Very Nice Guys Can Finish First
By Max Shapiro
With Andrew N.S. Glazer

World Series of Poker
$2,500 Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo


"You get another special two-for-one today. After my story about today's $2,500 Stud high-low event, Andy has attached a special story he did about the winner."


John Juanda is the proverbial calm in the midst of any storm. Everyone's favorite Mr. nice guy, the modest, friendly, 31-year old native of Indonesia has always been an imperturbable model of decorum at the table. Now, with numerous tournament wins under his belt, the stock-trader/part-time player is under no financial pressure, has nothing to prove and more so than ever is very much in control of himself and his game.

He proved that convincingly tonight as he steadily and surely came back from a serious deficit to win event #21, $2,500 seven-card stud hi-lo. His composed behavior was even more evident when compared to that of his final opponent, who seemed to become unnerved and played erratically in the final stages.

Disclosing the winner at the beginning of this report is not really giving away that much. Most people expected Juanda, who started in a virtual tie for the chip lead, to win the event. Juanda certainly did. When a friend called his cell phone moments after the match ended and asked if he had won, Juanda replied, "What do you think?" Andy Glazer also thought he'd win. In fact, Andy (still nursing a sore back) asked me to set up an interview if Juanda won as expected.

This is bracelet #2 for Juanda, who twice was a runner-up in Card Player magazine's "Player of the Year" competition. Other wins include the Hall of Fame, Legends, California State Poker Championship and the Jack Binion World Poker Open championship event. Though a number of his titles have been in stud, he thinks that no-limit hold'em might be his best game

SURE, JUANDA CAN PARTY TOO

Proving that he's not a robot, Juanda said he had not been doing well or playing that well in earlier WSOP events. Hotel living, away from the relaxing confines of his waterfront residence in Marina del Rey, California, doesn't agree with him. Doing a lot of friendly pit gambling with friends also proved a distraction that threw him off his game. But he finally determined to buckle down for this event, and it was evident that he was totally focused throughout the match.

NINE-HANDED STUD?

The tournament had 140 entrants and a $325,500 prize pool. Second-day action got underway with $500 antes, a $1,000 low-card bring-in and $3,000-$6,000 limits. The minute and a half that was still left in the prior round was simply added on to the next 90-minute round. The table started with an unusual nine players, which was not to everyone's liking. When the 2 a.m. cut-off time arrived the night before, a vote was taken as to whether play would continue the next day with two tables or one, and the vote was 7-2 for consolidating.

Huck Seed and Juanda were the dissenters. Seed was so upset that he said "I'm not going to play. See you later." He walked away from the final table, but returned before action started. Matt Savage, who was not around when the vote was taken, did his best to handle the situation. Juanda said he was steaming, but everything is relative and a "steaming" John Juanda is more like someone else on tranquilizers. "I can handle his steaming," Savage laughed.

Characteristically, John did not create any fuss. But he later explained that he was annoyed because the nine-handed format helped the short stacks, who prefer a full table. In short-handed play the big stacks can run over them more easily, he said. In any event, the vote stood, there were nine players, and here was the starting line-up:

Seat

1 Jimmy Cha $23,600
2 Huck Seed $29,800
3 Dean Shulman $48,600
4 John Juanda $62,500
5 Mel Judah $38,800
6 Ralph Perry $39,300
7 Shahram Sheikhan $63,400
8 Larry St. Jean $11,600
9 Al Korson $32,400

HUCK SEEMS IMPATIENT

Starting with hand four, Seed played five out of six hands, each time folding on fourth or fifth street and blowing off considerable chips in the process. Jimmy Cha (whose nickname is "Jimmy Jimmy"), started lowest-chipped. He went all in on hand 11 against Mel Judah. He had an eight made, then snagged a second small pair to outrun Judah's open aces and scoop. Judah himself then went all in a few hands later against Al Korson and survived when he scooped with a seven-low and two sevens. "Nobody wants to go home," said Shahram "Sheik" Sheikhan.

Perhaps taking the hint, somebody did go home on the next hand. Starting with a very promising (5-7) 3-4, sports consultant and bar owner Larry St. Jean put in his last $5,000 against Ralph Perry, who had an even better (34) A-2. St. Jean made a seven-low and no pair, losing when Perry made a 6-4 low and a pair of treys. The table now was down to the normal figure of eight for stud, and the final table was really, officially, underway.

