When Life Imitates Poker Hands: The Top 4 Bluffs in American History

Top Bluffs in American History Header with Mark Twain

When you are playing poker at a card table, making an aggressive move without anything to back it up – also known as bluffing – can be an effective tactic to win a pot you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. There are many times that card sharks with bad poker hands take home the pot over those with the best draw simply because they’ve learned the art of the bluff. Getting caught, however, can cost you money, and you might lose some of your pride at the same time. In the real world, bluffing in business, crime, and romance can be much riskier – but also much more rewarding. Join us as we take a close look at four times Americans managed to bluff their way to success.

Top 4 bluffs in American History

Our top four greatest bluffs unrelated to poker hands or the gambling floor include some pretty outrageous stories. They revolve around some famous people in most cases, including Bill Gates, Mark Twain, Rosie Ruiz, and the US Army. Who knew that bluffing your way through life could end up paying off unless you are Rosie Ruiz of course? It teaches us that you can often take something positive from something that initially seems pretty hopeless. Don’t believe us? Peruse our stories below and think again.

1. Bill Gates Sold an Operating System to IBM When He Didn’t Have One

Bill Gates

Bill Gates – Credit: Associated Press

Before Bill Gates would become a billionaire by turning Microsoft into one of the largest corporations in the world, he was just the founder of a dying software startup in Seattle. In 1980, on the verge of bankruptcy, Gates made a desperate bid to sell IBM an operating system that they were ready to pay handsomely for – except he didn’t have the actual product.

Luckily for Gates, he figured out that another floundering company in the area called Seattle Computer Products had exactly what he needed. He bought their OS for $50,000, made some updates, and rebranded it as MS-DOS. The rest is history, and Gates pulled off the bluff of a lifetime – pretty bold!

2. The United States Ghost Army Bluff

Ghost Army Tanks

Inflatable Tanks during WWII -Credit: WWltv

World War II was one of the bloodiest wars in human history, and also one of the wars that required the boldest bluffs. The US Army pulled one off that could almost be told as a joke – if it wasn’t true.

From 1942 to 1944, The United States employed a ‘Ghost Army’: a unit of about 1,000 men whose job was to impersonate other Allied Army units to trick their enemies into allocating troops in the wrong places, retreating, or just being confused at how units could be moving so fast. They would use inflatable tanks, sound machines, fake radio transmissions, and staged battles – often going very close to front-line combat.

The ruse held up and was integral in the time leading up to D-Day. Their mission worked and helped to draw German troops away from more important sites on a consistent basis. Ghost soldiers were in a constant state of bluffing, and until the information surrounding their mission was declassified in 1996, hardly a living soul knew about what they did. Pretty sneaky – just the sort of ruse you would expect at the table when holding a bad poker hand.

 3. Mark Twain Wins ‘The Duel That Never Was’

Mark Twain

Mark Twain – Credit: AF Bradley

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was a newspaper editor from Nevada who liked to run his mouth. He has many famous quotes making fun of his rivals, but one of them, James Laird, took exception. In 1864, it was common for men to settle disputes by having gun duels to the death, and once their feud had escalated, a challenge was set.

The only problem for Mark Twain was that he was a terrible marksman, having hardly ever shot a gun in his life. With the duel coming up in a few hours, he begged his friend Steven Gillis to train him in the art of shooting in a desperate effort.

Gillis agreed and was still showing Twain the ropes just as Laird arrived early to the duel. He walked up to the property to see a bird have its head shot clean off. Rattled, Gillis asked who had fired the shot, to which both other men claimed Twain was the marksman. Laird ran straight home before eventually sending a note declining to duel.

Even a renowned author such as Mark Twain would have a hard time making up a story as great as this one – but some bluffs are that good.

4. Rosie Ruiz ‘Wins’ the Boston Marathon by Bluff and Gets Caught

Rosie Ruiz

Rosie Ruiz After “Winning” the Marathon – Credit: United Press

The Boston Marathon has a rich history of deception and controversy – in fact, the first woman to ever compete in it disguised herself as a man and finished it nearly six years before women were actually allowed to compete.

But the biggest bluff in Boston Marathon History easily belongs to another female runner, Rosie Ruiz, in 1980. Ruiz, who was 28 years old at the time, had qualified for the prestigious race by submitting a time of 2:56:29 from the New York Marathon in 1979. This time, while fast for a woman, was not noteworthy, and did not draw any investigation.

However, when Ruiz appeared to win the Boston that year with a time of 2:31:56, there were many immediate skeptics. To begin with, her time would have been the third fastest marathon by a woman ever – and nobody knew who she was. Additionally, she was not tired, or sweaty, and no other runners could recall seeing her.

 Finally, there were two Harvard students who recalled seeing Ruiz jump out of a crowd of spectators, and a freelance photographer claimed to have met her on the subway. After a thorough investigation, Ruiz was disqualified and stripped of her finishes in both the Boston and New York Marathon.  Incidentally, Ruiz would be arrested for embezzlement later on in her life, proving she had not gotten any better at bluffing.

When Life Deals You A Dud – Play That Poker Hand Like You Have the Nuts

These are four of the greatest bluffs ever attempted in American history. These brave souls did what they had to with the poker hand they were dealt in the game of life, and it worked out – for the most part. Luckily, we can save our best bluffs for when we need them most, or even better, learn from their mistakes to put us in spots where we needn’t make something out of nothing in the first place. We hope you’ll never have to bluff your way out of a predicament and trust that the odds will ever be in your favor.

Michael Linn

Mike Linn is a contributing writer at PokCas. He covers Sports, iGaming & Luxury Lifestyle content. He has been a professional high-stakes poker player, including being a top-ranked online cash game player and winning a World Series of Poker gold bracelet. He has also played college basketball in USA (California).