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Poker Stories Podcast with Scotty ‘The Prince of Poker’ Nguyen

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Jun 15, 2022

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Poker Stories is a long-form audio podcast series that features casual interviews with some of the game’s best players and personalities. Each episode highlights a well-known member of the poker world and dives deep into their favorite tales both on and off the felt.

To listen, use the player below or download it directly to your device from any number of mobile apps, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, or Spotify. Catch up on past episodes featuring notables such as Doyle Brunson, Antonio Esfandiari, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Patrik Antonius, Justin Bonomo, Nick Schulman, Jason Koon, Barry Greenstein, Mike Sexton, Phil Galfond, Dan Smith, Layne Flack, Chris Moneymaker, Maria Ho, Brad Owen, Fedor Holz, and many more.

Age: 59
From: Nha Trang, Vietnam
Live Tournament Earnings: $12.8 Million
Twitter: @TheScottyNguyen

Top Live Tournament Scores

Year Event Place Winnings
June 2008 WSOP $50,000 Poker Players Championship 1st $1,989,120
May 1998 WSOP $10,000 Main Event 1st $1,000,000
Jan. 2006 WPT $10,000 Gold Strike World Poker Open 1st $969,421
June 2018 WSOP $25,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 3rd $592,875
July 2007 WSOP $10,000 Main Event 11th $476,926
Feb. 2009 L.A. Poker Classic $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. 1st $339,743
Jan. 2005 WPT $10,000 Jack Binion World Poker Open 4th $336,282
April 2009 WPT $25,000 Five-Star World Poker Classic 6th $285,985
Dec. 2009 WPT $15,000 Five Diamond World Poker Classic 5th $249,976
Oct. 2008 EPT London £25,000 High Roller 5th $241,195
May 2001 WSOP $5,000 Omaha 8 Or Better 1st $207,580
Oct. 2004 Festa al Lago $2,000 No-Limit Hold’em 1st $185,243
June 2012 WSOP $5,000 Omaha 8 Or Better 2nd $182,213
May 2001 WSOP $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha 1st $178,480
April 1997 WSOP $2,000 Omaha 8 Or Better 1st $156,950

Scotty Nguyen has the ultimate poker success story. After escaping almost certain death in the Vietnam War and surviving almost a month stranded at sea, the teenager eventually found himself in the United States looking for a piece of the American dream. Always a hustler, it wasn’t long before Nguyen discovered poker, first paying his bills as a dealer, and then trying his luck on “the other side of the table.”

An incredible two-week trip to Lake Tahoe saw his bankroll grow from $200 to nearly half a million, and by the end of the month, he had fleeced Las Vegas to get to the seven-figure mark. The fast-living ‘Prince of Poker’ didn’t hold on to the money, however, at least not at first. After a last-second satellite win, he managed to squeak into the 1998 WSOP main event, and ultimately took it down for $1 million. Along the way, he achieved poker immortality by uttering the now famous line, “You call it’s gonna be all over, baby!”

The Poker Hall of Famer has five WSOP bracelets in total, including the 2008 $50,000 Poker Players Championship which he won for nearly $2 million, and a World Poker Tour title. With $12.7 million in total live tournament earnings, the 59-year-old is Vietnam’s all-time money list leader.

Highlights from this episode include fleeing Vietnam, being stranded at sea, hustling in Taiwan, escaping Illinois, stealing his high school diploma, the boss who chose his name, from busboy to poker dealer, winning a million in less than month, Stu Ungar’s motivation, appearing on Conan O’Brien, Bobby’s Room beats, an 80-hour session, and whether or not pregnant women are lucky.

The Highlights

On Escaping The War In Vietnam

Julio Rodriguez: Can you tell the story about how you escaped the war?

Scotty Nguyen: When you turned 13, or 14, you got drafted to fight. They take you from your family, and 100 will go and only half of one percent will come back. 99 people automatically dead. I had so many friends growing up that got drafted and then were gone.

So when I turned 13, my mom and dad were so worried that they sold everything they owned to get my brother and I a spot on this little boat. The boat was going to escape Vietnam and go to the Philippines. And we had eight other brothers and five sisters. There weren’t enough spots for everyone.

The boat was supposed to only take one day to reach the Philippines. We only had enough gas for two or three days. Only four days of food and water. They said they knew their way around and we all listened to them and trusted them. But when we got on the boat, he was totally lost. We didn’t know where we were.

