LAS VEGAS -- California psychologist Jerry Yang attacked
when he sensed weakness, and when he needed a miracle, his prayers
Yang began playing poker only two years ago, but he quickly
jumped from eighth to first in chips at the final table of the
World Series of Poker's main event.
Then he used his dominant position to knock out seven of eight
challengers to take home a $8.25 million payday and poker's most
coveted bracelet early Wednesday morning.
"I study my opponents very carefully, and when I sensed
something, when I sensed some weakness, I took a chance," said
Yang, 39. "Even if I had nothing, I decided to raise, reraise,
push all-in or make a call."
Yang and a huge mountain of cash were all that was left after
plowing through a field of 6,358 players that began to play in
stages July 6. Everyone paid or won $10,000 to enter the no-limit
Texas Hold 'em main event, the biggest poker tournament of the
The ethnic Hmong immigrant from Laos had nearly the shortest
stack of chips when nine finalists began play at about noon Tuesday
and was surely the shortest statured at 5-foot-3.
But the married father of six was an intimidating force at the
table from the beginning whenever he stood up to stare down an
opponent or to reach for his chips.
In what surely will be one of the most talked-about face-offs
this year, Yang quickly declared an all-in reraise on the ninth
hand of play, and Lee Childs, a 35-year-old software engineer from
Reston, Va., folded pocket queens, face up, on a board with a
seven, four and deuce.
"I raised when I had even deuce-four. You know, nine-10;
seven-deuce even," Yang said later. "And fortunately they
Later, when players fought back, they were quickly mowed down.
Philip Hilm, a 31-year-old Dane making a living from poker in
England, busted out after pushing all-in against Yang with a pair
of fives after the flop and the chance for a flush.
Yang made the call holding an ace and king for a pair of kings
and Hilm never improved, finishing ninth for $525,934.
"I couldn't just sit and let him dominate the table like
that," Hilm said. "I don't know if he was really catching lots of
cards or if he was just lucky at the right moments. I guess we'll
know when we watch the TV."
Lee Watkinson, a 40-year-old poker pro from Cheney, Wash.,
pushed all-in before the flop with an ace and seven, but Yang read
through the show of strength by calling with an ace and nine and
Watkinson fell in eighth for a $585,699 payday.
"I was playing for the bracelet," Watkinson said. "I wasn't
going for third, fourth or even second. I wanted to make a play and
be a contender."
Childs, who quit his job a month ago to play poker for a living,
finished seventh with $705,229 when he went all-in with a king and
jack against Yang, with a jack and eight. Childs lost when an eight
came on the turn.
"My goal when I came in to the tournament was to trust my
instincts, make the right decision and hopefully not get unlucky,"
Childs said. "I was that close to doubling up."
Hevad Khan, an Internet poker pro from Poughkeepsie, N.Y.,
finished in sixth when his ace and queen of spades couldn't top a
pair of jacks belonging to a surging Yang. Khan didn't seem
disappointed with sixth place and his $956,243 payday as he
celebrated with friends in the audience.
Jon Kalmar, a 34-year-old poker pro from Chorley, England, was
the only player to bust out against someone other than Yang. He
lost a head-to-head bet against South African retiree Raymond Rahme
when his ace and king failed to improve against Rahme's pocket
Kalmar proclaimed himself "thrilled" with his prize and said
he intended to use his $1.25 million in winnings for finishing
fifth to pay bills and perhaps buy a car back home.
Alex Kravchenko, 36, was Yang's next victim, when he was all-in
before the flop with an ace and king but Yang nailed three of a
kind, holding a pocket pair of eights. Kravchenko finished in
fourth with $1.85 million.
Rahme went down when he pushed all-in with pocket kings on a
board with an ace. After several minutes of pacing and a stare
down, Yang made the call holding an ace and a five, for two aces,
and Rahme shook his head in resignation.
"That was the only mistake I made in the whole tournament,"
When play got down to heads-up, Yang face another refugee from
South Asia, Tuan Lam, a 40-year-old Vietnamese Canadian online
poker pro from Mississauga, Ontario.
Yang had 104.5 million in chips to Lam's 23 million and it took
several hands for both players to get into an all-in confrontation.
Lam made his move with an ace and queen of diamonds and Yang
called with pocket eights.
When a queen, five and nine came on the flop, it looked like
Lam, waving a Canadian flag, would be on the verge of a miracle
But a seven on the turn and a six on the river gave Yang a
straight, sealing a win.
Lam earned $4.84 million for his second-place finish.
"I was patient and waited for the big hand, but the cards came
out different," Lam said. "I have been through a hard life. And I
will be going back to Vietnam and giving back."
The finalists ranged in age from 22 to 62, and hailed from five
nations: the U.S., Canada, Russia, England and South Africa. By
birthplace, players also were from Laos, Vietnam and Denmark.
Each had their section of fans in the audience, and the arena
took on the air of an Olympic event as supporters broke out into
national songs every time their player won a big hand.
From the time he made it into the money with a guaranteed
$20,320 a week ago, Yang vowed to give 10 percent to charities,
including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children, and the
Ronald McDonald House.
After making $8.25 million, Yang said he planned to put his
children through college, allow his wife to quit working and give
back to the community.
"I had a strategy last night. The only way that I could win
this tournament was by being aggressive from the very beginning and
that's exactly what I did," he said. "And thank God I was also
able to pick up some good cards at the same time."