Long Beach, California resident John Phan spends very little time at home. As one of poker's top players, this Vietnamese-born 31-year-old rarely sees a lot of down time because of his hectic and seemingly never-ending tournament schedule.
"It's a good thing I don't have a family of my own. You travel so much. The last two years have been so tough. I've never been on the road so much in my life. Sometimes I don't even get to go home and when I do, it's only for a few days. It can be difficult and so tiring," Phan said in an interview.
Lack of sleep has never fazed Phan, who is known as the "Razor." Playing poker since age 16, he said he came to love the game very quickly. "When I was young I played for fun. I had an uncle who worked in a little card room. I basically played $2/$4 and $3/$6 limits for fun. In the beginning, it was just a game, but eventually things started to change. We love gambling in Vietnam, so my interest in the game came naturally. As I got older, I saw how much money could be made and that helped me decide to become a professional."
Although he makes a career out of poker, Phan is quick to note that it isn't money alone that drives him. To Phan, poker is a "game of the mind."
"As a player, you continue to develop more skill and become better at the game. It gets more interesting as an adult because you can play the player or play the game differently in almost any situation. I really love the challenge. It's such a fun game," he said.
According to Phan, who finished second in the 2005 Player of the Year race, even though he's shown himself to be one of the more dominating tournament players in the game, he is constantly trying to improve. "I'm still young in the game. It's like going to school. When you are younger, you don't ever think you're good enough. So when I play, it's like I'm at work."
Although not intimidated at the tables, Phan recognizes the need to learn from other players. "You have to play with the best and learn from them with every chance you get. There are so many good players out there and they all have a little something special. Since I learn as I play, I'm always watching the other players at the table. Ultimately, I know this will benefit my game."
A keen observer of the game, Phan has taken an individualistic approach toward his playing-style. He is a constant threat to competitors because of his varied game play, which makes him hard to figure out. "Basically, I developed my own game and my own style. When I play in tournaments or a game, I want players to guess what I have. Sometimes even I don't know how I'm going to play a hand. My style deals with each hand individually. I'll play any two cards."
Phan has won close to $2 million during his career, but started small and quickly realized that the game isn't for the meek. "When I first started playing poker, there wasn't a lot of money in it. But now, people see the big dollars and think they can win immediately. People have to understand that when you start playing, you win and you lose. You have to be prepared for that and put up a good fight regardless. There are always ups and downs in poker. It's not easy by any means."
Like most poker players, Phan loves winning, but his favorite part of the game is bluffing other players off pots. "Bluffing is the number one, key thing. If you know when to bluff, it's like having the nuts. You can't go wrong. I give credit to people who make a move on me. Sometimes I have the best hand. But if they're willing to risk all their chips, sometimes you have to give it to them. You have to give them some respect. I think that's the fun part of the game."
At first, Phan's family didn't approve of his poker career, but as with many of today's fans of the poker explosion, they have come to accept the legitimacy of the game and his chosen profession. "It's so huge now. Before, my family wouldn't accept me. Now, all my nieces and nephews watch poker. They even have their own home game every weekend. It's amazing how things have changed since the big money came into the game."
According to Phan, along with the big money, comes the younger players and their unknown wealth of talent. "Before it wasn't very difficult to get a win, but now there are so many young players with their own styles. You have to adjust your game constantly. That is why some of the older pros are having a difficult time with today's game. The younger players will ultimately make mistakes down the road, but it is pretty hard to predict what they have. You have to try to get lucky with them."
Although the path of a poker professional is long and hard, Phan would have it no other way. "Its like a job and you have to put that in your head. You have to go to work. If you don't do well one day, you have to do better the next. That's the only way to get good. If you take things to hard, you can't play well in the next event. This job is very stressful and you have to learn how to deal. People ask me how I can play event after event. I just love the game."
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