Poker Legends: Jack Straus
“I’d bust my own grandmother if she played poker with me.”
Jack “Treetop” Straus is a Hall of Famer, the 1982 World Series of Poker (WSOP) main event champion, and won just over $830,000 before suffering a heart attack at a poker table in 1988 and joining Wild Bill Hickok as one of three Hall of Fame poker players who died playing the game.
He made the final tables of the WSOP main event in 1972, 73, and 82, with his first bracelet coming in 1973 in a $3,000 deuce to seven draw event, where he won $16,500.
A Chip and a Chair
The most notorious story of Straus’s career is the origin of one of poker’s most repeated sayings: “All you need is a chip and a chair.” You don’t need a deep stack or even a few big blinds to play. Never give up—if you’re still in it, then you can still win.
That’s exactly how Straus won the 1982 WSOP. It was early in the tournament when he shoved all his chips into the middle, lost the hand, and was ready to get up and walk away. However, when he peeked under his cocktail napkin, he realized that he had missed a chip and that he still had a stack after all, no matter how small.
Because he hadn’t said “all in,” the tournament directors let him keep playing. Despite all the odds against him, he clawed his way back over the course of multiple days to bring down the entire thing, winning himself $520,000. That’s over $1,600,000 in today’s dollars!
A Crazy Bluff
Another notable moment from Straus’s career was during a high stakes No Limit Hold ‘Em cash game. He was running hot, so he decided that he would raise pre-flop with any two cards. When he was dealt 72o, poker’s worst hand, he went with the rush and decided to raise it up anyway as a bluff.
After being called by a single opponent, the flop came out 733, giving Straus 2 pair. He bet out, but his tight opponent responded with a large raise. This could only mean one thing: Straus was up against an over-pair, and he was almost certainly dead in the water.
Despite knowing he was behind, he thought he could represent a set of threes, so he made the call.
The turn was a 2—no help, but he made a huge bet anyway. The opponent thought about it for several minutes, and Straus knew that he had to avoid a call because he had such slim equity.
After a few minutes, Straus offered a proposition. He told his opponent that, for $25, he could choose to look at either one of Straus’s hole cards. His opponent took him up on the deal, threw him a $25 chip, and Straus showed him the deuce.
After another long pause, the opponent figured out that Straus would only make this offer if both of his hole cards were deuces, meaning that Straus must be holding a full house. He reluctantly folded his hand, and Straus scooped up a big pot as a reward for his guts and cunning.