Master of One Part III: Men Nguyen Addresses the Controversies
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This is the third article in a five-part series in PokerNews’ Master of One series on Men “The Master” Nguyen. In Part I, author Chad Holloway highlights his journey to Vietnam alongside Men Nguyen began, while in Part II he talks about how Nguyen’s poker origin, charity work, and more.
There is no denying Men “The Master” Nguyen doesn’t have a great reputation in the poker world. The three main marks are that he drinks too much at the table, mistreats dealers, and most seriously, has cheated to succeed.
On several occasions during my trip to Vietnam, I broached the subjects with Nguyen. He copped to the first two, but vehemently denied the third.
Becoming the Master
Many of the controversies involve those who once called Nguyen “The Master.”
You see, at the height of his popularity, Nguyen took on students, most of which were fellow expat Vietnamese players looking to replicate his success. They soon dubbed their teacher “The Master” and traveled with him around the country. They became an entourage of sorts.
“When I won so many tournaments, a lot of people wanted me to teach them,” Nguyen explained. “My first student was [my cousin] David ‘The Dragon’ Pham, then Hung Le. I’d just give him tips and advice for one or two hours. A lot of people pay the money for two hours. Some of them buy me dinners or offer me $500, some of them $1,000. Rich people.”
Nguyen: “If you look at all the talk about cheating, if you look it’s not true."
In exchange for lessons, Nguyen’s students were expected to share their winnings.
“Others pay me out of winnings. Those who win more than $20,000 pay, less than $20,000 forget it, but it’s 10%,” Nguyen said. “Some of them don’t have the money [to play] so I invest in them. They put up half and they take three-quarters, I take 25 percent. I don’t give them any juice. A lot depends on the investment, whether I had the money or not. I’d buy even money. I don’t do that so much because I don’t have money now, not like before.”
He continued: “Before I’d put 5-6 people in tournaments. People started talking a lot of shit so after that, I cut it off. I don’t want it. They think I put people in and they give chips to me. They stupid to think or say that. I put two people in, it’s a small chance of winning. They say Men buy people in and then get the chips from them, that’s stupid. A lot of rumors you know, a lot of rumor about this shit, that shit. Before I follow and get made. I’d think, ‘Why do people say things like that?’”
Chip dumping allegations may surround him, but Nguyen has never been banned from a venue for doing so nor have any instances ever been proved.
“Someone on the internet say I cheating at Commerce Casino cash game because me and a friend check, check, check. There’s no anything. It’s a rumor. The more you argue it, the more rumors,” said Nguyen. “If you look at all the talk about cheating, if you look it’s not true. Anything they talk about, they don’t show evidence that I cheat.”
Getting Kicked Out of Foxwoods
One of the most infamous Men Nguyen stories centers on allegations that he was caught with tournament chips in his room. Some versions of the story go as far as saying he was caught with an entire suitcase full of them. It supposedly took place nearly two decades ago at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Casino.
As the story goes, Nguyen was there with his students, who were all asked to leave after security paid a visit to their room. Rumor quickly spread that chips had been found and it was assumed said chips were destined to be introduced into the tournament.
Nguyen doesn’t deny that he was kicked out of Foxwoods, but he claims it has nothing to do with poker.
Here’s what he had to say: “I had a student named Nuk Tran. When he think he had bad luck, he’d burn the incents and he make wish. I don’t believe all that. He keep the incense in there, too much smoke. The fire alarm go off. Foxwoods come and kick us out.”
So, was Nguyen telling the truth?
As it happened, Women in Poker Hall of Famer and industry veteran Kathy Raymond was the poker room manager at Foxwoods at the time. I reached out to her to get the facts straight from the horse’s mouth.
Kathy Raymond: "There were no tournament chips found in his room. Hope this helps clarify matters.”
“I had actually published a letter in Card Player Magazine after the incident had occurred in an effort to clear the rumors,” she said. “Men’s friend who was sharing his hotel room was cooking fish in the room and the smoke set off the fire alarms. Men was asked to vacate the property because cooking in the rooms was not permitted and his name was on the room reservation. There were no tournament chips found in his room. Hope this helps clarify matters.”
So, one of the most infamous stories surrounding Nguyen isn’t true, though it seems even he is fuzzy about the details (a common occurrence for the man).
It makes you wonder how many other stories have either been fabricated, taken out of context, or blown out of proportion. Along those lines, noted poker podcaster Joey Ingram devoted an entire show investigating Nguyen and ultimately concluded that while there are plenty of stories and allegations, there isn’t anything in the way of proof.
While there may not be proof of outright cheating, proof of dealer mistreatment certainly exists when it comes to Nguyen. There’s no denying it, and he doesn’t.
"When I’m young, yes,” he said when asked if he’s ever mistreated dealers. “Sometimes they make mistakes. What I do, sometimes I tell them not to bring the cards in. They say I’m mean; most people say I’m mean to the dealers. When I play tournaments I’m never mean to dealers. You don’t want the penalty. They do what they want. Sometimes I don’t like it but don’t say nothing. At the World Series, they chewing gum and deal. That looks bad. I don’t like it.”
It becomes clear while discussing the subject that Nguyen isn’t a big fan of dealers. It seems his perspective is “The Master” knows best, and in the past, it’s gotten him into hot water. He couldn’t let some things go, and in turn, said and did things he shouldn’t in terms of dealer treatment.
