Players of Vietnamese Descent Have Shined at WSOP Through the Years


The World Series of Poker is right around the corner and will once again see many players from Asia head to Las Vegas in the hopes of making a deep run in one of the many tournaments on tap this summer.

Vietnam Winners At WSOP

In the 54-year history of the series, a number of Vietnamese players and others with Vietnamese heritage have found success in the annual poker extravaganza. Some have real success stories of overcoming a troubled life growing up in their home country. Other came to the U.S. at a young age or had parents that immigrated to the country. Here’s a look at a few of their stories and WSOP journeys.

Scotty Nguyen

Vietnam Scotty Nguyen at WSOP
Scotty Nguyen – Photo by WSOP

The “Prince of Poker” went from landing in the United States with barely a dime to his name to winning poker’s biggest event – taking down the WSOP Main Event in 1998 for $1 million. Nguyen now has $12.7 million in live tournament winnings including five WSOP bracelets.

Born in 1962, Nguyen grew up in Nha Trang, Vietnam, with seven brothers and sisters as well as five cousins who also lived in the family home after their mother committed suicide. In 2009, Nguyen offered a glimpse into his childhood growing up during the Vietnam War.

“I have seen atrocities that no child should ever witness,” he wrote in the book Deal Me In. “As a youth I would be exposed to horrible things just walking to school and back. One schoolmate was blown to bits in an area that turned out to be a minefield. At night, we’d hear bombs going off; the next day you’d see a pile of rubble sitting where a neighbor’s house used to be.”

By age 8, Nguyen knew how to play poker and played on street corners to help support his family. If his father found out, however, the youngster faced beatings with a rubber hose. By age 11, he was reselling cigarettes and other items on the street to help provide for his family. Getting drafted into the army at age 14 would bring some major changes and set the course for his life. His younger brother was also to be drafted soon and Nguyen’s mother sold everything she had to help the three get out of the country. 

After two years at a refugee camp in Taiwan, they were taken to the U.S. to stay with American sponsors before Ngiuyen was sent to Chicago and his brother to California. However, Nguyen was also eventually sent to California and was reunited with his brother. He later dropped out of school his senior year to work and help support other family members  in Vietnam. He eventually moved to Las Vegas with only $6 and worked as a busboy at a casino.

Six months later, Nguyen was 21 and moved on to working as a poker dealer, while also saving some to begin playing himself. That eventually happened and the choice paid off, despite plenty of ups and downs along the way. The height of his career came in 1998 with his WSOP Main Event win. Another big bullet point came in 2008 when he won the $50,000  HORSE World Championship for almost $2 million. Almost 25 years after cashing in his first WSOP events, Nguyen now boasts an impressive $6 million in series winnings.

Scotty Nguyen : From Vietnam to the Poker Hall of Fame

Qui Nguyen

Vietnam Qui Nguyen at WSOP
Qui Nguyen – Photo by WSOP

While he may have only 11 World Series cashes, this Vietnamese-American player came through on the biggest stage. Nguyen won the 2016 Main Event for more than $8 million. After leaving Vietnam in 2001 at age 24, he landed in California before moving on to Las Vegas.

Coming into the 2016 WSOP, Nguyen had only one series cash before landing his Main Event seat via a $1,100 satellite. That was quite a return on investment and he now has several other WSOP cashes on his poker record including cashing in two more Main Events.

In 2017, Nguyen released his autobiography From Vietnam to Vegas! How I won the World Series of Poker Main Event. The book not only breaks down some of the hands from his Main Event run, but also focuses on his own life. He describes the poverty his family faced in his home country, but also credits that helping to propel him to success at the poker table.

“Winning the Main Event at the World Series of Poker was beyond the dreams of a boy growing up in postwar Vietnam,” he writes in the book. “As a child, my family lived humbly and I had to scrap for whatever I could get to help them survive. Looking back, I believe that the hard life I led as a child made me the poker player I am today.

“Aggression and risk-taking were requirements for survival during most of my life in Vietnam. Today I am never nervous or afraid at the poker table. None of the challenges I face in poker approach the challenges that I faced growing up in Vietnam.”

A Conversation With WSOP Main Event Winner Qui Nguyen


Men Nguyen

Vietnam Men Nguyen
Men Nguyen

Nicknamed “The Master,” Men Nguyen has some massive finishes in some of poker’s biggest events. That includes winning seven WSOP bracelets. The first of those came in 1992 when he took down a $1,500 Seven Card Stud event for $120,600. The latest came in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud in 2010 for $394,807. He sits among the top 10 in total bracelets and has $4.2 million in series wins.

Nguyen has had some other close calls as well with several runner-up and third-place finishes. In 1996 he also finished fourth in the Main Event for $195,000. Beyond the WSOP, the 70-year-old has five WPT final table appearances and $1.4 million in winnings on that tour as well.

Nguyen overcame quite a struggle in his own background to reach success. He dropped out of high school in 1967 to work as a bus driver and support his family. He later fled on a boat to Malaysia with 87 other people to escape when the communists overtook Vietnam. By 1978 he was granted asylum in the U.S., moving to Los Angeles and becoming a citizen in 1986. 

While on a Las Vegas junket in 1984, Nguyen played poker for the first time in his life. He lost hundreds of dollars at first, but then won his first tournament in 1987 and never looked back. He’s found success in numerous poker events and was named Card Player magazine’s player of the year in 1997, 2001, 2003, and 2005. He’s also been known as a poker coach for many other Vietnamese poker players through the years.

