Poker Champ Wins Big

Social worker Jerry Yang recently began playing poker. He didn't know his new hobby would lead to the biggest win of his life — the 2007 World Series of Poker Champsionship. Yang discusses his victory and his plans for the future.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

Is it a game of chance or a game of skill? Whichever the answer, poker has become increasingly popular, and novices have flocked to the game.

One of the latest poker newcomers may also be one of the game's happiest. In his first appearance at the World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas, Jerry Yang won the championship, beating some of the world's best players. Well, he's recuperated enough to talk to us about his incredible win. And Jerry Yang joins us from member station, KCHO in Chico, California. Jerry, welcome.

Mr. JERRY YANG (Winner, 2007 38th Annual World Series of Poker Tournament): Thank you, Cheryl. Thank you for having me.

CORLEY: Oh, yeah. Congratulations to you. Now as I understand, you've only been playing poker for two years. Is that true?

Mr. YANG: That's correct. I started playing poker very part time, approximately two years ago, yes. Currently, I live in Southern California. So I live very close to a local casino, actually, and, you know, with sick children, I don't get to play very much. But when my kids are in bed or when my wife is able to watch my kids, then I would go to the local casino and play, but very part time, yes.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. So that's essentially what got you interested. It was a casino nearby.

Mr. YANG: Actually, I was watching the WPT and the World Series on ESPN approximately two years ago, and that just kind of stirred up my interest. I read a couple of books, and so from there, I went to the local casino and just, you know, started playing, actually.

CORLEY: Jerry, you are giving everybody who is a novice hope. I just want you to know that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Now, I would imagine preparing for a poker tournament is a little different than, you know, the conditioning a tennis player might have to go through. So what did you do to prepare for this tournament?

Mr. YANG: You know, I - when I won the Satellite Seat at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California, basically, I bought a couple of more books, and I tried to do some reading, and also I just prepared myself mentally, actually.

CORLEY: You are a social worker, and…

Mr. YANG: Absolutely, yes. Uh-huh.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. I was wondering if your profession helped you develop any special skills to play poker.

Mr. YANG: I little a bit, actually. I do have a degree in health psychology so, with a little background in psychology, I was able to, you know, when I'm at a table, I usually spend the first couple of hours studying my opponents. And from there, I try to create a mental picture of each opponent and just basically use that to my advantage.

CORLEY: This sounds very studied, which makes me, you know, a lot of people wonder whether poker is a game of skill or a game of chance or a sport. It's - how would you define it?

Mr. YANG: I personally have to give all the credit and glory to my God. Because of him, I won the World Series of Poker, the main event. Not only that, but, you know, my meditation, my faith and my God, you know, basically, kept me in focus. And you have to be focused in the game of poker. And not only that, but you have to be mentally prepared with the long hours that you have to play. You have to basically prepare the night before, get a lot of rest, and just eat well and exercise and meditate and pray. So that's exactly what I did.

CORLEY: So a little bit of skill and a little bit of faith?

Mr. YANG: I think so. I believe in God, and also I think, skills have - you do - you have to have some of the poker skills, and, obviously, you have to know some of the basics of poker. But more than that, you have to be able to stand up to the tension, be able to read opponents and whatever skills that you have to, you have to be able to use those.

CORLEY: It sounds like it might be a little bit more exhausting than people would think.

Mr. YANG: Yeah. I mean the - at the World Series, we played, I mean, 12 to 15 hours a day. So you have to be mentally and physically ready to - in order to not to go until - not to be angry, not to be frustrated. You have to remain focused at all times.

CORLEY: You are listening to TELL ME MORE. I'm Cheryl Corley.

And we're speaking with Jerry Yang. He is the champion of the World Series of Poker for 2007. Mr. Yang, what surprised you the most about the tournament?

Mr. YANG: Meeting wonderful people like the top players, the world-class players. Just meeting them was a dream come true already, and - but to actually win the whole thing was a true blessing.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Now, your family must be so excited about this, I would imagine. How did they feel when you first started playing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YANG: Very good question, Cheryl. Actually, my wife is sitting next to me now and, you know, when I first started playing poker, she was very oppositional. She was not very supportive - not because she doesn't support me or anything, but, you know, when you have six kids and a limited income, it's tough, you know? I can see it from her point of view, being a mother, she wanted to protect the assets and not gambling the house or the car away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: So what was the total? How much did you bring back to make your wife think again about this little practice of yours?

Mr. YANG: You mean how much I won?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YANG: I invested $225, and I received 8.25 million.

CORLEY: Excellent. I guess she doesn't have any complaints now, correct?

Mr. YANG: Not right now. I mean…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: So what are you planning to do with your winnings?

Mr. YANG: Well, from the very beginning, even before I went to the World Series, I made a pledge, I made a promise to God that I would donate 10 percent to charity. The three charities that I chose are the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children and the Ronald McDonald House.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. So what is next for you? Still keep your job as a social worker?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: I spoke to my boss. Actually, I guess he knew that I was not going back. I intended to give my two weeks notice just to be professional. But he said, you know what, Jerry? I already knew you were not coming back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YANG: So you can come and give your two weeks notice, but you can just walk away any time. So he was very gracious and very kind to acknowledge that. So…

CORLEY: Did you take everybody out for lunch?

Mr. YANG: You mean my…

CORLEY: Your co-workers?

Mr. YANG: …the people that I work with?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Yes.

Mr. YANG: They're actually in southern California now, and since my winning at the WSOP, I have not been back. I've been with families in central California, and currently I'm with my in-laws in northern California, so I plan to go back to Temecula some time next week.

CORLEY: All right. Well, congratulations.

Mr. YANG: And, yeah, you're right. I plan to take them to, maybe to lunch, yeah.

CORLEY: I didn't mean to pressure you, Jerry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: But congratulations to you.

Mr. YANG: Thank you so much, Cheryl. Thank you.

CORLEY: Jerry Yang is the 2007 World Series of Poker champ. He joined us from member station KCHO in Chico, California.

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