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.
John Juanda certainly came from humble beginnings, but since then has become one of the most respected players in the world today. He has also remained humble, which is a welcome sight (and sound) in comparison to a lot of players who seemingly enjoy seeing how much attention they can create for themselves, both at and away from the tables. A few times I have alluded to a fictional Mount Rushmore, with poker players taking the place of presidents. It’s hard to just pick four poker players in the entire history of the game to make up the Mount Rushmore of poker, but, John Juanda would definitely be in the running, and perhaps even make the final cut (in stone). The former door-to-door Bible salesman turned poker professional has already established himself as a great in the game, and still has many more years to go.
Johnson Juanda was born July 8, 1971 in Medan, Indonesia. His name shortened to John, he grew up watching his dad play poker. Despite poker being a regular occurrence in his household, his father asked him not to gamble when he got older, as he thought there were more honorable ways for a man to make a living. As a child Juanda took that advice to heart, steering clear from poker for the most part, instead focusing on his education and athletics. In high school Juanda became a star athlete, participating in a number of track events. His best events were the 200 meter and the 5000 meter races, showing he had skills in a wide array of events, a skill he has brought with him to the poker table. In addition to performing well in athletics, Juanda wanted to earn a strong education, and thought his best chances of doing that were by moving to the United States. With the blessing of his parents, Juanda moved to the United States in 1990 to attend Oklahoma State University.
Joining him on the plane from Indonesia to Oklahoma were two of his best friends from home, whose parents were also sending them away for better opportunities. Both of his friends played a lot of poker, and played it the entire flight over, teaching Juanda basic rules, different games, and strategic skills that could help him. Juanda was hooked, and one of the first things he did when he landed was play a game with his friends. When Juanda looked down at his very first hand he was ever dealt he was shocked to see a Royal Flush. When he looked up all of his friends were staring at him amused, as they had rigged the deck to give him a Royal Flush. They did it in hopes that he would stick with poker, thinking he was lucky.
Juanda thought the joke was funny, and it seemingly worked.
After Juanda graduated with a business degree he returned home, but for the most part felt like he didn’t belong there anymore. He had started drinking to pass the time, and gambling too much, building a debt of $15,000. A bit ashamed, and at the same time wanting to do more with his life, he asked his parents if he could return to the United States to get his PhD - and also find a way to pay off his debt. His parents were never aware of the debt situation, and until this day Juanda has said he has never told his parents the full story. They allowed him to return to the States for what they thought was just for his education.
He obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Seattle University. While attending school and shortly after, he took a number of jobs, including door-to-door Bible salesman, and he even worked briefly as a stock broker. The jobs started to pay off his debts, but he still felt restless. After moving to Los Angeles for a job, he entered his first ever American casino, and never looked back.
When he first moved to the States he could hardly speak any English, and because of this he had to rely on reading body language and facial expressions in hoping he could understand what people were trying to “say” to him. He feels that experience has helped him his entire poker career, and may explain why he started having positive results in a relatively quick manner after playing. In 1997 Juanda started playing tournaments. Because of the debt he found himself in as a young man he told himself he would always stick to strict bankroll management, something he says he has never swayed from. In his first year of playing he had four five figure scores. He was also named one of “The Best All Around Players” in his very first tournament series, called “Heavenly Hold’em” in Los Angeles.
Through the rest of the 90’s Juanda continued to work up his bankroll. In 1999, he cashed in his first two World Series of Poker events, both final tables, at Limit Hold’em events. It was near the end of the year 2000 when Juanda first stepped onto the scene of the best players, when he finished second at the 2000 United States Poker Championship in December of that year, winning $159,000 for his efforts. Juanda showed he was no fluke, winning the $5,000 dollar championship event at The Second Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open, winning $283,240. He also again finished second in that year’s United States Poker Championship, this time earning $131,100.
In 2002 Juanda earned his first WSOP bracelet, winning the $1,500 Triple Draw Lowball Ace to Five Event, earning $49,620. That same year he also finished second in the first World Poker Tour event he ever cashed in, winning $278,240 at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic in Las Vegas. If his 2002 was good, his 2003 was great, winning two WSOP bracelets, while cashing in six total for the series. The bracelets both came in $2,500 buy-in events, the Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Split and Pot Limit Omaha events. The winnings combined for $334,000 in prizes.
Between 2002 and 2007 Juanda cashed in a number of WSOP events (49 for his career, with an additional 16 cashes in WPT events), but despite coming agonizingly close, was unable to add to his bracelet total. That all changed in 2008, when Juanda participated at the World Series of Poker Europe Championship Event. The final table has been described as one of the toughest of all-time, featuring Scott Fischman (finishing 6th), Daniel Negreanu (5th), and Ivan Demidov. If playing against that completion wasn’t enough, Juanda had to outlast the physical demands of a final table that lasted an incredible 19 hours and 10 minutes. With the final table also lasting 484 hands, it beat the previous record, held by the 2006 H.O.R.S.E 50k WSOP championship by 130 hands. In other words, the $1,580,096 he earned was well deserved. It would have been perfectly acceptable of Juanda would have taken a bit of time off to both rest and celebrate his victory. Instead, he participated in the European Poker Tour’s High Roller Event, winning it for $598,770. It is performances like these that keep Juanda near the top of all the major poker magazines’ Player of the Year awards year after year.
With nearly $10,000,000 dollars in tournament winnings at only 38 years old, it’s obvious the sky is still the limit, but Juanda may have other plans outside of poker. Before heading to college to get his Master’s in Business, he had toyed with the idea of becoming a doctor. In recent interviews he said that he still thinks about this often, and may one day take some time off from poker to go back to school to become a doctor. Whatever he chooses to do, two things are certain. He will succeed in anything he tries, and that $15,000 debt is more than taken care of. Look for Juanda on Full Tilt Poker, he's part of the TEAM!
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