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WSOP: Bracelet Winner Q and A -- John Phan

Phan Talks About His Will to Gamble and His Will to Give Back

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John PhanJohn Phan has his priorities. And, surprisingly, his first World Series of Poker championship bracelet isn’t at the top of the list. It isn’t even second. When Phan was facing elimination from his heads-up battle with Johnny Neckar in the $3,000 no-limit hold’em event at the 2008 WSOP, he did what few fellow poker players could even conceive. He played a hand blind. “I love to gamble,” shrugged Phan, who survived his blind venture and eventually rallied to put Neckar away in the early morning hours Wednesday.

“Being a poker player is tough. You don’t win a tournament if you’re not a real, true gambler,” said Phan. “Sometimes you have to take risks like that. That’s one thing about me. I love to gamble, it’s in my blood. This bracelet is nice, but for a main event bracelet I wouldn’t do that. But this bracelet? It’s nice, but it’s not all that.”

So, yes, the $3,000 event — victory and all — pales in comparison to the importance that a main event championship would carry. But there are other priorities for Phan, a native of Vietnam who makes regular charitable visits to his homeland.

“It’s good going to my Grandma’s village and where I lived,” said Phan, who visited for a month prior to the 2008 WSOP. “Now every time I win something big, or second or third, I donate and give them rice and food. This time I’m going right back after the World Series to do more charity work. It’ll be fine. I like it. That’s like my promise for the rest of my life. One day I will open a business where I don’t mind giving like half of my profit to charity, to unfortunate people.”

Make no mistake, Phan enjoys winning. He made special alterations to his World Poker Open bracelet, adding diamonds and white gold. But wearing a gold bracelet from the WSOP may add weight to his voice when it comes to generating assistance for his charitable aspirations. “One good thing for me, I love doing charity work,” said Phan of the added potential this victory brings. “I guess it’s payback. Be nice to everybody and do a lot of charity work — karma.”

There was no denying that Phan was a sentimental favorite in his showdown with Neckar, especially when one considers his second-place finishes in both the $1,000 no-limit hold’em event at the 2006 WSOP and the $2,500 no-limit hold’em event at last year's WSOP.

“The last few years, my luck has not been that good at the World Series, getting second, second, second,” said Phan, who had 10 WSOP cashes before earning his first bracelet. “It’s like ... going to college. Time after time, year and year, you learn more. You make mistakes, and you learn from your mistakes, which I have done in the past. So, this year I’m really determined. I said if I get to a final table I’m going to change my game all around, mix up my game, read my players, and play my best game, which I did today. I made some reads, some sick calls, and made some outrageous calls with all of my chips. Yesterday, today ... it was unbelievable. It’s like when you’re in a zone. When you read the guy ... you can’t explain it.”

In the end, Phan made the ultimate call with A-9 after Neckar had moved all in with the Q J. Both players missed the flop, which came king high, and the turn was another blank, but the ace of spades on the river clinched the victory for Phan. It sent his vocal cheering section into a frenzy, and Phan admitted the victory may mean more to them than to himself, personally.

“I think so, yeah,” said Phan. “My family is here, my friends are here. I think [it meant a lot to] my brother [Walter] especially, who I love so much; he’s always there. I think he’s more happy than I am. Winning this bracelet means a lot to him.”