And we lost the compass. It’s my fault because it was my time to drive and it was windy and the waves were so big. The boat could turn over at any time. I fell and the compass fell in the ocean. There was nothing around us. We couldn’t see anything. We were [stranded] in the ocean for 23 days. At night you could see light [in the distance], so we would just head for the light. But we could never get there and had to follow the wind and [current.]

There were 17 people on the boat, almost all of us 13 or 14 years old. After the food ran out, we had to fish. But then we lost the rod. To drink we would scoop up salt water in a plastic bag, and then boil it so that when the steam hit the bag, we could scrape it up with a cup. If we were lucky it would rain. That’s how we lived, mainly on rainwater.

On the 22nd day, I look at my brother and he is barely breathing. He is [unresponsive]. We put him inside the cabin and the others pull me aside to talk about it. They said, ‘Look. Your brother isn’t going to make it tomorrow. What are we going to do with his body? We are all so hungry.’

They were all looking at me, asking me for permission. To eat him to stay alive. And I had to do it. I had to agree to that. It’s not easy… to say yes to something like that… to stay alive. That night, after I said yes, we just waited for him to pass away. We went to sleep, and the next thing we know, the boat almost flips over. We thought it was a big wave, but then we saw the bright light. It was so bright that it was hard to see the giant boat from Taiwan right in front of us. We looked up and saw all the lines and people on top looking at us and waving. I can’t describe how happy we were in that moment.

JR: It sounds like you were pushed to the absolute breaking point. How long was it before your mother heard that the two of you were okay, that you had made it?

SN: Oh! 19 years baby! They didn’t even know. Everyone thought we were dead. We were just pictures on the [mantel] along with photos of my grandfather. They just [assumed] we had died like so many others had trying to make it to the Philippines, or Malaysia, or Thailand. Nobody thought we could ever somehow get to Taiwan. There was no way. It was a one out of a billion chance that 17 of us survived on that 19-foot boat for so long. I told my friend, ‘My life is free from this point on now, so I’m going to make the best of it.’

On His Million-Dollar Month

JR: You were working as a busboy, and then a poker dealer, before an incredible trip to Reno that kick started your career. When did you start playing?

SN: I would pay attention to every game that I was dealing. Every player would turn their hand over, win or lose, and I would rewind it in my head at night when I went home. I could see where they made their mistakes. [My boss] said, ‘Son, you don’t belong on that side of the table.’ It was a great job with easy money, and I was afraid to give it up, but this guy gave me the green light to go for it.

I went to Reno with a [little over] $200. That’s all I had to my name. In 11 days, I came back with almost half a million. I came back to my old studio apartment with a suitcase full of cash. I bought a condominium in cash, as well as a brand-new Corvette Z28. I didn’t even stay the night. From there I went to Bob Stupak’s casino, before the Stratosphere, that was hosting another tournament series. A little less than two weeks later, and I was a millionaire. From $200 to $1 million.

Whatever game was running, whoever was playing in it, it didn’t matter. I beat everyone. There was nobody who could stop me at that time, I just kept winning. Within six months everybody knew my name. ‘That’s Scotty Nguyen. That kid will destroy you.’

On His Motivation To Win The Main Event

SN: I had a chance to play with Stu Ungar. I even played with him during the last few days of his life in a cash game.

You know, I had never picked up a magazine before in my life, but one day I saw Stu on the cover of Card Player for his main event win in 1997. I had that magazine everywhere I went. I even started talking to the picture.

‘Stu, I’m going to replace you this year, baby. You’re going to have to deal with me.’ I talked to that picture almost every day for months, and had one in every room. One in the bathroom, one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, one in the living room.

[He didn’t end up playing in 1998], so I didn’t get a chance to beat him, but I did win the main event.

A few months later we played $150-$300 Omaha hi/lo split. That was the biggest game they had at the Four Queens at the time. So I got a chance to play with one of the best. I was [upset] when I heard that he passed away. I used him to push and motivate myself, having a dream like that. I wanted so badly to make a name for myself, make good money, and help my family.

JR: Stu didn’t play that year, but you almost missed the main as well. In fact Mike Matusow famously had a piece of your action.

SN: I played a cash game and lost my ass that day, baby. There was one last satellite running for the main event, and I needed $1,100 for the buy-in. I don’t like asking people, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But I was able to get $600 [from a couple of players]. I gave the guy $10 to hold one of the last two seats for me. I needed $500 more so I went to my car, and at that time, Mike was walking in. He [gave me the money] and I ran back to get the last seat in the satellite. When I got heads-up, the guy wanted to chop, but I told him, ‘I want to play more than you. I want this seat.’ I beat him straight up and the rest is history, baby! ♠

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