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Great Moments in Poker History Upsets Bluffs and Comebacks

poker upsetsPoker players must master numerous skills and strategies, including hand selection and poker mathematics. The players who emerge victorious in some of the greatest upsets, bluffs and comebacks in history seem to have the ability – whether natural instinct or learned behavior – to comprehend the subtle nuances and behaviors of their opponents. This takes their play to another level.

They not only know their opponents and their tactics, but they also anticipate how the opposition will react under certain conditions. More often than not, the process seems to boil down to asking a series of questions.

poker questions

You can take both direct and indirect approaches to obtain the answers, such as talking to an opponent, watching his reaction to a turn, or noting what is occurring when he becomes tense, relaxes or takes a swig from the water bottle.

Take a look at the following upsets, bluffs and comebacks and learn how some of the best poker players employed the finer points of the game to achieve amazing results.

The Best Bluff of All Time

With a 6-foot, 7-inch frame that earned him the name “Treetop,” historians describe Jack Straus as the “life of the party” who loved action, especially poker. Straus, who died at the age of 58 from a heart attack, was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame posthumously in 1988. He had a reputation for being aggressive in his style of play, which bordered on recklessness. In Al Alvarez’s book The Greatest Game in Town, he writes about how Straus became known as one of the greatest bluffs in the annals of poker.

greatest game

In the 1982 Poker World Series, Straus began the gameof no limit hold ‘em being dealt the “hammer,” a 7–2 off suit, and the worst starting hand possible. Most seasoned veterans would have understandably folded straightaway. But not Treehouse. He shocked observers when he decided to make the best of the situation and raise.

All but one opponent folded, but the one remaining player called. The flop produced 7-3-3, which gave Straus a 2 pair. Straus could only ponder what his opponent had, which led to the initial raise. Furthermore, what was the possibility that the opponent’s hand would include a 7 or 3?

From the moment he made the next bet, Straus immediately knew he made a big mistake; his opponent raised $5,000. The most logical conclusion at this point was that the opponent had a big pair. It was decision time for Straus: Would he make a percentage play or cut his losses and fold?

Straus called and plowed on – without a doubt sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of the competition. The turn card showed a two, giving him a pair, but did nothing for his losing hand. Straus ratcheted up the doubt that permeated the air when he over-bet a massive $18,000. This is where the series of unbelievable events begins.

Waiting for his opponent to make his next move, Straus’s voice suddenly pierced the silence in the room. He leaned forward toward his opponent and said in a friendly tone, "I’ll tell you what, just give me one of those $25 chips of yours, and you can see one of my cards, whichever you choose."

After a brief silence, and thinking that he had nothing to lose, the opponent tossed Straus a $25 chip, and pointed to one of Treetop’s cards. Straus flipped it over to expose the two, which creates even more doubt. Jack Straus must have a Full House.

The opponent, fooled into thinking that Straus had a pair of twos, put down the hand. Even if the opponent had chosen the other card, the seven, this thinking process would have yielded the same conclusion.

Pius Heinz: The Improbable Championship

From the start, the odds were against 22-year-old Pius Heinz from Cologne, Germany. He wanted to succeed in the supreme achievement for nearly every serious poker enthusiast on the planet: to win a World Series of Poker (WSOP) title and sport the famous bracelet.The field for the2011 WSOP Main Championship Event began with Heinz and 6,864 fellow players, from 85 different countries.

They flooded into the Penn and Teller Theatre at the Rio in Las Vegas to participate in what at that time ranked as the third largest live poker tournament ever held. Initial play for took place over eight days. Heinz outlasted 6,846 other aspiring champions to reach the November Nine and the opportunity to return to Vegas four months later to complete his quest for a WSOP championship.

In an interview conducted after he reached the November Nine, Heinz stated that he dropped out of college after two semesters to focus on playing poker. He discussed what he learned about the game, how he applied the pressure during a bluff, the art of getting inside the minds of opponents to cause confusion, and how he thinks about his opponents’ deliberations and then does the opposite of what they expect.

He used these skills to navigate through the original field, to earn a seat at the final table sessions, which began on a Sunday afternoon. Of the nine players in the finals, Heinz had the seventh lowest chip stack. He eventually faced two players for the championship. The Czech poker superstar Marti Staszko had $40.1 million in chips. Ben Lamb, considered the best player in the world at that time, and the winner of the 2011 WSOP Player of the Year title, had $20.8 million chips.

Ben Lamb

Heinz used his skills to parlay his chips into one of the most improbable and shocking comeback victories ever, and win a whopping $8,715,638 in prize money – the third-highest payout for any poker champion in history and the first German world champion in poker history.

After eight hours of some of the most exhilarating poker action, only Staszko, Lamb and Heinz remained standing for the Tuesday evening showdown. Heinz emerged from the events on Sunday as the as the chip leader and control of more than half of the chips in play.

In the grand finale held that Tuesday night, from the first hand dealt, it did not take long for the field of three to become just two. Onlookers gasped in disbelief when Lamb busted out in stunning fashion. Lamb made a high-risk bluff when he 4-bet and shoved K-J off. Holding pocket sevens, Staszko moved all in before the flop, immediately crippling Lamb. Five blanks hit the board and Lamb was eliminated in the fourth hand of the night.

This left Staszko and Heinz to battle it out for the championship. Staszko began with a small chip lead. Over the next six hours and 28 minutes, just short of the 7.5-hour record, the battle seesawed back and forward. The chip lead exchanged hands multiple times as each player refused to yield an inch.

