Men Nguyen is a kick to have at your poker table. Witty, impish, and seemingly harmless, he has a tendency to sit quietly, lulling you into a false sense of security, and then when you least expect it, out comes the 10-pound hammer and bam, you're blindsided. There goes your confidence, and your chips.
The worst part of this story (for a competitor) is that Men gives you that happy, semi-innocent smile and then drinks down a Corona, and another, and another. So, you give him the benefit of the doubt, and out comes the hammer again. Bam!
Nguyen is indeed "The Master," a name given to him by players he has taught the art of poker. Only a master could jump right into a $15/$30 game at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas while playing poker for just the second time in his life and win $3500, but lets back up a little.
Men was born in Phanthiet Provence, Vietnam in 1954. In the war torn country, he was lucky enough to attend school until he was thirteen years old when he began helping the family survive financially by driving a bus. His father knew his son would have a better life in the United States, and encouraged him to escape from Vietnam, and with a boatload of 87 compatriots, Men made his way to Pulau Besar in Malaysia. In 1978, he was able to make his way to Los Angeles.
Unable to speak English, Men was lucky to find work as a furniture deliveryman; at the not too lucky wage of $10 per day. When his command of the English language improved, he began working as a machinist. The pay was better, and he kept the job until after his first trip to Las Vegas in 1985.
That first trip (on a junket a friend of his arranged), Nguyen walked the strip and paused in front of Caesars Palace. It was a casino he had heard of, and after all, there was an electric, moving walkway to take him inside. And taken for a ride he was - to the tune of $2100, which he lost playing seven-card stud at a $15/$30 table. Never mind that he had never played before, he was hooked. Men says he "Thought about that game all the next week back in LA, then scraped together all my money and went back the very next week."
This time, he beat the game, and subsequent trips led him to learn seven-card stud hi/low, and later, poker tournaments. Apparently, he was a fast study in tournaments, too, as he finished eighth in his first try. Back in Los Angeles, Men also won a Diamond Jim Brady, eight or better stud event for $27,000.
Seeing the great popularity of hold'em, Men began playing in no-limit tournaments held at the Bicycle Club. Returning to Caesars Palace for the Amarillo Slim Poker Classic in 1988, Men says he "got very lucky playing against Johnny Chan, and just beat him when I didn't know any better than to lay my hand down, but I have my own instincts, and let them guide me."
In this tournament, Men knocked Chan out of the running, and chopped with another player for $44,000 - his biggest score at the time. He decided to invest his winnings in several businesses, but they took too much time away from his poker playing, and he sold them shortly thereafter.
In 1991, Men married his wife, Tuyet, and again became a father. He says nothing is more important than his family, and he loves spending time with his children and his wife. The family is important, but along the way, Men has found time to play (and win) dozens and dozens of poker tournaments.
Nguyen is arguably the best, most successful tournament player to have never won the main event of the World Series of Poker, but don't get the idea that he hasn't been successful at the WSOP, or elsewhere. In fact, just the last few years saw him take first place at the Legends of Poker, the World Poker Challenge (in limit Omaha), and at the Bay 101 Shooting Star limit hold'em event.
As for the WSOP, Men won his first gold bracelet in 1992 for seven-card stud. In 1995, he won two tournaments, one in hold'em, the other in stud hi/low. 1996 brought another win, this time for Omaha 8-or better, and 2003 was another double-bracelet year with a seven-card stud win and also an ace-to-five Triple Draw win. His six bracelets leave him behind only Brunson, Chan, Hellmuth, Baxter and Seidel in career WSOP wins.
What is most amazing, however, is that Men is so consistent. At the WSOP, he is #1 in most cashes with 49 (a heartbeat ahead of Hellmuth, Cloutier and Berry Johnston, each with 48) and also #1 in most firsts (six), seconds (five) and thirds (seven) with eighteen.
His style is unique, and he has graciously spent time teaching many "known" pros on the circuit today. What he can't teach them is to be colorful at the table. Men just has a way about him that puts you at ease, and puts your chips at great risk. And of course, that's just the Master at work!
Ed Note: Learn to master your game at Party Poker