10 great events in WSOP history, pt 3: Jack Straus has ‘a chip and a chair’

In the third of a 10-part series on the World Series of Poker, the Paul Phua Poker School explores how the tournament phrase “a chip and a chair” was born

You may have heard the poker expression, “as long as you’ve got a chip and a chair…” It means that no matter how few chips you have left in a poker tournament, you always have a chance. But you may not know that this saying was born at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 1982.
It’s not just the greatest underdog story in poker, but it’s hard to think of a bigger comeback in any sport. It all starts with Jack “Treetop” Straus…

Who was Jack “Treetop” Straus?

Jack Straus, nicknamed “Treetop” due to his imposing 6’6″ frame, was one of the old-school “road gamblers” who would criss-cross Texas in search of a good game. With a fearlessly aggressive playing style, his speciality was heads-up poker, and when he played full ring he was never scared to get all his chips in.
Straus is known for one of the greatest bluffs in poker, during a high-stakes Texas Hold ‘Em cash game. Despite being dealt the worst starting hand in poker, 7-2, he bet out, and was rewarded with a flop of 7-3-3 for top pair. Of course he bet again, but his opponent re-raised him: surely a larger pocket pair.
Straus called anyway, and the turn was a 2. Three pair of course is not a poker hand, so this was no help to Straus, but nevertheless he fired out a huge bet. His opponent tanked. What could such a big bet mean? Trips? A house? Now came the speechplay.
“I’ll show you whichever one of my cards you choose if you give me $25,” said Straus.
His opponent couldn’t see the harm in gaining more information, and tossed over a $25 chip. He selected a card, and Straus turned it over: a 2. The genius of this move was that, whichever card his opponent selected, he would think that hole card was paired for a full house. After all, Straus couldn’t be betting big with just two pair, could he? The higher pocket pair reluctantly folded.

The 1982 WSOP Main Event

At the 1982 WSOP Main Event, Jack Straus put his creativity and aggression to good use. On day two, after he’d lost a big hand, he seemed to have been knocked out. But as he was standing up from the table he noticed a single 500 chip hidden under a napkin. It had not been included in Straus’s shove, and he hadn’t announced “all-in”, so he was allowed to sit back down and play.
The next hand was folded round to his big blind. He then doubled up his increased stack. Before long, he had the most chips at the table.
By the end of day two, Jack Straus had 90,000 chips. By the end of day three, he was chip leader with 341,500. Before long, Straus had single-handedly eliminated most of the final table until only he and Dewey Tomko were left.
Their heads-up contest lasted just ten minutes. Straus got it in good with A-10 against Tomko’s A-4. Tomko hit the 4 on the flop, but Straus triumphed when the 10 hit on the river, winning a then record payout of $520,000. And all from a single chip and a chair.

Who was Jack “Treetop” Straus? Poker player profile

  • In 1982, Jack Straus came back from a single chip to win the World Series of Poker, giving birth to the saying “a chip and a chair”
  • He was nicknamed “Treetop” on account of being six and half foot tall
  • One of the old-school “road gamblers”, Jack Straus once said: “If they had wanted you to hold on to money they’d have made it with handles”
  • A keen big-game hunter, Jack Straus wore a lion’s paw inscribed with the motto: “Better a day as a lion than one hundred years as a lamb”
  • In 1988, aged 58, Jack Straus died as he had lived, sitting at a high-stakes cash table, having suffered an aortic aneurysm

Read part 2 of our 10 part World Series of Poker mini series and discover how 10-2 or the ‘Doyle Brunson Hand’ got it’s name.
Or come back tomorrow for Johnny Chan’s winning hand that was immortalised in the movie ‘Rounders’.