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Card Player Poker Profile: J.C. Tran

Tran Talks About His Amazing Year and Barely Missing Out in Both the 2006 and 2007 Player of the Year Races

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J.C. TranJ.C. Tran has been playing in major poker tournaments for five years, and in that time, he has earned more than $5.7 million. He began 2007 as the points-leader in the Card Player Player of the Year (POY) race, but throughout the year, he slipped down the ranks. He rallied during the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic preliminary events and came away with an eighth-place finish and a win. Those scores bumped Tran up to second in the POY race, which is where he officially finished.

Lizzy Harrison:
The year is coming to an end, and it has been good one for you. Which of your 2007 accomplishments are you most proud of?

J.C. Tran: I am definitely the most proud of my World Poker Tour win in Reno [2007 World Poker Challenge]. I have been at several WPT final tables, so to come away with a win was a great accomplishment.

LH: In which tournament would you say you played the best poker?

JCT: I would have to say I played the best poker in the L.A. Poker Classic, when I came in second to Eric Hershler. I played well from beginning to end. I did get a lot of hands, and that helped me accumulate a huge stack so that in the later stages I could put the heat on my opponents. I played pretty well at the final table; however, I cannot say that I played my best. But throughout that whole tournament, for six days straight, I played some of the best poker that I have played in a very long time.

LH: To what do you attribute your success?

JCT: I attribute it to being around good poker players; I am good friends with Nam Le and Amnon Filippi. Talking to these guys about poker just keeps my mind constantly in motion. I have put in my hours at the tables, and I have the support of my family and friends. All of that helps me play my best.

LH: What do you think is the strongest aspect of your tournament game?

JCT: I am a very good card reader; I can put someone on a hand, and once I decide that that is the hand that they have, I will play according to my read. A lot of people will say to an opponent "Hey, I knew you had pocket aces!" In my mind, I respond, "If you knew he had aces, why did you call with two kings?" In situations like that, I go with my instincts. If I think someone is weak I will play at them, and if I think they are strong I will play cautiously. I make my reads according to how my opponent bets, how he acts, how he puts in his chips, his gestures, and how he talks. I think that is the strongest aspect of my game.

LH: How were you able to develop that skill?

JCT: I have always had good instincts, and that has helped a lot. But in poker, you also have to play; you must put in the hours and study. I do not read books, I just go out and play poker. I watch people to see how they react to different situations, and I always pay attention. Over a long period of time, if you are alert, you will catch on to mistakes that amateurs make. There are going to be some pros you play with day in and day out, and you will also catch on to things that they do. You will be able to figure out when they are bluffing and when they are not, if you are observant. You can still be wrong, and it can cost you, but as long as you are right most of the time, you will be successful in the long run.

LH: Is there a specific part of your game that you would like to improve?

JCT: Yes, I definitely want to improve my play in the late stages of tournaments. Lately, it seems like I have accumulated a lot of chips early on in a lot tournaments. Then, I try to win the tournament way too early instead of playing solidly and letting it come to me. I pretty much know what I am doing wrong, but I just cannot help myself. I need to work on my patience.

LH: You play many preliminary events, not just the big buy-ins, how do you manage to stay focused for weeks at a time?

JCT: When you play a lot of tournaments, you play a lot of hours. Your mind gets so fatigued that you need rest. I like to get to bed early, no later than 1 or 2 o'clock. A lot of guys, especially when a tournament is in Vegas, will go out and party. They won't get back to the hotel until 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning. Me, I go to bed and set my alarm, usually for around 11ish if the tournament begins at noon. If I wake up and I do not feel well, I go back to sleep. It is okay to miss an hour of a tournament to be well-rested. I have noticed that a lot of people will be tired, but they will still come down to play, and they end up making a mistake right off the bat in the first level of play. It is okay to lose a few extra chips if it means that you will show up well-rested and ready to play.

LH: Do you think it helps you to play in so many of the events?

