, “I wish you would have put chips in, that cash looks so sweet.” Ivey thinks about what to do while Booth looked casually at the table and played with some chips next to his head. Finally, Ivey made the fold glaring at Booth as if he had just hit his mother.

Why did it work?

The way Booth played the hand certainly didn't add up to a hand that could beat kings. He re-raised Williams opener pre-flop which would often mean he has a hand better than pocket 7's. A big ace, medium/big pair are the likely holdings here (even though this is not what he had, it is what he is trying to represent). 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, a bet 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 – player's don't like going broke when they are unsure if 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.

Bluff rating:
7 out of 10. Any bluff that works is a success. Any bluff that can get a player to fold a monster is an even bigger success, but honestly I think the bluff only worked here because Ivey didn't think it through properly.

Bluff #2 – Phil Hellmuth versus Mike Matusow

Mike Matusow raised first to act in early position with pocket kings to $1,800. Phil Hellmuth looked at Matusow and Matusow said something about it looking like he might have a big hand. Hellmuth re-raised out of the big blind to $7,000 with {7-Diamonds}{2-Spades}. Matusow counted out the raise amount and set it in front of him and then quickly flicked them into the middle. The flop came {Q-Diamonds}{J-Spades}{6-Hearts} and both players quickly checked. The turn was the {8-Diamonds} and Hellmuth took nearly no time in making a $17,000 bet into a $15,100 pot. Matusow called and the pot size was now $49,100. The river was the {6-Clubs}. Hellmuth looked over at Matusow with chips in his hand. He looked a bit perplexed and set the chips down, still studying Matusow. 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 twice and said, “I know Phil never makes a big bet on the river unless he has it, that's the thing” and added “this sucks.” He goes on by saying, “I know he hit a f**king two outer on me” and then turned the kings over face up and tossed them into the muck. Hellmuth showed the bluff and Matusow leapt out of his chair as Hellmuth said, “it's a new game today boys.”

Why did it work?

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 his pre-flop error by not betting the flop when Matusow checks to him and by flat calling Hellmuth's over bet on the turn. When Hellmuth places a large bet on the river, Matusow truly 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 the one he had. Matusow knew that Hellmuth liked to make smallish bets with hands like 2nd 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 even stated that “Phil never makes a big bet on the river unless he has it” and makes the fold because he doesn't believe Phil is capable of making that big of a bluff on the river against him.

Bluff rating: 10 out of 10. Unlike the Booth hand this one is a doozy. Hellmuth pulls off a successful bluff, gets his opponent to fold a monster, and did it in convincing fashion by using his history with Matusow to represent a bigger hand.

Bluff #3 – Todd Brunson versus Daniel Negreanu

Todd Brunson opened for $1,600 from middle position with {J-Clubs}{8-Clubs} and is called by Sammy Farha with {K-Clubs}{5-Diamonds} and Daniel Negreanu with {A-Spades}{9-Hearts}. The flop came {J-Spades}{5-Spades}{5-Clubs} giving Farha trip 5's and Brunson two pair. Every one checked. The turn was the {9-Spades} 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 Qs and Farha checked. Negreanu, with the nut flush, checked as well. Brunson bet $21,000 and Farha folded. Daniel told Jennifer Harman, “If I lay this hand down, I'll be sick to my stomach” and stood up to study the board closer. “I just think he has a full house,” Daniel said. “I think you have pocket jacks,” he added, his arms crossed, puzzled by how the hand has played out. Daniel played the hand out loud to himself going through the action of the entire hand and convinced himself that he was beat. “Wow, it's so obvious he's got to have me beat,” he said and then folded his hand. Todd grinned and turned over the 8 and the table roared in approval. “What a weirdo, Todd just lost his mind,” Daniel laughed.

Why did it work?

It worked because as if 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 beat. He didn't give himself an opportunity to find out if his hand was best. Instead he let Brunson persuade him that it wasn't. 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, a substantial over bet, on the turn and then made a nice sized but not over sized bet on the river. If he had pocket jacks or fives as Daniel believed him to have, this is probably exactly how he would have played the hand.

The one thing Daniel could have done that would have likely changed the outcome of the hand 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 find out quickly as Brunson would put in a value raise. Brunson, on the other hand, made a great play because both players quickly showed disinterest in the pot and given the way the hand played out a river bet would 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.

Bluff rating: 9 out of 10. The only reason this doesn't get a 10 is because Negreanu let Brunson pull this bluff off. All in all though it was a well executed, well timed bluff.

