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Home to luxurious casinos in grand hotels, Vietnam offers great venues for poker players to enhance their skills. Unfortunately, access to casinos is limited to foreign nationals or those who own foreign passports. The recent decree issued by the government allows Vietnam locals to enter casinos but it is limited to a few casinos that meet the set standards. Vietnamese citizens must also prove that they have the income required and permission from their family members before they can enter a casino.
Given these instances, it is quite surprising to know that a number of Vietnamese poker personalities are making waves in the professional poker industry.
Why are the Vietnamese so damn good in Poker?
While having a few options to hone their skills in their home country, Vietnamese citizens are slowly making their mark in the poker industry. Some poker enthusiasts notice the growing trend of surprising wins from these Vietnamese poker players.
What could be the driving force or inspiration for these players to play poker so damn well?
Many say that Asians do well in poker because of their survival instinct. Living in Vietnam takes a lot of smarts to survive. So when they have the chance to become successful, they do everything they can to achieve it and do well. When it comes to poker, having that kind of survival instinct and natural intelligence is a great advantage already. It is not unusual to read Vietnamese success poker stories. Many of them are self-made individuals coming from a difficult life and surviving using only their wits and own resources.
One should also not forget that Vietnamese people love to gamble. It seems that this activity is ingrained in their culture despite it being an illegal or strictly prohibited activity in their country. Kids as young as five years old to about 10 years old are excited to celebrate the Chinese New Year. During this time, adults will give the kids money enclosed in red envelopes. Adults encourage kids to gamble using the money they gave. It was probably the reason why most Vietnamese kids grow up with a sharp betting intuition and a better understanding of the odds.
Vietnamese gamblers have a different kind of gambling disposition. They are fearless gamblers and enter into tables on controlled risk. They rarely give away their hand. Vietnamese gamblers do not only excel in poker. They also do well in slots, video poker, and blackjack, even they do not have a deep background about the game. They are able to distinguish between machines that would pay and they can also look for tables with a delinquent procedure that they can exploit to their advantage. They know which tables they can have an edge. This probably roots from the fact that they consider gambling as only a game that has leaks and imperfections that they can manipulate.
Top Poker Players in Vietnam
Probably the most famous Vietnamese poker player, Thuan B. Nguyen or Scotty Nguyen is a 54-year old professional poker player that holds five World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets. Nguyen rose to stardom when he won the 1998 World Series of Poker Main Event, 2006 World Poker Tour (WPT), and the 2008 World Series of Poker $50,000 H.O.R.S.E Wold Championship. He is the only poker player to win these three titles.
Born in Nga Thrang, Vietnam, Nguyen moved to the United States when he was 14 years old. At a young age, Nguyen has already played in many underground poker games, causing him to be expelled from his school. By age 21, Nguyen went to school for dealers and found a dealer stint at Harrah’s poker room. While working there, Nguyen claimed to make about $150 per night and lost most of the money by playing a $3-$6 stud poker. It was only when he was in his early 30s that lady luck found him. Dealing and playing in a no-limit Hold’em tournament, Nguyen increased his stash to about $7,000. He hit Las Vegas where he further increased his bankroll to approximately $1 million. Soon enough, his name became famous and was playing with known poker personalities such as David Grey, Johnny Chan, and Puggy Pearson.
But it was not all good runs, Nguyen felt invincible and was soon losing everything he had. He was only able to rebuild his bankroll when he won the $2,000 Omaha 8 or Better event at the 1997 WSOP, earning more than $150,000. But he blew his chance again and went broke that he cannot even buy into a small satellite tournament. It was Mike Matusow who funded a third of the buy-in money. Nguyen won the 1998 WSOP and gave Matusow a third of the earnings.
Nguyen is noted for not wearing his 1998 WSOP bracelet because his brother died the day after he won the said tournament.
Chau Tu Giang
Another successful Vietnamese poker player is Chau Giang. He may not be as famous or as extroverted as Nguyen but he is known to have successfully played and won in some of the world’s biggest cash games. Similar with Nguyen, Giang left Vietnam and lived in the US with nothing. Everything that he has now was built using his wit and skills in poker. His live earnings total US$3,778,485.
Known to be one of the best female poker players in the world, Mimi Tran is an awesome meta-game player. She has played in several high stakes cash games and is a force to be reckoned with. Some male players even back down when playing with Mimi Tran.
Also hailing from Nha Trang, Vietnam, Mimi also moved to the United States. She started playing poker in 1989 when an accident did not allow her to work again in the electronics industry. She has several money finishes in multiple WSOP tournaments including two 2nd place wins, a 3rd place, and a 4th place finish.
Tran used to date Barry Greenstein who taught her how to play poker and encouraged her to enter poker tournaments. She was the sole female poker player to make money during the National Heads-Up Poker Championship beating two WSOP Main Event champions including Tom McEvoy and Chris Moneymaker before she was eliminated by Chris Ferguson in the semi-finals. To date, Tran has US$1,627,369 total live earnings.
Men “The Master” Nguyen
This Vietnamese-American professional poker was born in Phan Thiet, Vietnam in 1954. Like many Vietnamese poker players, he moved to the United States to escape the Communist regime in his home country. He started playing poker in Las Vegas at age 30. He continued playing even after losing money after money every time he played, earning him the moniker, “Money Machine.” Playing continuously, Nguyen mastered the game, allowing him to win his very first tournament in 1987. Having more than 475 money finishes, Nguyen is regarded as one of the best poker players. He is fond of teaching poker players, who have also made a name in the poker industry. One of his tutee is his wife Van Nguyen who was the first woman to win the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational March. Men Nguyen was called “The Master” by one his students. He is known in the poker industry as Men the Master. He now donates part of his tournament winnings to several charities in Vietnam. For instance, the money he won from the 1996 WSOP was used to build a kindergarten school in Vietnam.
For his success, Nguyen received the Card Players Magazine Player of the Year award in 1997, 2001, 2003, and 2005. To date, Men the Master has a total live tournament earnings exceeding US$10,500,000, with WSOP cashes accounting for more than US$3.2 million of the money.
Qui Nguyen is another Vietnamese-American professional poker player that hails from Las Vegas, Nevada. He is famous for winning the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event where he won US$8,005,310. Nguyen first started playing poker in 2003, focused mainly on small-scale limit hold’em cash games. He switched to no limit games when he moved from California to Las Vegas. By playing and winning through a $1,100 satellite, Nguyen earned a seat in the 2016 Main Event. He reached the November Nine having the top 2 chip position. At the final table lasting 364 hands, Nguyen bested Gordon Vayo on the 181st hand of the heads up, with a King Clubs and 10 Clubs defeating Vayo’s Jack Spades and 10 Spades, with a King Diamond, 9 Clubs, 7 Diamonds, 2 Spades, and 3 Hearts.
His live earnings total US$8,066,244, almost all of it coming from his main event tournament cash winnings.
With the issuance of a new government decree that allows Vietnamese locals to enter casinos, the numbers of professional poker players coming from Vietnam is expected to balloon in the coming years.