John Morgan refuses to tell anyone what he had.
He even joked that a former president of the United States wouldn’t be able to get it out of him.
“If I’m not going to tell Bill Clinton,” Morgan said, “I’m not going to tell anybody.”
Two years ago, Morgan was a central figure in one of the most famous hands in World Series of Poker history, and the 73-year-old businessman from Minneapolis can hardly sit at a poker table these days without being asked it.
At 1 p.m. today, Morgan will participate in the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop tournament at the Rio Convention Center, and despite his reluctance to discuss it, the subject is almost certain to be brought up again.
“I’d just assume it go away and not be known as the guy that got the guy to fold the quad eights anymore,” Morgan said. “It’s kind of history. Let’s hope that I don’t get involved in that kind of hand again this year.”
On the first day of the inaugural Big One event, Morgan went heads-up after the flop (jack-eight-seven) with Mikhail Smirnov of Russia. The turn card — the eight of spades — put three spades on the board, and Morgan immediately called Smirnov’s bet, according to several accounts of the hand.
When the river card (king of spades) was dealt, Morgan re-raised Smirnov all-in for 3.4 million tournament chips. Smirnov, who was holding pocket eights for quads, thought for several minutes before folding and showed his hand in the process.
Only Morgan, who busted out of the tournament the next day in 29th place, knows whether he was holding the nine-10 of spades for the straight flush.
“At the end of any hand, when a guy lays something down, people say, ‘Good fold.’ That’s basically the thing I’ve said,” Morgan said. “That doesn’t mean it really was a good fold. It could have been either way.
“But I didn’t put him on quad eights.”
As word of the hand spread, it quickly became the No. 1 trend on Twitter, and Morgan said he is asked about it whenever he plays at local casinos in Minnesota. The subject even came up during Clinton’s Global Initiative charity tournament, though Morgan said the former president never personally inquired.
“We’ve had a lot of jokes about it where I’ll say to my friend, ‘OK, I’m going to tell you. I didn’t have anything.’ And they go, ‘That’s not right,’ ” Morgan said. “It’s poker. If I told you the truth, you wouldn’t believe me anyway. I can truthfully say there isn’t anybody that really knows what I had.”
Morgan is one of several businessmen and poker pros set to play in the Big One tournament. The event benefits the One Drop Foundation, which provides access to clean water in disadvantaged, rural and semi-rural regions of Latin America, West Africa and Asia.
The tournament, which will be televised by ESPN, is capped at 56 players, and there were 41 entrants as of Saturday afternoon, according to WSOP officials. If every seat is sold, the winner would take home in excess of $20 million, the richest prize in poker history.
Morgan, the CEO of Winmark Corp., grew up in a lower-class section of north Omaha, Neb., and is heavily involved in several social-justice causes. He is the founder of the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Transformation Project, a re-entry program that educates prison inmates about the life of Malcolm X, and formerly sat on the national board of the nonprofit Girls Inc.
Morgan was an avid runner into his 50s and completed more than 30 marathons before he said his hips gave out. Now, poker is his primary hobby, and he plays in tournaments with buy-ins as small as $100 in addition to high-stakes events such as the Big One for One Drop.
“I have a little different motivation than most people trying to do it for a living,” Morgan said. “I like to mix it up and have a good time at the poker table. To me, it’s a great release.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.