The ones that didn't work

Bluff #4 – Daniel Negreanu versus Antonio Esfandiari

Phil Hellmuth opened the pot for $3,200 with {A-Diamonds}{2-Spades} and Daniel Negreanu called from the cutoff with {K-Diamonds}{10-Diamonds}. Antonio Esfandiari, after querying how much Hellmuth had in front of him, popped it from the button to $12,000 with pocket jacks. Hellmuth folded but Negreanu was quick to call. Negreanu checked in the dark and the flop came {Q-Spades}{10-Clubs}{6-Spades}. Esfandiari grabbed 15K and as he was contemplating whether to put the chips in, Negreanu started chatting him up saying that if you bet that I'm probably going to put you all in. Esfandiari said alright and put the money in the middle. Negreanu asked him how much he has left and Antonio told him, “50.”

Negreanu started talking to himself and bobbing up and down in his chair. He looked as if he's not sure what he should do but convinced himself that moving all in was the correct play. Antonio let out a grimace and Daniel said, “That was nice to hear.” Daniel, as he will often do, continued chatting to Antonio, the table, and whomever else would listen. Antonio asked Daniel if he had ace queen and then asked him if he had ace ten. Daniel picked up on this and correctly deduced that Antonio had 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 as he leaned back and said quietly, “I call.” Daniel laughed and said, “Your jacks are good.” Unfortunately for Esfandiari, they wouldn't be after a brutal king hit the river.

Why did it not work?

This was simply a case of Daniel letting his talking do too much. While Negreanu's talkative and playful demeanor is often successful, he made a mistake here. His best course of action after the initial interaction would have been to keep his mouth shut and let Antonio think that he was beat. Instead by saying “I'll show you a card after you fold,” Daniel gave a huge opening to Antonio. He was basically begging Antonio to fold.

After the cards are turned over, Daniel even says, “I gave it away at the end.” After the king on the river, the rest of the table complimented Antonio on his call and started talking about how Daniel had given it away. Daniel agrees with them and says, “Oops, I should have shut up.” A lesson to be learned for everyone out there that talking isn't always the best idea.

Bluff Rating:
4 out of 10. The bluff actually started out as very promising. 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 the talking that would do Negreanu in.

Bluff #5 – Jamie Gold versus Daniel Negreanu
(31 minute mark)

Jamie Gold opened the action with a live straddle under the gun. Negreanu raised to $3,600 with {A-Spades}{J-Spades} and it was folded around to Gold who made the call with {5-Spades}{4-Spades}. The flop came {A-Diamonds}{5-Clubs}{3-Diamonds} and Mike Matusow was making comments about how loose Gold was by telling Eli Elezra that Elezra was tight compared to Jamie. Jamie checked and Daniel bet $6,000 into the $8,900 pot which Jamie called without any thought. The turn was the {K-Hearts} and Jamie checked again. Daniel bet again, this time $12,000 and Jamie didn't waste any time in calling. The river was the {8-Spades} and Jamie visibly shook his head as the card was turned over. Daniel noticed and asked, “What was that? You did that obviously on purpose. Is there a reason behind it?” Matusow and Negreanu talked about what Gold did and Jamie placed out a $20,000 bet. Daniel looked as if he was going to call but hadn't committed to it yet and Gold said, “Your hand is good.” Daniel responded, “I haven't called yet,” but does just that and takes down the pot. After the hand Gold said, “I knew he had a hand that time but it was the only way I could win.” Matusow told him, “You can't bluff the rich ones, just the poor ones.”

Why did it not work?

There are several 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, you should know what your 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 still made a bet. He further compounded his error by telling Negreanu that his hand was good despite the fact that Daniel hadn't decided whether or not to call.

Bluff #6 – Mike Matusow versus Phil Laak
(30 minute mark)

Phil Laak raised first to act from middle position with {K-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds} to $1,700 and Mike Matusow called the additional $1,100 from the big blind with {Q-Hearts}{9-Diamonds}. The flop came {J-Diamonds}{10-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds} 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 made a quick call with the 2nd nut flush. The turn was the {5-Hearts} and Matusow fired another bet, this time for $10,000.  Laak calls. The river was the {6-Clubs} and almost as quickly as the card was turned over Matusow announced, “I'm all in.” Just as quickly, Laak made the call. As Matusow's chips are being shipped to Laak, Matusow muttered “I wasn't sure if he had the draw or not.”

Why did it not work?

This one is actually pretty easy to explain. Matusow's bluff didn't work because his opponent had the 2nd nuts. It's hard to get an opponent to fold when that is the case. Matusow obviously thought Laak was on a draw by his final comment but there were several things he could have done to avoid going bust on the hand. First his bet sizing was bad as he bet nearly the pot on the flop and over ¾ 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 beat. 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 last thing is Matusow never took into consideration how Laak played the hand. He raised pre-flop and then flat called large flop and turn bets on a very coordinated, draw heavy board. This isn't the play of someone who has a marginal pair or is drawing. They either have a monster as Laak did or are playing a big pair or set cautiously because of the three diamonds on the board.

Bluff Rating: 0 out of 10. Of all the bluffs, this was by far the worst. It's not even close.

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