Jack Straus once said, "If they had wanted you to hold onto money they would have made it with handles on."
That pretty much sums up Straus's attitude towards life in general; he was a gambler.
Nicknamed "Treetop" for his imposing 6'6" stature, he was born in Texas in 1930. As a young man, Jack played basketball while attending Texas A&M and eventually graduated with a degree in business administration.
Straus began a career as a teacher but it wasn't long before gambling took center stage in his life.
Straus honed his chops on the road, like most card players in the days before legalized gambling and casinos. Over the years Treetop played against some of the best poker players in the U.S. and earned the respect of many, including Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss and Amarillo Slim Preston.
Indeed, Straus had gamble in his blood. During his relatively short career he made a habit of wagering on anything and everything; he bet every penny he had on the 1970 Super Bowl and won.
From Texas to Vegas, Cash Games to Tournaments
After Las Vegas replaced the Texas/Oklahoma road game circuit as the best place for a professional poker player to earn a living, Straus made the move. Another transition he was forced to make at this time was from cash games to tournaments.
Treetop, a fearless bluffer and ultra-aggressive player, had a tough time adjusting to the more conservative style of play needed to overcome the large tournament fields.
Despite winning his first World Series of Poker bracelet in 1973, Straus knew his strategy was better tailored to short-handed cash games. Straus continued to play tournaments however and won the World Series Main Event in 1982.
A Chip and a Chair
As if winning this prestigious event wasn't noteworthy enough, Straus did it in a way that gave birth to one of the most quintessential poker sayings of our time; "A chip and a chair."
Although there is some question as to the exact sequence of events that led to Jack being left with only one chip, it is generally accepted that some variation of the story is true.
Being the aggressive player that Straus was he often found himself moving in on players at the slightest sign of weakness. Not surprisingly, this lead to Straus being busted out of tournaments on a regular basis.
During the 1982 Main Event, this was exactly what happened, except for one thing. As Jack got up to leave he noticed that there was one errant chip that had not made it into the middle with the rest of his stack. This is where there is some contention with the facts, since many believe it unlikely that Jack would be allowed to proceed.
After all, he had been all-in on the previous hand and the chip, hidden or not, would rightfully belong to the winner of their all-in confrontation. Regardless, the tournament staff let him keep playing and, to the chagrin of the rest of the players in the event, he came back from that single chip and won the championship.
The Greatest Bluff of All Time
Although Treetop earned his place in the poker history books by becoming the 1982 WSOP Champion, there is another story for which he is equally well known. Considered by many to be the greatest bluff of all time, Straus is fondly remembered for the creativity and fearlessness he exhibited on this day.
Playing in a No-Limit Hold'em cash game, Straus was running good and decided to keep it going when he raised the pot pre-flop with a 7-2 off-suit. Called by one player and going into the flop heads-up, the board came 7-3-3. Catching a seven and not figuring his opponent for a deuce, Straus bet out.
Unfortunately, his opponent came over the top with a substantial raise. Knowing his opponent to be a tight player, Jack put him on an overpair and knew he was probably behind in the hand.
However, considering the money he had already invested in the pot, Straus thought he may be able to represent a big hand like a set and push the other player out after the turn or the river, so he called.
The turn was a deuce, giving him two pair but not improving his hand if he was indeed up against an overpair. Displaying his signature aggression, Straus pushed in a big bet, hoping to take down the pot then and there.
While the other player contemplated the situation, Straus was becoming increasingly uneasy that his opponent would make the call and have him dominated going to the river.
It's impossible to know what was going through Treetop's mind at that moment, but nonetheless he did something then that was both brilliant and almost completely unheard of: He offered to show one of his cards before the other player had made his decision.
Jack told him that for $25 he could pick one of his hole cards and he would turn it over. Incredulous, his opponent accepted the offer and after flipping him a $25 chip, pointed to the card he wished to see.
Straus flipped over the two which caused the other player to go back in the tank again, trying to understand why Straus would do such a thing. Eventually he came to the conclusion that the only way Jack would pull a stunt like this was if both his cards were in fact deuces, giving him a full house.
By offering to show either of his cards he would have known his opponent would see a two and perhaps be lured into making the call. His opponent folded and Straus took down the monster pot.
Jack Straus: A Risk Taker and Thrill Seeker
It has been said that Straus took a risk by allowing his opponent to pick a card since there was a fifty-fifty chance he would have chosen the seven. In fact, the move would have worked precisely the same way if he had chosen the seven.
Seeing the seven on the board would have put him to the same question; does Treetop have a wired pair which would make him a full house? Nevertheless, it took a unique mind to formulate such an outlandish ploy and an iron constitution to execute it.
Jack was a risk-taker and a thrill-seeker both on and off the felt. Having admired the work of Ernest Hemingway, he had a fondness for hunting and marksmanship. On one trip to Africa, Straus was successful in taking down a lion and took the animal's paw as a trophy.
He had the souvenir inscribed with the motto, "Better a day as a lion than a hundred years as a lamb," and wore it on a chain around his neck.
Jack Straus suffered a heart attack in 1988 while doing what he loved most, playing poker. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame later that year and will always be remembered as one of the greats.