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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Jerry Yang

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

In our continuing “Where Are They Now” series, we have explored every single World Series of Poker Champion, except one.  While I have used this line quite a bit throughout the biographies, Jerry Yang may indeed be the most interesting of them all.  Some of our past champions have come from humbling beginnings, but you’d be hard pressed to find one who came from some awe-inspiring beginnings to become a member of poker’s elite.
In 1968 Xao “Jerry” Yang was born in Laos, in the middle of an especially difficult time in the history of his country.  In 1975 a communist regime took over the country.  With family and friends being tortured and sometimes killed, the family fled to a refugee camp in Thailand.  While they were no longer tortured, the quality of life was hardly better.  During his four years at the camp, Yang lost a brother and sister to illness.  Just when the family began to think of other living options, their name was finally drawn from a lottery and they were allowed to move to the United States, hoping for a fresh start.
Many years later, Yang would be asked if winning the Main Event was the happiest day of his life.  Yang’s answer was nothing short of saying, not even close.  The happiest day of his life was when his father told them they were moving to America.

The family arrived in California in 1979 with hopes a fresh start.  It wasn’t easy for Yang, who has said in interviews that having to learn English as an 11 year old was very hard for him, and he often times wanted to quit school and stay at home.  Instead of getting angry at the young Yang, his father consoled him and told him he would be able to get through it and look back on this one day and laugh.  Eventually the language came to him, and as a result he was highly successful academically. 

Graduating with honors from high school, he wanted to study medicine, but instead postponed school for two years to work as a missionary.  Yang had remembered seeing so many needy people at the refugee camp, and he had always told himself he would try his best to help people.  Upon completing his missionary tour he decided he wanted to become a psychologist instead.  After six years at Loma Linda University, a private school in Southern California, he graduated with honors with his Master’s degree.

If you’ve noticed, there hasn’t been one mention of poker in Yang’s life up until this point.  Understandably, he had a few other things to overcome in his life before he could focus on recreational activities.  After college Yang became a full-time psychologist, while also spending his free time doing social work.  To his credit, Yang was always ready to give, never considering his finances in his decisions.
Yang finally became interested in poker in 2005 while watching the WSOP on television.  Given his profession, he was enthralled by the mind games, and thought he would fit right in.  Yang began to digest as many poker books and as much information as he could find online, while at the same time beginning to play for small stakes on the internet.  As a father of six, he didn’t have as much time as others to devote to the game, but eventually he started spending some of his free time in local California card rooms.
In January of 2006 he placed in his first tournament, for $2,871 dollars, a modest win for a modest man.  In October he cashed for nearly $7,000 dollars, happy for the extra cash.  While playing at a casino in Temecula, California he noticed satellites running for the WSOP Main Event.  Remembering the success such players as Chris Moneymaker (2003 champ) and Greg Raymer (2004 champ) had with the satellites, Yang tried his luck.  Two hundred-twenty five dollars later, Yang was on his way to the WSOP Main Event, easily the biggest event he’d ever been in.

If Yang was nervous, he didn’t show it at all.  He used a very aggressive style, a style that has been critiqued since, that put his opponents all in almost at will.  Yang said later that the only way he thought he would win was by being that aggressive, and he also pointed out that getting good cards helped too.  He might have had even a higher power on his side.  Yang, a devout Christian, time and time again prayed to God for his card to hit, and more often than not it did.  Yang kept saying that if God wanted him to win, then he would.
The aggressive style helped Yang get to the final table, but he was in 8th of 9th place when he arrived.  However, for the second year in a row, a single player knocked out seven of his eight opponents at the final table, but in much different ways.  For most of the 2006 final table Jamie Gold held a chip count lead over most of his table, combined.  Yang, not having that luxury, put opponents to the test time and time again, while continuously looking up to the heavens.  Yang admitted that most of the time he did this with nothing.
Heads up against Tuan Lam, Yang’s prayers were answered one more time, this time to the tune of 8.25 million dollars.  Yang, holding a 4 to 1 chip advantage put Lam all-in holding a pair of 8’s. Lam woke up to A-Q of diamonds, and made the call.  After 12 hours of a final table (the longest in WSOP history) the end was either one hand away, or they were going to be nearly tied.  The flop came Q-9-5, seemingly tying up the event.  Yang, hoping and once again praying for an 8, watched as a 7 came on the turn, giving Yang four more outs, giving him six altogether.
Yang once against closed his eyes and prayed, and the 8.25 million dollar prayer was answered as a six came on the river.  Talk about praying on the river.  Upon the completion of the tournament ESPN announcer Norman Chad congratulated Yang, and then asked him, “Do you think that’s the most tournament poker God has ever watched?”

True to his nature, Yang immediately donated 10 percent of his winnings to three charities, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Feed The Children.  He was also very happy to announce that his wife would no longer have to work.  Yang also quit his job as a psychologist to concentrate on poker, but with that he said he is still a “very very part-time poker player.”  In fact, he has only participated in a few events since then, but despite that his one bracelet victory put him among the top earning tournament poker players of all time.

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