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Danny Tang’s Fast Climb To The Top Of The Poker Mountain

28-Year-Old Poker Pro Talks High Roller Scene, WSOP Bracelet Win, And Seven-Figure Cash Game Pots

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jul 01, 2020

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Perhaps no player had a quicker ascent up the rankings of the tournament poker world than Danny Tang. The Wrexham, Wales-native is only a few years removed from grinding out mid-stakes events, taking the occasional shots in bigger buy-in tournaments, but he closed out 2019 as one of the top performers on the high roller circuit, cashing for $5.5 million on the year to bring his lifetime total to nearly $8.6 million overall.

Tang was first introduced to the game by his brother and, after finding it again in college, the game consumed him. It wasn’t long before he was dreaming of one day sitting head-to-head with the likes of Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan. Now, less than a decade later, the 28-year-old Tang is a regular in their games, and has traveled with the pair on private jets to and from high roller series and high-stakes cash games.

The Hong Kong resident first began grinding the circuit heavily in 2016 after a runner-up finish at the WPT National UK for $130,263. He also picked up small side event wins at the Asia Championship of Poker, and EPT Prague, which would become a favorite of his. The very next year, he returned to Prague and this time took down the main event, earning $449,580. Incredibly, he nearly defended his title in 2018, falling just short in fourth place for $225,401. The former Chinese takeout worker ran deep in the 2018 World Series of Poker main event, pocketing $230,475 for 31st place, and also narrowly missed out on the final table of the EPT Barcelona main event.

Despite his success, Tang had trouble breaking into the high rollers at first. He didn’t have much of a track record in the $25,000 buy-in events, and the shots he had taken in the past had not worked out, so it was hard to sell action. He ultimately secured backing, however, and broke through at the Triton Montenegro series, where he final tabled the six-max HK$500,000 (~$64,000) buy-in no-limit hold’em event. He rode that momentum into the HK$1 million ($127,000) buy-in main event where he lost heads-up to Bryn Kenney for second place and $1,833,000.

At last summer’s WSOP, Tang topped a field of 123 in the $50,000 high roller event to earn his first gold bracelet and a massive $1,608,506 payday. He then closed out the year with a third-place showing at the EPT Barcelona €100,000 buy-in high roller for another $940,803, along with another four final tables at EPT Prague.

Tang’s run caught the attention of online poker site Natural8, which decided to add him to their roster of sponsored players. Tang was recently featured on Card Player’s Poker Stories podcast, highlights of which are below.

Card Player: Can you talk about how you discovered poker?

Danny Tang: [During the first poker boom], it was still illegal for me to play. I wasn’t one of those wizards who started playing when they were 15 online. I picked up poker when I was about 20 years old, and it took me many years to get okay at it.

I played in a couple of home games when I was in Hong Kong. My brother introduced me to the game with his finance colleagues. I was always hooked on gambling games and card games. Something like pineapple, big 2, or mahjong. I was 15 and playing with adults for small amounts of money.

Eventually, I went to Manchester for university. I spent the first year and a half partying, and eventually I ended up in a casino, gambling money away. Then I found poker again, and thought to myself, ‘I’m familiar with this.’ I knew I was losing money at a much slower rate at poker than I was at baccarat. I started watching High Stakes Poker, and EPT coverage, and I was super buzzed to be a part of it.

CP: How did you find it moving up in stakes and growing your bankroll?

DT: I started traveling to local casinos to play tournaments. I found it very hard to move up in the ranks when I was in Europe. You had to be extremely good. I remember seeing someone like Luke Schwartz in London, playing a cash game, something like £25-£50. I went back to Asia for a short holiday, and I noticed that the stakes were way higher and the skill levels were not equivalent. I quickly moved back to Asia to continue my poker career, and my read was right. I started playing these €10K high rollers, taking shots in tournaments, and I was able to build a bigger bankroll and take bigger shots.

CP: Do you remember when your career started to take off?

DT: The one that really helped me was EPT Prague, where I chopped the €10K high roller with Sergio [Aido]. At the time, I remember that I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to play in that tournament. All the biggest names at the time were playing. I was lurking around, and I saw J.C. [Alvarado]. I had met him in Macau.

He was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I was like, ‘Ah, I’m not sure I want to play, blah blah blah.’ He was like, ‘Are you kidding me? It’s a no brainer, you have to jump in, look at the field!’ Now I understand, but at the time, there was 300 players, and I felt like 250 were better than me. But I played, and I still owe him a steak dinner for that. I had a pretty dry year in 2017, right up until November. I took quite a hit, but that tournament helped a lot.

CP: What about the prestige of winning? How did it feel to be an EPT champion?

DT: I rang my mom up after the tournament and told her, ‘Mom, I’ve done it!’ (laughing) It was quite a big thing for me at the time. EPT €10K events were a big thing. A lot of people that I hadn’t spoken to in a long time messaged me after that win.

CP: In 2018 you ran deep in the WSOP main event, finishing in 31st place. It was a nice score of nearly a quarter of a million dollars, but it had to be disappointing when you were eliminated.

