The Tallest Tale of WSOP History

At 6’ 7”, Jack Straus earned his nickname ‘Treetop’ purely for his towering height. With his mane of curly hair not dissimilar to the fullest of trees, Straus commanded a huge presence at the poker felt. By 1982, the year he won the WSOP Main Event, ‘Treetop’ was known as a specialist in heads-up poker. Straus didn’t know it, but that would prove to be the easier part of his quest to become world champion.

Surviving to the second day of the Main Event, Straus pushed his chips over the line and lost an enormous pot for what he thought was his entire stack. Believing himself to be out of the tournament, as he stood up to leave the table, he took with him a napkin that had laid across the felt in front of him. Beneath it was a single chip worth just 500.

After a ruling, it was confirmed that Straus had not announced ‘all-in’, so he was still in the Main Event with the single 500 chip. Straus sat back down and doubled up almost immediately, before recovering his stack to more than 10 big blinds. Straus was on a roll, and ended the day with 90,000 chips, a healthy return on that 500 chip he had been left with.

Jack Straus

A Chip and a Chair

On Day 3, Straus took control. He was already a fearless competitor but having been down to almost no chips at all, he never looked back. Straus ended the day with the chip lead and put himself in pole position for the greatest comeback story in the history of poker. When he reached the final table, his relentless aggression stood him in good stead, and he eliminated virtually all of the opponents in his way.

Heads-up, Straus only had to beat Dewey Tomko and duly did so, crowning himself world champion and giving birth to the phrase ‘a chip and a chair’. Defeating Tomko in just ten minutes of heads-up play, the final hand saw Straus win with ace-ten beating Tomko’s ace-four, earning him a then-record top prize of $520,000 – all from a single poker chip being hidden by a napkin.

Forever more, if a player was short-stacked, they would reference Straus’ incredible achievement, using it as inspiration for a comeback. In No Limit Hold’em, you’re never out until you have no chips at all left, as Straus had proven. Today, the value of that victory would be $1,591,200.

Straus, who famously wore a lion’s paw with the motto: ‘Better a day as a lion than one hundred years as a lamb’ had hunted the biggest game of all – the WSOP Main Event.

A Legendary Bluff and an Early Exit

Jack Straus was a man who straddled poker history like he did a great beast on the hunt, with pride and a true command of his surroundings. A true road gambler, he followed the poker action like he hunted big game, and always seemed to hit the mark. He was never afraid to lose money, either, claiming that ‘If they had wanted you to hold on to money, they’d have made it with handles.’

Straus is not only responsible for one of the greatest comebacks of all-time but one of the best bluffs poker has ever seen too. Playing in a high stakes cash game, he played seven-deuce like it was pocket aces. After a seven on the flop was joined by two threes, a deuce on the turn led to a huge bet from Straus and a spell in the tank for his opponent.

Straus turned amateur psychologist, offering “I’ll show you whichever one of my cards you choose if you give me $25,” which his opponent accepted. Turning over a deuce, so strong was Straus’ poker face that the man laid down a big overpair, convinced that both of Straus’ hole cards had to be the same and that he’d turned a full house.

Sadly for Straus’ many supporters, the man who came back from a single chip to become world champion in 1982 was dead just six years later. Straus was playing in another high-stakes cash game when he suffered a catastrophic aortic aneurysm and died at the table aged just 58 years old.

Treetop may have been cut down before his time, but he stands tall forever as the player who came back from the jaws of defeat to claim the greatest prize in poker – the WSOP Main Event title.

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Paul seaton

Author
Paul Seaton, a poker luminary with over a decade of experience, has reported live from iconic poker events, including the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour. He's not just a spectator; he's been the Editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine and Head of Media for partypoker. Paul's poker insights have graced publications like PokerNews, 888poker, and PokerStake, where he's interviewed poker legends such as Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, and The Hendon Mob’s, entire lineup. His exceptional work even earned him a Global Poker Award nomination for Best Written Content. In the poker world, Paul Seaton's expertise is a force to be reckoned with, captivating enthusiasts worldwide.
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