Benny Binion Behnen, grandson of Binion’s Horseshoe and WSOP founder Benny Binion, told LA Weekly in 2008: “He’s trained more tournament winners than anyone else in the business.”

Up and Down: JC Tran, Men the Master and Greg Raymer prove old players still have it

David Pham

David Pham
David Pham – Photo by WSOP

This Vietnamese-born player fled his home country at age 17 and began working at his cousin Men Nguyen’s dry cleaning business when landing in the U.S. He soon became one of Nguyan’s poker students and has gone on to find considerable success on his own.

The 57-year-old poker pro nicknamed “The Dragon” now has $11.4 million in live tournament winnings. That impressive record includes three WSOP bracelets with the first of those coming in 2001 in a $2,000 SHOE (Seven Card Stud, Hold’em, Omaha Hi/Lo, and Seven Stud Hi/Lo Eight or Better) tournament for $140,455. In 2006 he added a win in a $2,000 NLHE Shootout for $240,222 and also won a $1,500 NLHE event in 2017 for $391,960.

In total, Pham has 87 WSOP cashes and $2.4 million in winnings. Beyond the WPT, his poker record also includes seven WPT final table appearances. The best of those came at the Legends of Poker in 2007, where he finished runner-up for $800,185.

After 17 final table appearances in 2000, Pham earned Card Player magazine’s player of the year honors and repeated that accomplishment in 2007. In 2018 he spoke with the magazine about how the game has changed since he dominated the game in the 2000s.

“I think about 10, 15 years ago, and how easy it was,” Pham said. “Back then, you could play a little loose, be very aggressive, steal whatever pots you want. It was easy. But now you have to fix up the game a little bit. Make sure you don’t make mistakes. The game is so much tougher now than it ever has been. There are so many young, good players. Players I don’t know and they still play very good. A lot of them even recognize me, but they don’t care about who I am and what I did in the past. They are confident, they have big heart, and they aren’t scared of me.”

J.C. Tran

JC Tran
JC Tran – Photo by WSOP / Pokernews

This 36-year-old from Sacramento, California, has been a successful poker pro for two decades. Tran found success in one of poker’s biggest spotlights in 2013, finishing fifth in the WSOP Main Event for $2.1 million. Tran already had two bracelets at that point. He won a $1,500 NLHE event in 2008 for $631,170 and a $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha a year later for $235,685. His WSOP resumé includes one runner-up finishes, numerous other final table appearances, 78 series cashes, and just under $5 million in series winnings.

Born in Vietnam, Tran moved to the U.S. when he was 2 years old. Even from an early age, Tran seemed to find success and was fascinated with poker after first playing the game.

“On my 21st birthday, one of my brothers took me into a local card room and introduced me to Texas Holden,” Tran says. “He taught me the basic rules and the range of starting hands and from there, it clicked right away.  My first cash game was $1-3 Limit Holdem. I sat down with $40 and after a couple hours of fun, I cashed out $100.  I was hooked from that day on.”

Tran grew up in a large, tight family. He enjoyed school and sports that kept his childhood busy. Basketball and flag football were some of his favorite pastimes and he later even coached youth basketball and football, finding the work rewarding.

Since high school, poker has been his main profession. Along with the two WSOP bracelets, Tran also considers his win in the WPT World Poker Challenge in 2007 to be one of his biggest wins, earning him almost $684,000.

“I got close so many times that when I finally won, the feeling was that much better,” he says. Tran remains a regular at the WSOP and will be looking for another big run this summer.

Tuan Le

Tuan Le at WSOP
Tuan Le – Photo by WSOP / Pokernews

This L.A.-based player is another who made a name for himself in the poker boom of the 2000s. He scored a win in the WPT World Poker Finals in 2006 for $1.6 million and a year later topped that with another victory in the WPT World Championship for $2.6 million.

On the WSOP, Le also has several nice bullet points on his resumé including scoring two bracelets. The first of those came in 2014 in the $10,000 Limit 2-7 Lowball Triple Draw Championship for $355,324. A year later, Le followed that up with a win in the exact same event for $322,756, quite a feat. He now has $5.7 million in live tournament winnings.

Nam Le

Nam Le
Nam Le – WPT Tournament of Champions

This U.S. born player is also of Vietnamese descent and grew up in Irvine, California. Le has found some big results on the tournament scene over the last two decades including $7.6 million in winnings. He became a poker star in the early days of the WPT, winning the Bay 101 Shooting Star in 2006 for $1.2 million and grabbed a runner-up in the WPT Festa al Lago in 2008 for $943,215.

Le has numerous deep runs and final tables on the WPT, but also has impressive WSOP results as well despite not yet winning a bracelet. The same year as his WPT win, he found a runner-up in a $2,000 NLHE event for $401,647. In 2007, he also grabbed a third-place finish in a $1,500 NLHE tournament for another $239,230. He now has 69 cashes and $1.6 million in WSOP winnings.

Nam Le on poker and life


*Article by Sean Chaffin

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Tricia David

Tricia David has long experience as a recreational poker player and has been covering poker events since 2010 for numerous outfits in Asia. She spent one year working part time with Poker Portal Asia then became editor and lead writer for all event coverage of the Philippine Poker Tour (PPT). Under the PPT, she overlooked content for their website, and produced live updates on all their events. In addition, she served as the live and online events website content writer for the Asian Poker Tour. Currently, she does live events reporting in Asia for online news site Somuchpoker and is also one of their news contributors.

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