DT: The biggest thing I learned from that tournament was that I needed to control my emotions and improve my short stack [play]. I got some big takeaways from that tournament. Yes, it was bittersweet, and maybe I’ll never get that close again in the main event, but I think I still benefited from that [experience].

CP: Can you talk about the transition to high roller events?

DT: I would say that I’m on the luckier side of the high rollers. Ever since I’ve stepped my feet into the high roller community, I’ve just been blessed enough to shoot to the top. I’ve had an easier road than most people.

I knew Paul Phua, but we didn’t have a close relationship. Then one of my friends [re-introduced] us at Triton Montenegro. He offered to take pieces of my action for that stop, even though he didn’t really know me at the time. I came in eighth in the HK$500K buy-in six-max event. I was already thinking, ‘As long as I only fire one bullet in the main event, I can’t lose that much for the series.’ Luckily enough, I came in second in the main event, which is the biggest score of my life to date. It gave me an opportunity to work closer with Paul. Now the sky’s the limit.

CP: Not only did you have a massive win in Vegas last year, but you did it at the WSOP to pick up your first bracelet. Was winning a bracelet on your poker bucket list?

DT: I never thought about the bracelet. Even when I had that success [before], I just never really thought about it. The first time I went to Vegas, I actually final tabled a shootout event. Even then, I wasn’t thinking about the bracelet, I was just thinking about laddering up and making more money. Any time you play in an event, it’s something like at least 1,000 players. So, you don’t even dare to dream about the bracelet.

This time, it was a much smaller field, obviously, but you are competing against the very best in the world. I just didn’t think about it, even at the final table. Brandon Adams had a lot of chips, Adrian Mateos is a guy I have a lot of respect for, Sam Soverel was going for high roller of the year, and Michael Addamo is one of the best players in the world, in my opinion. So, I was just thinking, let’s just ladder up and see what happens.

I was so nervous, that on the river, I didn’t even realize I had won. He turned the three on me, and when the ace dropped on the river, I didn’t realize I had counterfeited him. I’m a professional poker player (laughing), but you can tell in the video that I had a delayed reaction. ‘Wait, I won?’

CP: Can you talk about the biggest pot you ever won or lost?

DT: I was playing a cash game in Macau and I won a HK$12 million pot ($1.54 million). We were playing HK$20K-HK$40K, so HK$4 million to sit down, but we both had just over $HK6 million each. I five bet jammed A-K and he called off with A-10 offsuit.

CP: How does it feel to win one pot that’s almost as big as your largest tournament score?

DT: Oh, it’s insane. I wasn’t thinking about my biggest tournament score, because obviously I have different pieces in tournaments than I do in cash games, but it kind of made me feel sick, [a pot worth] two properties in Hong Kong.

I tend to think about the game in terms of big blinds, which I think benefits my game a lot. But afterwards, I will think about [the real money involved]. I remember making a HK$1 million hero call with king high. I was wrong, but I was thinking about it in terms of big blinds. There was a good enough frequency of bluffs [in his range] that king high could be good. But there goes about $125,000 U.S. with king high…

CP: What about your biggest non-poker wager?

DT: Nothing huge, I’m quite a safe guy. Oh, actually, maybe something in the pit. But still not huge. Maybe just over $100K, nothing ridiculous. Lucky for me I doubled up. I don’t even know if I want the whole world to know about this, but I was at Aussie Millions. The [casino] really looked after us. We had cars pick us up at the airport, and we had our rooms sorted. We were just going to go [to the baccarat tables], just to say hi, just to play a little while. But the session started south. I was set to lose an amount of money that the entire Aussie Millions series wouldn’t have cost me. So, it was going to be a very bad first day, but I ended up doubling up and was fine.

CP: Are you superstitious at all?

DT: I pretend that I’m not superstitious, but I am. I think you must have noticed by now that there’s a couple of hoodies I always wear, [that are in my rotation.] It’s not because I don’t have any other clothing with me, it’s because I feel like I’m running pretty good and don’t want to mess it up.

I also hate getting my shoulders tapped. People used to think it was a joke and would do it on purpose, but my reaction has been crazy enough for them to not do it again. I have a buddy that didn’t change his underwear for three days in a row. He did win that tournament, however, so I’m not going to fault him.

CP: You’ve really only been a poker pro for about five years or so, and yet now you are jet setting around the world with the very same players you used to look up to. Does it ever feel surreal to you?

DT: It’s become a more frequent thing, but the first time I was in a private jet I was with Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey, and Tony G. We went to Lithuania to drop Tony G off and visit a little bit, and we played some five-plus Omaha. Tony G ended up cleaning us out.

I can’t understand what it’s like to be them. No matter how famous I get in poker, I’ll never be Tom Dwan or Phil Ivey famous. Rui Cao, myself, and Tom were at an airport in Japan. Someone came over, handed us a camera, and asked us to take their photo [with Tom]. I’ll never be that famous.

When I was just getting into poker, it was the Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan days. They were the guys that were superstars at the time. So, it feels insane to have all these guys numbers on my phone now. ♠