John Morgan, Mpls resident, wins "craziest hand" in World Series of Poker history

Did he have a straight flush or was he bluffing? Morgan won't say.
Did he have a straight flush or was he bluffing? Morgan won't say.

John Morgan, 71, is CEO of Golden Valley-based Winmark Corp., a successful business that owns Play It Again Sports and other used-goods retailers. Yet he may end up being best known for winning what poker pro Phil Galfond characterized as "the craziest [poker] hand I've ever seen."

On Sunday, during the first day of the $1 million buy-in "Big One for One Drop" event, Morgan was such a cool customer that he forced Moscow businessman Mikhail Smirnov to fold a hand worth $700,000 in chips. Thing is, Smirnov had more than just a pretty good hand -- he had four eights!

Despite having two eights in the pocket and getting two more in the community cards, Smirnov was apparently worried Morgan, who had gone all-in and bet his entire stack of $3.4 million in chips, had a straight flush. The hand's community cards included a jack, eight, and seven of spades, and after contemplating all the possibilities Smirnov apparently came to believe Morgan had the nine and 10 of spades in his pocket.

From poker writer Nolan Dalla's account of how the hand played out after all the community cards were revealed:

Could [Smirnov's] opponent possibly have [the] straight flush? It would essentially cost a million dollars to find out. After a few more minutes, the Russian folded. Adding a flash of drama that never would have happened had the cards not been revealed, Smirnov folded his powerhouse hand face up, for the entire world to see. There they were - four eights.


And they were headed straight for the muck.

Poker pro Phil Galfond, who was sitting at the same table and watching in utter disbelief later called it, "the craziest hand I've ever seen," and that's from a guy who has played millions of poker hands on his computer.

In broken English, here's what Smirnov had to say about his decision to fold:

It's hard for me to explain. It seemed like a very difficult call to make. But for me -- I think that my read of the table and when you think about this hand and it's very easy for me to fold. It was the right play. Sometimes it's very difficult to fold top pair, but this time I don't know what he should have...

A bluff is impossible because he likes to play in the tournament and he is not a professional. I think I have no chance to win, plus he was so excited on the turn, when he made what could be a straight flush.

Morgan won't say whether he had the straight flush. "The reason I am not going to reveal it is totally out of respect for my opponent," he said.

Unfortunately, it appears Morgan's good luck or skill or whatever it was that helped him win his duel with Smirnov has run out -- neither he nor the Russian made it to the tournament's final table.

Morgan should be alright, though. It's not like he needs the tournament's $18 million first prize -- in December, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal named Winmark's stock as one of the top 10 performers of 2011, so Morgan should have some dough to fall back on.

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