Seed was the next player to go all in. He started with pocket jacks, made aces-up, and then hit a spade flush on the river to scoop Judah, who started with split sevens and made a set. Perilously low, Judah went all in and got a split against Seed, making a low to Seed's kings-up. On hand 22, Judah went all in again with (Qc,7c) 3c and ended up with nada. Al Korson showed him tens and fours and the two-bracelet, millionaires' club Londoner cashed out in eighth place for $6,520.

Only four hands later, another player was sent to the sidelines. Dean Shulman, making his third final table appearance, started with (5-8) 4 in three-way action. He went all in on sixth street with a pair of deuces and one card short of a low. Seed, meanwhile, folded on the river showing 5-3-3-K, with only $3,000 left. Shulman missed his low and fell victim to Perry, who scooped with kings-up. Seventh place paid $9,760. The approximate chip count now was:

Perry $100,000
Sheikhan 90,000
Juanda 75,000
Cha 45,000
Korson 40,000
Seed 3,000

MOVING RIGHT ALONG

Seven-stud hi-lo can be an excruciatingly slow game, but this one was moving right along. By hand 30 the field was down to five. Seed had anted himself down to $1,000 and put it all in when a deuce made him the low-card bring-in. He had a buried 6-7 and caught a 4 on fifth street. But he missed his low while Juanda, starting with (6-5) A scooped with a paired ace. Huck got $13,020 for sixth place.

That was the third hand in a row for Juanda, and he now went on to win a total of six out of seven hands. They were all small pots, mostly picked up when he completed the bet and wasn't called, but the chips began to add up. Another nine hands went by with almost no action. Then, on hand 44, Jimmy Jimmy made three eights. But Juanda, showing four clubs on board, hit the ace of clubs on the river and now took undisputed possession of first place with more than $120,000.

Jimmy Cha later was all in, free-rolling with a made eight, but had to settle for a chop. "I never get a scoop. Never, never!" he complained good-naturedly. On the next hand, Cha would gladly have settled for a split. He put his last chips in holding (Q-2) A-5-2. He caught a queen for two pair, but it wasn't good enough. Korson had (5-6) 5-2-A, then caught another ace and a five to blow Cha away with fives-full. Finishing fifth, the La Habra businessman cashed out for $16,280.

NOT EVERYONE SCOOPS

Talking of scoops, Juanda could realistically have expected one when he made a six-high straight against Sheikhan. But he just smiled when the Sheik, showing two tens, turned up two more for quads.

A new level kicked in with the same $500 antes and $1,000 bring-ins, but higher limits of 4k-8k. With Juanda still in the lead, the chip count read:

Juanda $125,000
Perry 100,500
Korson 59,500
Sheikhan 54,500

THE SHEIK MOVES UP

Sheik Sheikhan, who started as chip leader, had been drifting downwards. On hand 73, though, there was a big transfer of chips as Korson took a hit. The boards weren't impressive, but a sizeable pot developed when the Sheik showed 5-Q-8-2 against Korson's 8-10-6-4. Korson folded when the river was bet, and the Sheik took the lead again. The count was now roughly:

Sheikhan $115,000
Juanda 95,000
Perry 90,000
Korson 50,000

Korson dipped down to about 28k, then later recovered at Juanda's expense. Juanda is a player who is willing to gamble if he feels he has even a small edge, and this frequently results in wider-than-average shift swings. That, apparently, is what happened on this hand. Korson raised with a door-card ace and Juanda re-raised with a seven. Then Juanda raised with a fourth-street queen and Korson re-raised with a four. Juanda finally gave it up with Korson caught another ace on fifth street. Perry and Sheikhan now were tied with about $115,000 each, while Juanda was down to $69,000 and Korson had 50k.

But a couple of hands later, the Sheik started with buried aces and virtually buried Korson by catching a third bullet and scooping. Korson, showing K-10-2-J, mucked his hand. He was now down to only $3,500. Juanda finished him off on the next hand when he started with (2-3) K and made treys and deuces. Korson, starting with (A-7) K, missed his inside straight draw and cashed out for $19,520 in fourth place.

The Sheik still held a big chip lead of about $155,000 to about $110,000 for Perry and $84,000 for Juanda. As Juanda proceeded to pick up some chips, the Sheik observed that he always seemed to get good cards. "I have to," Juanda explained. "I don't play as well as you do." As another dozen or so hands went by, and Juanda kept inching up, he offered Sheikhan another explanation: "You always call me with nothing."

