Justin Cuong Van Tran, a 36-year-old poker pro born in Vietnam, lives in Sacramento. He was the World Poker Tour Player of the Year in Season 5 and has won two World Series of Poker bracelets. The chipleader for the upcoming November Nine chatted with our Dave Lemmon during the inaugural WPT Alpha 8 Super High Roller at the SeminoleHard Rock in Hollywood, Fla., where he finished second, earning nearly $527K.
Wow, what a year. Anything in your wildest dreams come close to this? I had a pretty good run in ’07 and I was hoping to repeat another year like that before I became a true family man. And now with a second kid on the way, I think I’m there. This run came at a perfect time; making the November Nine was at the top of my goals and the last thing I hadn’t accomplished.
What is important to you as far as the game of poker goes? People that know me understand I’m not big on trying to play for TV time. I play to win tournaments and I’ve had a pretty rough time over the past three years before this summer. But in this position now as a family man, the money is the most important thing for me. Of course, the titles come right along with it. If they said right now that I could choose between the money at the November Nine and the bracelet, I’d take the $8 million and let the other guys fight for the bracelet.
Is the fame important to you at all? Fame is not why I got into the game. I got into poker for the challenge and because I love the game, to be successful and make money. Fame comes along with it, I guess, but to me respect is one of the most important things. If I can earn the respect of my peers and become a great ambassador for poker, I’ll be happy. I just signed with 888 Poker and I want to be a good ambassador for them. I’ve gotten enough fame; I just want to enjoy a nice peaceful dinner with my family and not have to deal with people rushing me for pictures and autographs.
Still, with TV exposure, there’s going to be an adjustment in your life. Definitely. But I like to lay low-key when I’m home and, like I said, I’d just like to pick up some money, along with respect along the way.
How do you deal with the ups and downs of professional poker? The last few years, I have not played as good as I would’ve liked, and that makes me second-guess myself. The game changes every year and a lot of these really good Internet kids are coming out and playing very aggressively. So you have to adjust, and I did that and still didn’t get the results I wanted. I made more changes this year, but it’s really just my same style, so I know it’s just a hot run and I’ve had better luck. I’ve fought through the storm and let’s hope that I don’t have one of those cold runs again.
What are your preparations for the November Nine? We’ve heard of guys simulating the final table to prepare, but with the chip lead, you seem to be in control of this thing. How are you getting ready? (laughing) They can simulate all they want because the cards aren’t going to be the same.
The most important thing for me is to rest, keep my head clear and try not to burn myself out by playing too much poker. I’m going to watch some video of myself and make some adjustments with how I play.
Having the chip lead, I can mix things up and my goal is to throw people off early and make them feel that everything they studied and learned is not working. That may force them into mistakes.