Hard poker truth: Few things are more satisfying than pulling off a bluff, but the act requires the courage to continue firing at the pot and the brains to make sure each bet makes sense as the board gets exposed.

Chris "Jesus" Ferguson put on that kind of clinic in a hand against Phil Hellmuth in the finals of last year’s National Heads-Up Poker Championship.

Dealt J-10 offsuit, Ferguson raised on the button.

Holding J-J, Hellmuth called.

The flop came A-8-7, two spades. Hellmuth checked. Ferguson had a gutshot straight draw, but he’s dead to an ace, king, queen, 8 or 7.

"But it’s kind of worth a bluff here because I have a chance to hit a really good hand," Ferguson says. "If a 9 comes at any point in the hand, I could win a monster pot, even though it’s a long shot."

Ferguson bet $30,000. Hellmuth check-raised another $60,000.

"This is where I could fold this hand," Ferguson says. "If I was out of position, I’d fold. He doesn’t necessarily have an ace. He’s probably more likely to have an 8 or 7 than an ace. If he has an ace, he can slow-play the hand because he might not think I could catch up. He can let me try to bluff my chips off to him. If he has an 8 or 7 and thinks he’s ahead, he might want to take the pot right there.

"I decide to call. I can still hit that 9, and a 10 or a jack might be good. And I plan on stealing the pot because I have position."

The turn came a 6. Hellmuth checked again.

"It’s a little bit scary to Phil because it makes a straight," Ferguson says. "At this point, I decide to bet again, $90,000, about half the size of the pot. I’m a little bit surprised Phil called here. Now I’m thinking he might have that ace.

"I’m done with the hand at this point. It’s not my intention to bluff on the river, but I decide if a spade comes, I’ll bluff on the river. Or maybe if a 5 comes. It has to be a scary card. If a 9 comes, obviously I’m going to bet for value because I have the nuts. But even if a jack or 10 came, I wouldn’t bet because I don’t think it’s good."

The river came a king of spades.

"A very good card," Ferguson says. "It puts the spades out there, it puts the king out there. I could have A-K at this point. If he has a weak ace, he has to be pretty worried. So I bet the $180,000. It’s a complete bluff with a jack high."

Ferguson was bluffing with a straight draw, but the flush draw got there. Either way, he knew his betting pattern looked like someone on a draw, and he had the heart to carry off the move with one more big bet that forced Hellmuth to fold.


On the button: The last player to act; noted by a hockey puck-shaped disk that says "Dealer."

(Steve Rosenbloom is a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune and the author of the new book The Best Hand I Ever Played, now available in bookstores. He can be reached at srosenbloom@tribune.com.)

© 2005, Chicago Tribune.

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