IT'S A HORSE RACE…FOR A WHILE

Or, in the case of the Sheik, a camel race. In any event, with the hand count past the 100 mark, it was close to a three-way tie, with each player in the 115k-120k range. Some 20 hands later, when the players took a 10-minute break, it was even tighter, with $121,000 for Juanda, $119,000 for Sheikhan and $116,000 for Perry.

Returning to the table, the boys were now playing for $1,000 antes, with a $2,000 bring-in and $6,000-$12,000 limits. A few hands later, things took a dramatic turn for the worse for Juanda. He started with kings against Sheikhan's deuces, and got trounced with the Sheik made two pair. Juanda was now down to $60,000 to $190,000 for Sheikhan and $60,000 for Perry.

"He played badly and got lucky," Juanda later analyzed. "However, I was still comfortable because the limits were really small and there was lots of play left."
Proving his point, Juanda made a speedy recovery on hand 136. Starting with split sixes, he made jacks-up to edge Perry's nines-up and change the chip count dramatically:

Sheikhan $185,000
Juanda 115,000
Perry 51,000

Juanda continued to move up and by hand number 152, when he scooped Perry with just a pair of sixes, he had regained the chip lead again. A couple of hands later, Sheikhan made a somewhat questionable fold. Showing 7-5, Perry bet his last $4,000. The Sheik, with A-J on board, folded his tent. Perry then showed his 6-3 hole cards. He had a terrific starting hand, but still had only a seven-high to that point, and the Sheik had passed up a chance to bust him with a very small investment.

DOWN TO TWO

Perry managed to hang on for another 10 hands. Then, starting with (A-5) 3, he put his last $9,000 in on fifth street after catching a jack and nine, and could make nothing more than two nines. Juanda began with a great low starter-(6-7) 5 and ended up making queens and fives. Perry took home $32,540 for third place while Juanda increased his lead to $209,000 to $142,000 for the Sheik.

THE SHEIK LOSES HIS COOL

Three hands into the heads-up match, the Sheik began losing his composure. He won a hand, but got mad when, holding two aces, he neglected to bet sixth street or the river and missed a bet or two. He banged the table very hard, sending a chip flying, as Savage gave him a sideways look meaning, "That was close to a penalty." "Who won the pot?" Juanda chided him mildly. "I lost the pot," he reminded his opponent.

A few hands later, Sheikhan check-raised showing (3-7) K, but at the showdown couldn't beat Juanda's tens and fives. From then on it was a rout. Juanda won just about every hand as the Sheik kept folding in frustration. As Sheikhan folded yet again, on fifth street, Juanda flashed his hole cards to Savage. "Now what?" the Sheik demanded. "Just showing my hand to Matt," Juanda said innocently.

THE KILL

By the time Juanda won yet again, this time with pocket aces, he had run his count to a bit over $300,000 against about $47,000 for Sheikhan. The next hand, number 183, ended it. Juanda showed 8-A-6-K and three spades. Sheikhan had 2-4-A-6 and three diamonds. Juanda bet the river, and Sheikhan had exactly enough to call: $12,000. John turned up 2-3-8 and two spades for a flush and 8-6 low. The Sheik, missing his low draw and possibly a flush draw as well, simply mucked his hand, and the match was over.

Afterwards, Juanda agreed that his opponent seemed to be on tilt, but wasn't sure why. "Maybe he wasn't used to playing heads-up," he theorized. "Or maybe he was sore because he lost so many pots in a row. But he did seem to be steaming." Whatever the reason, Juanda, never breaking a sweat, made winning look easy.


A Look into the Life of "Lucky John" Juanda
By Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker Pundit"

Although Max Shapiro has already filled you in on today's blow-by-blow story of John Juanda's victory in the 2003 WSOP $2,500 Seven-Card Stud Eight-or-Better event, I knew a special opportunity was brewing, and when Max called to update me when four players remained, I told him "If John wins, tell him I didn't want to risk jinxing him by coming down from my room, but that I'd like for him to come up here afterwards so I can write a special story about him."

Why would I be worried about jinxing John Juanda? Why would I think so much of his chances in an even four-handed game that I was preparing to discuss his victory? Why would I want to write a special story about him?

I can answer all those questions in one sentence, albeit a moderately long one. John Juanda is not only one of poker's finest players, but also one of its finest people…and for reasons that are sad only to those who want to watch him and learn (or bet on him), he might not be part of the poker world for much longer.

Don't worry: John is neither elderly nor sick, and he doesn't have some kind of personal problem that will be forcing him to leave the game…unless you consider a vision that expands beyond poker a problem. I don't.

