To players in the United States, American player Nam Le is one of several Vietnamese-descent players well-known in the live circuit. Recording his first cash back in 2004, Le has racked up an incredible list of live poker earnings (mostly in the states) amounting to well over US$7.3M. Contributing to that figure was his victory at the 2008 APPT Macau High Rollers event for nearly US$474,000.
To-date, Le’s single largest win was earned back in 2006 where he shipped in US$1.2M at the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Stars. For this particular achievement, he earned himself an invitation to the WPT Tournament of Champions where we got a chance to chat with him.
Somuchpoker: Over ten years ago, you won the 10K buyin WPT Main Event in San Jose, California, after 14 years in the live poker circuit, what keeps you motivated?
Nam Le: For me it’s trying to stay balanced. I’m not always motivated. If you play too much you can get burnt out. So it is also important for you to focus on other areas of your life. Family, social, maybe other hobbies, potentially other career opportunities. So you don’t box yourself in, you always try to learn and grow. For me, I always try to do lots of things so you see me here motivated but other times, I get motivated doing other things until I get to the point where I get recharged and then I come out and play.
SMP: Do you also play online as well or just live?
Nam Le: I dabble with it online but it is not really for me. I feel like I don’t have any edge online. I think one of my strengths is more human behavior and I need to see the person and be around them to make better decisions so not really.
SMP: Back in 2008 you won an event in Macau and since then you’ve attended some tours in the region with some success, do you have plans on returning to the Asian felt any time soon?
Nam Le: Back then I had obligations to play a lot of these Asian tournaments and I had a great time. Now, if I am there, in the area, and there’s a tournament going on, you may see me play but at the moment I am stretched out. I can’t commit to all of these poker events.
SMP: Last time we saw you, you were in Vietnam for the APT event in Ho Tram. Was that the last time you were in Asia?
Nam Le: No, no, I am in Asia multiple times a year. Just more business and leisure. Not much poker.
SMP: Back then, you mentioned that you hoped to see poker open up in Vietnam. Last year that finally happened; although the locals still aren’t allowed in the casinos, poker clubs are legal and they’ve sprouted all over the big cities.
In January, the APT hosted the first big event in Ho Chi Minh. Roughly a US$725 buy-in with so many locals attending. The prize pool came to around US$424,000. With this now happening in Vietnam, is it something you are looking forward to joining?
Nam Le: Anywhere you go and you see poker growing, it’s great for us. It’s great for the community. And it is not just in Vietnam that I want to see grow. If I had the option to play anywhere in the world, that would be a good place. In terms of prize pool, peaking my interest, it’s actually more about convenience. So if I’m in Vietnam and it’s convenient, I’ll play. But the money now doesn’t really. It won’t pull me out there. It’s more about timing.
For me, it wasn’t always about the money. I had a larger group of friends that was always traveling. So there were other perks instead of just playing. You get to see new countries, new experiences. But over time, my circle of poker friends has gotten smaller due to career change or family, or priorities have changed, which is completely normal. So now it’s harder to gather a group to go and travel and play poker.
SMP: We did a tally and noticed that if all the Vietnamese descent players flew under their flag then Vietnam would be top 5 in WSOP bracelets. What role if any did this community of players have for your career?
Nam Le: That’s hard to say. I think in general the Asian community or the Vietnamese community there has always been gambling in our culture. So in that sense, there’s a lot more players in numbers but I wouldn’t say they are more skilled than any other country. I just think we have a deeper root in gambling which means we have more players which means we have better odds of winning.
SMP: Did any of those players mentor you?
Nam Le: I’ve had many mentors along the way. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have a lot of these people in my life. It wasn’t always just poker mentors, it was mentors in all fields. For me, mentors are important to me. There’s one guy sitting here today. JC Tran. Me and him have been friends for a long time, playing poker together. He played a big role in my success. There’s many.
SMP: Thank you for your time Nam. We hope to see you Asia one day soon.
Interview by Tricia David