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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now - Jack Straus

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

“Treetop” Jack Straus didn’t have a long, extensive career in poker due to his death, caused by a heart attack, at the age of just 58, but he certainly made the most of his playing career while he was here. Each successful poker player, especially World Series of Poker main event winners, seem to have very interesting stories, almost bordering on the line of folklore. Straus is responsible for what may be the most popular quote regarding tournament poker, and what you need to win, “a chip and a chair.”

During the 1982 WSOP main event, Straus was short stacked, and decided to push all-in. Legend has grown so much that the story is now routinely said that Straus was at the final table, but most observers agree that this was during Day 1 of the tournament. Straus ended up losing the hand, and got up to leave, when someone pointed out that he had one chip left underneath a napkin where he had been sitting. Confusion set in, as it was his intention to go all-in, however, he never announced “all-in,” so the tournament directors agreed that he was still in the tournament. Straus, of course, went on to take that one $500 chip and go on to win the $520,000 first prize.

Born in 1930, Straus’s childhood was also just as unique as his poker play, at least in the world of poker players. Most poker players of this era, and earlier, grew up poor and turned to gambling to try to make a few extra bucks for themselves and their families. Straus grew up middle class, and his parents, who were very religious, forbid their son to participate in gambling. Perhaps it was his parents dislike for gambling that initially drew Straus into it, but it was something he was never able to waver from once he discovered it. The first time his parents realized their son was gambling was when Straus won a car in a poker game at just the age of 16. Straus hadn’t received his driver’s license yet, and initially had to ask a friend to drive the car home for him. At first he tried to hide the car from his family by parking it a couple blocks away, but eventually his parents found out.

Straus’s father, like Straus, died at 58. His family had a strong Christian work ethic that revolved around the idea of working hard until retirement, then enjoying your benefits from the US government. After watching his father work his entire life, and leave with only the memories of work, Jack decided that wasn’t the life for him. That is when he fully dedicated himself to the road less taken, and that determined his life of gambling.

Straus certainly attended Texas A&M University, but what he did while he was there was uncertain. Straus says he was a star basketball player at the school, and at 6’6” this was understandable. However, the official school media guide listing every player who ever lettered did not have Straus on it. Straus might have indeed played at the school, but he might not have been the star he claimed to be because in order to do that he would have had to play enough to earn a letter. Even if the star basketball player line was an embellishment of his legend, he still would obviously go on to succeed in other fields.

Straus made a relatively late jump to the Las Vegas Poker Circuit, playing in his first WSOP event somewhere around 1970. Between college and Vegas he is said to have gambled with friends and business clients, while also playing sports until his body started to breakdown a little bit. After growing out of sports, and earning enough money, he arrived in the poker world, quickly making a name for himself after winning a bracelet in the $3,000 Deuce to Seven Draw 1973 Event, and also making the final table of the Main Event. The previous year he had also made the Main Event final table. When he won the Main Event in 1982 he set himself in an elite group of people to make three Main Event final tables. All-time that list includes Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Stu Ungar, Johnny Chan, and of course Straus.

Straus didn’t enjoy the overall public success like some of the champions before his time, but that was because for the most part he kept to himself. Straus did however enjoy just as many interesting stories as these other top poker pros could tell you. Besides winning the car at 16, and his “chip and a chair,” story, he has some stories stemming from his own private poker games.

In one of these games he was playing with some big-time lawyers and business men in an apartment building. In the middle of a hand the landlord of the facility came into the apartment and explained to the men that they couldn’t have illegal gambling on his premises. One of the lawyers asked him how much the building cost and the landlord replied “$34,000.” Before the number was even out of the landlord’s mouth, a lawyer had written him a check for $34,000 and said, “You’re trespassing, get off my property,” or something of that nature, and the game continued.

Straus’s definition of poker, particularly involving money and no’ limit hold’em may be the most accurate quote ever to come out of the game. "If money is your god, you can forget no-limit poker, because it's going to hurt you too much to turn loose of it. The way I feel about those little pieces of green paper is, you can't take them with you and they may not have much value in five years time, but right now I can trade them in for pleasure, or to bring pleasure to other people. If they had wanted you to hold on to money, they'd have made it with handles on."

When Straus fully committed himself to poker, he definitely didn’t leave anything behind. Like his father, who believed in hard work, Straus died while doing what he loved – playing poker. As mentioned, Straus didn’t make the public spotlight like the majority of other poker players, but his impact has been equally felt. Straus was inducted to the Poker Hall of Fame posthumously in 1988.

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