Jack ‘Treetop’ Straus’ legend lives on amidst WSOP

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It’s World Series of Poker time and it always brings back memories of the hard core players who really got this started back in the days of Binion’s Horseshoe downtown in the 70’s and 80’s.

Names like “Treetop” Jack Straus, Johnny Moss, “Texas Dolly” Doyle Brunson and Stu “The Kid” Ungar were making their living playing guts and nuts poker looking for some suckers to take them on, and they usually found them.

Straus was not only a top notch poker player back then but also one of the most dangerous sports bettors we had to deal with at the Stardust when I was behind the counter there. Like most poker players Jack was always looking for an edge. Quite often he had one or two and would use them in playing baseball round robins in groups of 3’s.

Usually he had a few Over or Under the totals and would use his two key teams in $150 three-team parlays with four or five other games. If his two key teams won he would usually hit two or three of his parlays and was impossible to beat.

Scotty Schettler, who was my boss at the time, calls me into his office and we discuss some tactics we need to take in order to slow the Treetop down. We decide to just let him key his two totals in just one parlay and not let him cover the board.

I wait for Jack to come and make his bets the next day and give him the news. Jack was one real gentleman. He didn’t get upset when we cut his parlays from $500 to $150 and just took it like the big man he was.

But believe me it wasn’t over.

In those early days, you must remember, we had no computers to put limits on the wagers so it was up to the ticket writer and supervisor to stay on top of things. I let my ticket writers know our new policy with Jack but the next day Scotty and myself are going over the previous day’s tickets and see that Jack got us again.

How is this possible!

What he did was use different numbers when making his total bets. His first wager would be 901 Over and when he made another parlay he would say 902 Over. Now our ticket writers were not graduates of MIT nor did they want to jeopardize getting a tip.

We had to take the Treetop aside and explain he was a top notch poker player and bluffer but if he didn’t abide by the new policy we would cut him off the three team parlays. We never had a problem with him after that except for some unknown reason we had some other poker players making three team parlays that looked very similar to Jack’s.

He was unstoppable – just ask Robert Turner. I think he made a few three teamers in his early days at the “Dust” right behind Jack and they looked very similar.

There is a lot of folk lore about Treetop’s 1982 World Series win. The way I heard it is Jack pushed all his chips in that were in front of him but he never said all in.

He lost the hand and was getting up to leave when a chip fell out of a napkin. It has been said that was a $25 dollar chip. Since he did not go all in, the directors in charge of the tournament allowed him to continue playing.

With some great luck and play he went on to win the 1982 WSOP and $520K, which was like millions in those days. That’s how the term “a chip and a chair” came to be.

Jack was also known for one of the greatest bluffs in a big stakes poker game. He was playing Texas hold’em, and after winning some huge pots, was on a high and ready to take a shot.

He decided to raise the next hand no matter what two cards came to him before the flop. Jack was dealt a 7-2 off suit, which is one of the worst two cards you can get to start and is usually a toss in hand. He made up his mind to play and ended up bluffing it out and winning with the worst hand. What he did at the end of the hand was part of his lure.

Jack told the one player left that for $25 he could look at any of his hole cards. There was a 2 and a 7 turned up and Jack had a 2 and 7. The guy pays the $25 and turns over the two and now thinks he must have the other two in the hole thus giving him a full house. He folds and Jack wins the hand on the bluff.

Now that was playing some poker!

Jack got the moniker “Treetop” because he was 6’6″. He died playing the game he loved in 1988 at the Bicycle Casino and the lure says he was holding the winning hand.

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GamingToday’s horse racing and sports handicapper.  Follow Richard on Twitter @SabesBet. Contact Richard at [email protected].

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