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Books: "All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ"
It’s the final table of the 2007 World Series of Poker. It’s the type of game the small-timers dream about while sitting at folding tables raising $20 stakes on their friends. Only here, the stakes are huge — like $8 million huge. A win changes everything. So, Jerry Yang does what he’s done with most things in his life. He goes all in.That’s the jump off point for his book “All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ.” (EDITOR's NOTE: Click over to our contest page for a chance to win a signed copy for yourself).
Yang, who immigrated to the United States at 12, escaped from the Lao communist army spent years in a Thai refugee camp. Later, he became a psychologist, restaurateur and philantropist— thanks to his poker money. Yang will sign copies of his book noon, July 24 at Barnes and Nobles.
Below he answers a few questions about his life and what it takes to win big.
It seems like you made a quick progression. In just two years of playing, you won the world’s largest poker tourney. Did you instantly know you were good at the game?
Having worked as a psychologist for many years, I have developed the skills to read my opponents. When I first saw poker on TV in 2005, I knew instantly that it would be the game/sport for me. Poker doesn't require height, weight, physical strength, etc. What it requires, however, is mental focus, discipline and patience.
Did your history and journey to America influence the way you play?
Yes of course. Having lived in the hills of Laos as a youngster and gone through years of hunger, sickness and hopelessness, I have developed the will, courage, determination and desire to succeed and survive in life. Furthermore, my four and a half years in the Thai refugee camps and a few years living in two of the poorest projects in Nashville and Kansas City have molded me to be the person I am today. My life has been through many “all-in” experiences. When I play poker, I play to win. I have the determination and will to last as long as possible and never quit or give up until I lose my very chip. Poker is not only a game of skills, but one that requires tremendous patience, discipline, determination and courage.
It’s that final hand of the tournament and there is $8 million-plus on the line. How do you handle that kind of pressure?
The pressure was tremendous; yet, the adrenaline was also very high. I had a 4 to 1 chip lead so I was confident that I would win. For some odd reasons, pocket 8’s (88) was very good to me that year. Each time that I had 88, I won, including the final hand.
That must be a rush. How do you go back to normal life after that kind of win?
I was so happy after I won that I didn’t really want to go back to my normal life. I knew that my family life would change drastically (for the better of course). I was looking forward to having a better life with my wife and children and those I love. Indeed, I was also looking forward to doing things (i.e. charity work, etc) to help the less fortunate especially underprivileged children around the world.
What is life like when you are not playing?
When I’m not playing, I enjoy my time with my family and running my restaurant (Pocket 8’s Sushi and Grill) in Merced. Furthermore, I enjoy traveling and hosting charity events around the country, which benefit the Ronald McDonald House and Make-a-Wish Foundation. The children there remind me of who I was when I lived in the Thai refugee camps and the slums of Nashville and Kansas City.
After that kind of win and what you’ve done with the money, is there anything left for you to do? Any other passions you are pursuing?
I believe that my window as a poker celebrity is still open and available for me to do even more good things for those who are less fortunate. I’d like to do more charity work. I intend to donate 10% of all future winnings to charity. I have personally raised more than $800K for charity since my win in 2007. In fact, I have been told that I've been the most charitable poker champion in the history of poker. I do it because I know what is like to be poor, hungry, hopeless and sick. My goal in the future is to dedicate more time and effort in charity work.
What do you need to be a great poker player?
To be a great poker player, one must have the following five criteria: skills, patience, courage, determination and the sincere desire to win.