Nguyen: "The dealers always say that, they say I’m mean to them. I don’t want to have problems."
Nguyen continues: “I never argue with the floor man. I know when they make a decision it’s a done deal. But I know the rules. I’ve played 30 years, I know all the rules. Especially the WPT. When I go there I walk in silent and walk out, never had a problem for a long time. The reason I never want to have a problem at the WSOP, people hate me and complain about this and that, but listen, the WSOP is where I make money. I never argue with anyone there because anytime I do I’m the one who is out of line. You know what I mean? I don’t want to argue, I don’t want to say anything. Even if they make mistakes now, I won’t say nothing. I come to play, I come to make money, I’m not going to come to argue. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a penalty at the WSOP.”
Nguyen claims to have changed his evil dealer ways, which he admits were more often than not fueled by alcohol.
“If I do something wrong, some people make a scene. I don’t want to have that happen. The dealers always say that, they say I’m mean to them. I don’t want to have problems,” said Nguyen, who claims to have cut back on drinking at the tables. “I’m very afraid now that I’d get pulled over and get a DUI. Too much money, they take away your license. Any time I have a drink I’ll call an Uber.”
Angle Shooting Steve Sung?
The no drinking didn’t seem to apply to the WPT Gardens Poker Festival, where he finishing third for $270,430. It was there his behavior – most notably passing out at the table and trying to make illegal raises on multiple occasions – got him into hot water with tournament staff, who issued him a one-round penalty.
One hand stood out in particular. It happened when Steve Sung raised preflop holding ace-jack and Nguyen defended his big blind with nine-seven. The flop gave Sung trip jacks and Nguyen a gutshot straight draw. Nguyen check-raised and Sung called to see a six on the turn, which improved the former to an open-ended straight draw.
Nguyen bet 225,000 and Sung moved all in for 435,000. Nguyen dropped in two 100K chips as if to call and Sung tabled his hand. Nguyen then picked up the chips and claimed he’d accidentally dropped them and hadn’t intended to call.
“You called,” Sung said according to the WPT live updates. “That’s why I turned over my hand.”
“I no do nothing,” Nguyen responded.
“Menski, you really trying this on me right now?” his opponent fired back. “We’ve known each other a long time. Don’t pull this shit on me.”
“I no do nothing. I bet you $1,000,” Nguyen again said.
“I’ll bet the prize pool on it,” Sung answered.
The tournament staff ruled it a call and Nguyen was forced to put in the chips. Another six on the river gave Sung a boat and the double. It seemed like a deliberate angle, but either way, it painted Nguyen in a bad light.
I asked him about it and much to my surprise he didn’t have any recollection of the incident. I don’t mean he tried to deflect and feign ignorance, I mean he genuinely had no idea what I was talking about.
“Never happened. How long ago?” he asked. “No, no, no. Nothing wrong. Show me. Show me now. I don’t think that’s what happened. I don’t remember that. I fell asleep. The tournament director told me, ‘Men, you have a lot of chips. Maybe you take a break.’ I don’t think I have one-round penalty. What is the rule? Not because I sleep, I had a lot of drinks.”
I then pulled up the hand in the live update on my phone and allowed a clearly perplexed Nguyen to read the report.
“I don’t remember this,” he said. “I had a lot of drinks. I fall asleep you know. I don’t understand what’s going on. Really, I don’t remember. We know each other a long, long time, We drink together in the past. I really don’t remember. Steve Sung has no problem with me. He’s a good player. He know me long time. I don’t know what happened. He said I dropped a chip, so maybe. I don’t remember, but I will ask him.”
The long and short of it is this – when he drinks, “Men the Master” has the potential to become “Men the Monster.”
Dealing with the Hate
Nguyen has shot angles and abused both dealers and other players at the tables. There are no shortage of stories online. Not surprisingly, Nguyen’s reputation follows him around and he’s occasionally confronted about it.
“Once when playing in the UK they ask me, ‘Men, people say you cheat?’ Instead of saying no, I never do, I say, ‘How can I cheat?’ I say it’s a rumor. People get jealous,” Nguyen said.
He also described an incident from this past summer at the WSOP in the high-stakes King’s Lounge where he was playing $75/$150 Stud Hi-Lo.
“I don’t know this guy. He comes and attacks me. Says he doesn’t want to sit with a cheater. You call me what? You say I’m a cheater, you show me. If I’m a cheater, you think I’m sitting here playing with you. I was so mad. 10-15 years ago, I’m going to punch him, but I’m getting old now. I say no, I don’t want a problem. I’ve come to make money.”
He added: “Trust me, I’ve changed a lot after I got divorced from my wife. Big change. I sacrifice myself for my family. I get hurt for my family a lot. Nobody hurts you except the ones you love.”
Be sure to come back tomorrow for Part IV of this five-part series on Men “The Master” Nguyen where you’ll learn about his divorce, family life, and how his life has transformed since 2010.
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In this Series
- 1 Master of One | Part I: Visiting Vietnam with Men “The Master” Nguyen
- 2 Master of One | Part II: Men “The Master” Nguyen a Hero in Vietnam
- 3 Master of One Part III: Men Nguyen Addresses the Controversies
- 4 Master of One | Part IV: A Devastating Divorce, Family Life & More
- 5 Master of One | Part V: Men “The Master” Nguyen and the Poker Hall of Fame