Heinz regained the chip lead on the ninth and final swap. He began to pull away from Staszko a short time later, and built his chips by a 5 to 1 margin. In the final hand, Staszko open-shoved with T-7. Heinz held an A-K and called immediately. Since neither player made a pair, the ace-high hand held by Heinz won him the championship.

The Night Moneymaker Took Poker Mainstream

Before what some poker historians have termed the “greatest bluff of the century,” poker had become the household game we know today. However, this all changed when 27-year old Tennessee accountant Chis Moneymaker went against Sammy Farha in the 2003 WSOP Main Event held at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. Chis entered the face-to-face with Farha with about $5.5 million chips in, to Farha’s $2.9 million.

Now for the hand that put poker on the map, Moneymaker had Ks-7h and Farha had Qs-9h for a top pair. Both players checked of 9s-6s-2d.

Things picked up on the turn, as the eights gave both players a flush draw. Farha tossed $300,000 into the pot and Moneymaker raised to $800,000. Farha called and the dealer flipped over the 3h on the river. As soon as Farha checked, Moneymaker stunned the crowd when he announced, “I’m all in.” This is what Moneymaker told regarding his strategy:

“So my plan was to bluff any river, if it didn’t come a spade. If it came a spade, I may end up just checking the river with my king of spades. If he shoves, I don’t know what I do with the king of spades. I got a real tough decision at that point. I just remember telling myself I’ve got to reach down deep, and no matter what card comes, I’m hoping I hit my straight, but if I don’t, no matter what comes, I’m shoving.”

Farha tried nearly every trick imaginable to get the “poker-faced” Moneymaker to make a slip. On the other hand, Moneymaker knew it would be the end if Farha called. All by himself in the tank, Farha folded.

A few minutes later, Chris Moneymaker had pulled off one of the most masterful bluffs the game has ever seen. The winning hand had a pot of $1.8 million, which moved Moneymaker back to where he was at the start of heads-up play.

Had Farha called, his stack would have zoomed to $7.5 million and Moneymaker would have dropped to $850,000.

Straus Does it Again

When reflecting on a monumental feat in human history, the occurrence can become somewhat blurred. Depending on the historian, this story either occurred well into the initial day of the tournament or on the final day.

In the 1982 WSOP Championship, Jack Straus was playing an opponent when he did what poker players around the world do on a regular basis, he simply pushed what he believed were all of his chips to the center of the table. However, Straus never said “all in.” His opponent called and they both flipped over their cards. Straus had lost the hand.

Thinking that his uninspiring run in the tournament had come to an abrupt end, Straus stood up to leave. As he grabbed his coat, he noticed a single $500 chip, partially obscured by a napkin, or it might have been a package of cigarettes.

Because he didn’t declare that he was “all in” during the course of the hand, he could continue in the tournament with the $500 chip. With new life, Straus moved all in with his tiny stack of chips over and over again. He won one round after another.

It took some serious wriggling, clawing and kicking, but when all was done, Treetop found himself with a seat at the final table with Dewey Tomko. During the final hand, both players moved their chips to the middle of the table, Tomko holding A-4, and Straus A-10.

The flop brought a 4, leaving Tomko with a pair of fours. The Qc surfaced on the turn, and the river produced the 10s. Straus’s earned the $520,000 first prize.

Riding a Whim into a Cool $1.6 Million

Gregory Brooks built a reputation in the poker community on a self-imposed hiatus. His trip to the west coast began as a plan for a little R&R with some of his friends. On a whim, Brooks decided to join in with more than 650 hopefuls at the 2011World Poker Tour (WPT) L.A. Poker Classic (LAPC), held in the Classic Commerce CasinoinLos Angeles.

big win

The upstart returned home toWyckoff, NJ with the WPT championship under his belt, and a hefty $1.6 million more in his bank account.

Moving on to become one of the six finalists at theLAPC Main Event final table, Brooks easily ranked as the least experienced player. The competition included the three-timeWPT Carlos Mortensen, who smelled a fourth title, as well as WPT veteran Vivek Rajkumar. Sitting in the middle of the pack in terms of chips, it only took three hands for Brooks to wrestle away into the chip lead, which he got “all in,” holding pocket aces to Rajkumar’s pocket queens.

Thirty-one hands passed before the first elimination – a result of Darryll Fish getting caught on a reshove with Q-TMortenson, who originally raised the hand. He called, flipping up pocket queens. This sent Fish packing with a sixth place finish and $235,000 in prize money.

In the meantime, Brooks amassed a big stack, with two huge pots against Rajkumar and Lehavotearly on. Just four hands after Gross busted out, Lehavot hit the rail, for a fourth place finish and $421,000. After 54 hands, only Brooks, Mortenson and Rajkumar remained. However, even after eliminating Fish, Mortenson could not overcome the 2 million chip lead held by Brooks, and the 30,000/60,000 blinds.

Brooks eventually rivered a flush against Mortenson (two pair) to eliminate the first player to reach $6 million in WPT tournament earnings, and setting up a face-off between Brooks and the more experienced Rajkumar. For the next 34 hands, Brooks continued the aggressiveness that epitomized his play from the beginning of the tournament.

Because Brooks never folded, Rajkumar bluffed numerous times throughout the play. Brooks eventually built up a 4 to 1 margin. In the final hand, Rajkumar moved all in, holding only J-T. Armed with 2-8 top pair, Brooks called for the win.

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The common threads that seem to run through the greatest upsets, bluffs and comeback are the willingness of winners to make big hands, make big plays and force or fool opponents into making big mistakes. Then, they assimilate this understanding into their poker strategies and take deliberate action to throw their opponents off balance, and either raise, fold or call based on the reaction.

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