WPT runner-up finish important to Soi Nguyen

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The World Poker Tour celebrated its 10th anniversary with the Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December at the place where it all began: the Bellagio.

The series also featured the Bellagio’s second $100K Super High Roller. Jason Mercier bested a field of 25 to win top honors and a $683,767 payday along with a $25K WPT Championship seat. The win brought the 25-year-old’s lifetime tournament earnings to more than $7.3 million.

James Dempsey won the $10K main event, topping a talented field of 413 and a final table that included defending champion Antonio Esfandiari, 2010 November Niner Soi Nguyen, who was second to Dempsey, and Vanessa Selbst, who was hoping to make history by becoming the first female WPT champion.

Ante Up’s Todd Lamansky had a chance to chat with Nguyen, who returned to a major final table for the first time since his 2010 WSOP run, earning $517K for his runner-up finish at the Bellagio.

How did the 2010 WSOP change your life? During the break period it was super, super chaotic: interviews, a lot of PR events, public appearances, and you know, just face recognition. I can’t go to a cardroom now and not be recognized. In any tournament I’ve played since then, I mean, definitely there will be at least one or two people at the table asking me if I am Soi Nguyen. It also makes it a little bit easier sometimes as far as the nightlife goes and wanting to get into certain clubs and stuff like that, so it has its pluses and minuses.
Are you still selling medical supplies? Yes, I’ve been with Team Makena for 12 years now.

So you are still working? You sound a little shocked there, Todd.

If it were me I’d almost certainly quit my job. I enjoy my job. My boss is probably the best boss in the world and I have a great rapport with, No. 1 my boss, and my employees there. It would take a lot for me to leave this company.

How long have you been playing poker? Growing up Vietnamese, gambling is just naturally instilled in us right at birth. I can remember when I was 3 or 4 years old around New Year’s (and our new year is late January, early February and it’s celebrated for three days) we’d get envelopes from our aunts and uncles filled with money and we would be gambling for three days in a row, as kids. There’d be tables for all the little kids, then the teenagers, the adults, and the elders. It was just one house full of a bunch of people playing cards. There was a variation of Vietnamese poker, which is kind of a five-card stud game, but we’d (only) play with nines through aces. We wouldn’t play with any cards eight and under, so those games got pretty big.

I started playing hold’em with my friends when I was around 15 or 16, and when I say my friends, keep in mind the friends I kept around me growing up, some of them have been very, very successful in poker … Nam Le, Tommy Le, Tran Le (also Chino Rheem and Steve Sung). We played as kids for fun and I saw the way they succeeded, but I took a different road, I guess, because I got married at a young age, had a kid, so I really needed to focus on my career and a reliable source of income.

Do you play cash games? I play some cash games, but I don’t really play them at the casinos. I do play in a game probably once every two months and it’s a private home game. It’s a pretty intense game. We start off at $10-$25 and go $25-$50 by the end of the night.

Are you strictly a NLHE player? I started to branch out a little bit, especially online. Pre-Black Friday I was picking up PLO. Love the game. It’s such a great game. Hopefully, I want to learn more, experience more of it. Unfortunately, work and my ability to drive to casinos has limited it, but it is definitely on my agenda to, for lack of a better term, master the game of PLO. And not to say I’ve mastered the game of no-limit, either. But that’s the great thing about poker: Every single time I play, every single session I play, I gain something from it.

What’s next for you? I’m going to play as many WPT events as I can this year but I’m not going to travel to play them. I’m not going to go back East because it’s going to take me too far away from my work and everything like that, so at least the West Coast events, especially the Bicycle event and the LAPC at the Commerce Casino. I can still come in early to the office, punch in for a couple of hours, get some work done and then take off to the casino.

Basically, the events in California and Vegas are my primary targets for 2012, and hopefully, more final tables and either a bracelet or a title.