Asian Poker Players
I grew up in Toronto, which is one of the most multicultural
cities in the world. It was common in a classroom of 30 kids to see 20 countries
represented. While growing up, I saw that racism was virtually a non-issue. If
you watched the news, you'd see a Jamaican woman doing the weather, an Indian
woman covering entertainment, a Chinese man covering business, a black man doing
sports, and the anchors were from Greece, Italy, Russia, or Israel. Talk about a
melting pot, Toronto was like a utopia of peace and harmony among cultures. I'm
so proud of my hometown, and I know for a fact that it's had a very positive
effect on my view of the world.
Having said that, in the poker world today, I'm not so sure
that I see the same respect for other cultures that I did back in Toronto. I
think the most neglected group of poker players are the Vietnamese. When I say
neglected, I'm referring to the amount of media attention they get for their
accomplishments. There are two exceptions, of course, Scotty Nguyen and Men "The
Master" Nguyen. They garner their fair share of attention because both are very
colorful characters. I could provide you a list of Vietnamese players whom you
rarely hear much about who play much better than many of the players that ESPN
spends a lot of time covering. Nam Le, Hung La, David Pham, John Phan, J.C.
Tran, Can Kim Hua, Minh Nguyen, Vinnie Vinh, Tuan Le, and so many more that I
could fill the rest of a page. And I didn't even touch upon the great
side-action players, such as Ming Lau, Chau Giang, Danny Dang, and others.
So, why is it that we hear more about Dutch Boyd on ESPN than
we do Minh Nguyen? Well, the answer should be obvious to most: It's all about
marketing. American culture doesn't embrace Asian heroes very readily. You can
look at Hollywood as a perfect example of that; you don't see many Asian actors
headlining blockbuster films (outside of Jackie Chan, of course).
Overall, the Asian man isn't as respected in our society as he
should be, in my opinion. He is often ridiculed, but rarely taken seriously.
Oftentimes, the language barrier is a big reason why it's hard
for us to relate to the Asian poker player. Many of the successful Asian players
on the tournament circuit speak broken English, and that doesn't necessarily
make for "good TV," which is what it's all about these days.
Perhaps the most underrated and neglected superstar in our
game today is John Juanda. Without question, John has been the most successful
tournament player in the world over the last five years. His consistency is
unrivaled. If you had to pick one guy to make a final table, your best bet would
be John Juanda, hands down. Yet, I'll often read the message boards on the
Internet and notice that John's name is rarely mentioned among the lists of
greats. Those lists are often laughable, obviously, but John's name should be a
mainstay on any list of "superstar" players. His results speak for themselves.
Does all of this matter in the bigger scheme of things? No, I
guess not. But it has always bothered me when soft-spoken, well-mannered poker
players aren't recognized for their ability and are pushed to the back, while
the loud and boorish take center stage. Now, John Juanda is hardly soft-spoken!
If you know John as well as I do, you know that he is a master in the art of the
needle. He is an absolute joker at the poker table, needling anybody and
everybody. His humor is always good-natured, of course, but I personally don't
think John's personality has really shone through on television the way it
should. That's too bad, too, because John has really come up with some zingers!
On another note, it's very hard to ignore how successful the
Asian players are in tournament poker. Of the top 20 in Card Player's Player of
the Year Standings, nine are Asian (eight are Vietnamese and one is from
Indonesia). So, what is it about the Vietnamese that makes them so good? Is it
in their blood? Are they naturally smarter than people in most other cultures?
John Juanda came up with a theory that I thought was very
profound. He explained to me that when he first came to this country, he spoke
little if any English. So, when he played poker, all he did was watch the action
and study people's body language. If someone was talking to him, he couldn't
understand what the person was saying, but based on body language and facial
expressions, he would make educated guesses as to what the person was saying.
John went on to say, "You learn a lot more by listening than you do by talking."
Think about that for a moment, as I think it's a great life lesson.
I have asked others for their opinions as to why Asians seem
to do so well as a whole in poker, and have heard a wide variety of answers:
"They are hungry. They work hard because they know they have to." "They don't
take things for granted." "They have a lot of heart." All of those responses
seem to be reasonable explanations, as far as I'm concerned.
More specifically, there is yet another group of totally
neglected poker players in our society - Asian women. If you look around the
high-limit sections in either L.A. or Vegas, you'll see that the limit hold'em
games are chock-full of strong, aggressive Asian females. In the ladies event
this year at the World Series of Poker, there were four Asian women at the final
table: Huong Doan, Millie Shiu, Tracy Phan, and Karina Jett. Where did they
finish at that final table? First, second, third, and fourth, respectively.
For Ladies Night II on the World Poker Tour, a tournament was
held with more than 300 players for the last seat in the televised event. Who
won it? Lavinna Zhang, who'd been playing for just six months. Then, at that WPT
final table, she played brilliantly and easily could have hit the parlay, coming
in second to Isabel Mercier.
I'm not really sure the rest of the world is noticing how
strong the Asians are in the poker world, but I'm writing this column to let
everyone know that I've sure noticed!
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-Go Big or Go Home
-Mixing It Up
-4 Quick Tips for Better Online Play
-The Truth About Tells
-Asian Poker Players
-Seating in Cash Games: A quick way to increase poker
-Lessons From the FBI
-The Gordon Pair Principle
-Battling with 'The Mouth'
-Grinding Out the Borgata
-Standard Pre-Flop Raises in No Limit Tournaments