Heads-up for the 2003 WSOP Main Event title. A bracelet and $2.5 million on the line.
The poker veteran in a sharp suit, shirt unbuttoned, bedazzled with chains. The accountant with the implausibly perfect name, wearing a beige Poker Stars baseball cap and sunglasses. A bluff that will change the poker world forever.
Coined the Bluff of the Century, it was a remarkable moment. A David versus Goliath spectacle that changed the course of poker history. Sitting at home, millions of poker players were captivated and for the first time many of them believed ‘that could be me’.
I’m not going to lie, it’s an easy hand to romanticize. In some ways, that makes it a harder hand to analyze. Nonetheless, that is what myself and Dara O’Kearney did for a ‘Chip Race’ strategy segment.
So, how does Moneymaker’s famous all-in bluff versus Sammy Farha hold up to scrutiny? Read on to find out (or play the video to hear our analysis).
Editor’s Note: This article is by Irish tournament pro and Unibet Poker ambassador David Lappin who is a great follow on Twitter. Alongside Irish poker legend Dara O’Kearney, David produces and hosts the GPI global poker award winning podcast ‘The Chip Race” sponsored by Unibet Poker. All episodes are available on Apple Music, SoundCloud and Stitcher.
Game: WSOP Main Event 2003
Moneymaker raises to 2.5bb from the Button with K♠️ 7♥️. Farha calls from the Big Blind with Q♠️ 9♥️.
This is all super-standard stuff heads up. Moneymaker should be raising with upwards of 80% of hands on the button, which certainly includes K7o. Against that range, Farha has a no-brainer call with Q9.
Note: Want to know how to play every hand in every common preflop situation? Get instant access to extensive preflop charts and lessons (for cash games, heads-up and tournaments) when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Lock your seat now!
The Pot: 5.25bb
The Flop: 9♠️ 2♦️ 6♠️
The Action: Farha checks. Moneymaker checks.
This street is also pretty standard.
With the more condensed range on a 9-high flop and no straight possibility, Farha should check 100% of the time to the preflop aggressor.
Moneymaker has some decent backdoor draws, but with King-high, he also has some showdown value. He should probably play a mixed strategy with this hand, c-betting some of the time and checking the rest of the time.
The Pot: 5.25bb
The Turn: (9♠️ 2♦️ 6♠️) 8 ♠️
The Action: Farha bets 7.5bb. Moneymaker raises to 20bb. Farha calls.
It makes perfect sense for Farha to lead the turn, but the size is a little large. A bet in the region of 75% would achieve most of his desired objectives — namely, getting value from worse made hands while pushing out some hands with equity (such as AJ or KJ).
With his flush draw and straight draw, Moneymaker should call rather than raise. He has position, which may allow him to take the pot away on the river. He also has some implied odds if he hits his hand. It is also possible that he is ahead if Farha is semi-bluffing with a hand like J♠️Tx or Q♠️Jx.
Additionally, Moneymaker’s raise doesn’t tell a very credible story. Most players would have c-bet on the flop with a flush draw (especially back in 2003).
Note: The one caveat I would add and an interesting thing to consider here is if Moneymaker thought of himself as an underdog, it was not a terrible strategy to bloat pots when he likely had good equity. While strategy articles should rightly approach the hand from a theoretical point of view and not consider such things, it is a real world consideration that a player should factor in if they believe that they are up against a superior opponent.
Once Moneymaker raises, Farha has a clear call. He has top pair with a draw to the third nuts. The board is very wet and Moneymaker can have a lot of draws, meaning Farha is often winning now. Even if Farha is behind, a spade, Queen or 9 could all make him the best hand. He’s also getting a pretty good price (calling 12.5bb to win 32.75bb).
The Pot: 45.25bb
The River: (9♠️ 2♦️ 6♠️ 8 ♠️) 3♥️
Stack-to-Pot Ratio: 1.58:1
The Action: Farha checks. Moneymaker goes all-in for Farha’s effective stack of 70bb. Farha folds.
The river is a brick so nothing has changed from the turn (54 for a double gutshot is a long shot possibility, but it’s reasonable to discount it). Farha makes a procedural check to the aggressor.
Having missed all his draws, Moneymaker is a long shot to be good after Farha got sticky on the turn. He pulls the trigger on ‘the bluff of the century’, putting Farha to the test for all his remaining chips. The overbet is over 1.5x pot and with it, he polarizes himself to nutted hands and bluffs.
The K♠️ in Moneymaker’s hand makes this a decent candidate as it blocks the second nuts. His sizing represents flushes and makes life difficult for a lot of Farha’s one-pair and two-pair hands.
Farha has a bluff-catcher. His hand doesn’t beat any value but it beats all the bluffs. Dara explains that from a game theory point of view, Farha has to decide if he has a good bluff-catcher.
In other words, he has to assess whether his cards have any additional value above on beyond his hand strength and the simple answer is it does as the fact that he has a spade makes it a good bluff-catching candidate.
Given that one and two pair hands are of equal strength versus a polarized range, having a spade is actually more important than having a second pair (e.g. Q♠️ 9♥️ is a better call than 8♣️ 6♣️).
If he was playing against a solver, Farha has a must-call at equilibrium. But he ultimately decides to let it go, perhaps believing that Moneymaker did not have it in him to bluff in such a high pressure spot.
Farha folds and Moneymaker pulls in a pot of 115.25bb.
Shortly afterwards, Moneymaker got it in with 5♦️ 4♠️ on a flop of J♠️ 5♠️ 4♥️ versus Farha’s J♥️ T♦️. His two pair held up and he was crowned the 2003 WSOP champion. From there, the poker boom was started.
For fun, we let the solver play out what it would do on each street.
- The flop still goes check, check.
- On the turn, Farha leads, but for a smaller size. Moneymaker calls.
- On the river, Farha should bet around 66% of pot and Moneymaker should fold about 85% of the time and raise 15%.
As played, Farha bloated the pot with an unnecessary turn overbet. Moneymaker bloated it further with a perhaps unnecessary (but well-timed) raise. With that, the pot was juiced up enough to set up the most famous street of poker in the history of the game.
Farha got sticky on the turn but could not make the required read on the river. Had he done so, he would have delivered a body-blow to Moneymaker and taken an 8-1 chip lead. Who knows how different the poker world would look today in that scenario.
Would you have called as Sammy Farha?
Let us know in the comments.
If you want more hand analysis, read Doug Polk Flops a Straight vs Phil Hellmuth — And Lays It Down?!
Thanks for reading.
Note: Ready to join 6,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!