JCT: It helps because of the experience I gain. Plus, it gets me warmed up for the big ones. However, I have noticed that when I play in a lot of the preliminary events, I do not do well in the main event. I cannot blame that on playing badly. I do not know why, but when I have done well in the bigger events, I have not played that many preliminary tournaments. For example, at the LAPC, I did not play many prelims, and I came in second. In Tunica, I did not play many prelims, and I made the final table. In Reno, I did not play many prelims, and I won it. Those are three tournaments where I did well. But here at Bellagio [during the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic] I played almost all of the prelims, and I did not even make it through day one of the main event. It is not that I played badly; I really do not know what it is.

LH: Do you have to make any adjustments to your game when you play in the smaller buy-in events?

JCT: Yes, definitely. Since you get a shorter starting stack, you cannot play every hand. I start off in those tournaments by not playing as many hands as I would like to. If you try to play every hand, and it does not work out early on, you are going to lose most of your stack. Then you will be crippled and it will be tough to play poker. In the main events, you get to start with a much bigger stack, and so you can play any hand that you want. If you lose a few thousand chips, you still have a lot left. You definitely have to play much more solidly in the smaller buy-in tournaments.

LH: You just won a $5,000 buy-in preliminary event at Bellagio. Was it a tough field?

JCT: It was a tough field. Any time you play in a tournament with a $5,000 buy-in, or higher, especially here in Vegas, you do not get to play against the supersatellite winners or the guy who is taking a shot for $1,500. You get players who can actually play some poker. I had a tough table all the way through the event; I was never put at a table that I could just run over. It was a tough final table; I just managed to catch a few hands.

LH: At what stage did you really start accumulating chips?

JCT: I started to have a lot of chips in the third or fourth levels of the tournament. From there on, I slowly scaled my way up the chip counts. When it got towards the end, around the money bubble, I had a huge stack. There were a lot of players that did not want to play any hands so that they could make the money. At this point, I built myself an even bigger stack by staying aggressive. Late on day one, I lost half of my stack, and I was back down to below average in chips. The next day, though, I came back and caught some hands right off the bat to build my stack back up to where I was comfortable again. From there, I pretty much never looked back.

LH: Were you confident of a win going in to the final table?

JCT: Yes, I was very confident of winning. Even though I was kind of short-stacked, far from the chip leader, I felt good because I had been playing well throughout the entire tournament. I really did not see myself making any mistakes. I had made the final table of the $5,000 buy-in event prior to the one I won, and I finished eighth, which was disappointing. I was ready to win.

LH: How would you describe Sully Erna [lead singer for Godsmack] as a heads-up opponent?

JCT: Sully is a very solid player, but he is still an amateur. He has played a lot, and he did well at the World Series of Poker, so he does know what he is doing wrong. I was fortunate to get heads-up with him, as opposed to another pro, because he was not very aggressive. It is always easier to play a heads-up opponent like that.

LH: You finished third in the POY race last year and second this year. Does that mean that you are going to take it down in 2008?

JCT: Hopefully. As each year begins, I do not look to come out on top, I just go out and play. My goal for 2007 was not to play as many small buy-in tournaments, but then I made three WPT final tables early on. So, I came out with the lead, and I told myself that I should try to hold onto it. I played lots of preliminary events, and that is what hurt me. Coming into the World Series of Poker, I had played too much poker already, and I was burnt out. I did not play very well at the World Series. I kind of went into a slump for a few months, and that is when everybody passed me in the race. This coming year, I really do not plan on playing many tournaments with small buy-ins. I am skipping a lot of tournaments in January, and I am only going to play the main event of the LAPC. In 2008, I am focused on only playing main events.

LH: What would it mean to you to win the Player of the Year title?

JCT: It would mean a lot to me. It is an accomplishment that I want to have. Finishing third last year and second this year were both so close, and it really hurts that I did not win. I am not going to start off shooting for it next year, but if I begin the year well, then I will continue on, and hopefully, this time, I can finish it off.