NEW YORK TO MIAMI, INDONESIA TO OKLAHOMA…

John is 31. He was born in Indonesia and grew up there, only moving to the US in 1990 so that he could get his college education. Like pretty much all Indonesians who come to America, John attended Oklahoma State University.

That might be your first clue that any assumptions you make, or any stereotypes you might want to apply, probably don't apply to John Juanda, the young man who has in each of the last two years been runner-up in Card Player Magazine's "Player of the Year" standings.

John probably won't be a threat to finish that high this year, but again, probably not for a reason you'd expect. He's not playing as much poker as he used to. That's not strange in and of itself: many successful players hit dry stretches, run short of money, and need to take a short "time out" from their poker careers to reassess how they are playing and to recover financially.

The only trick is, that stereotypical description of a poker "time out" is in John's case probably as far from the truth as you could possibly get. John has won a lot of money playing poker, both in tournaments and in side games, and doesn't really need the money anymore. Unlike many players who are successful at the tables but who burn off or blow their money away from it, John has gradually accumulated a pretty healthy nest egg, and while he does play for high stakes, he doesn't ever play so high that he is putting that nest egg at risk.

JUST BECAUSE OTHERS WIN MONEY DOESN'T MEAN THEY HAVE MONEY

If you learn nothing else from this story, learn that lesson, because the number of big name players who don't manage their money well away from (or at) the tables outnumbers the number who do.

You'd think that to have accumulated that nest egg, John would probably have to have begun playing poker fairly shortly after he arrived in the US, but again, the first guess isn't the right one. Juanda didn't start playing poker until six years ago.

He'd been a good blackjack player - in fact, he's been good at a lot of things, and we'll get to those in a moment - but when his then-girlfriend saw an ad for an Indian casino near where he getting his MBA in Seattle, they went for a visit.

"I played blackjack that night," John told me, "and I saw the poker tables, but I was too intimidated to play. I didn't really know the rules and didn't want to try it until I did. So I got one of the most basic poker books you could imagine - no advanced strategies, just things like the hand rankings, the rules, and a few tips - and after I read it I went back to the casino to give poker a try."

Starting with a $100 bankroll, Juanda played $1-4 seven-card stud, and began winning right away. It seems almost incredible, but he never had to dip into other capital beyond that first hundred dollars. He just worked his way up the poker ladder as the money he'd won allowed him to.

WOULD HE HAVE RISKED A SECOND $100?

I'd never heard that story before, so I asked John what he thought would have happened if he had lost the $100. Would he have tried again?

Juanda didn't answer immediately. He thought for a moment and then said "Yes, I'm pretty sure I would have come back." He looked a little uncomfortable as he continued with his explanation. "The truth is I have always been pretty competitive, and I've been lucky. Whenever I have wanted to become successful at something, I have been able to do it. I've been very lucky."

It's really not very unusual for bright people who work hard to find themselves "getting very lucky." Let's face it, even though many of us, myself included, like to think we'd be much more successful if we'd caught a lucky break here or there, the fact is that the old homily "The harder I work, the luckier I get" has a lot of truth to it.

I'm certainly not denying the existence or importance of luck: one would have to be a fool not to recognize all the situations when being at the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time, or catching that magic card, have semi-randomly had major impacts on many, perhaps most, of our lives. It's just that ability plus effort helps put us in a position where it's far easier to get lucky.

A FEW OTHER TALENTS

That's enough philosophy for now. In what other avenues has Juanda found success? I practically had to beat it out of him, because Juanda doesn't like talking about himself or bragging, but eventually got him to cough up a little information.

"I was a very good athlete," Juanda told me. "I was probably the best athlete in my junior high school. I was on the track team and I was the fastest at all the distances from 200 meters up through 5,000 meters. I wasn't the best at 100 meters, though."

I did a little coughing myself at that response, because I was a track man myself, albeit a shot-putter. In case you're not familiar with the track and field world, it's extremely unusual for someone who is successful at the sprinting distances like 200 meters or 400 meters to be successful at longer distances.

Generally, runners have a body type that allows them to run two distances. 100 meter runners can perform in the 200, but not usually in the 400. 200 meter runners can perform in the 400 but not the 800, 800 meter types can run the 1,500 but not the 3,000, and so on. Each distance requires a slightly different body type and set of skills.

That's one of the reasons ice skater Eric Heiden's Olympic performance was so incredible: he won gold medals across a broad range of the sprints and the long distances. There aren't many other examples like that.

OK, SO IT WASN'T THE OLYMPICS…BUT MIGHT IT HAVE BEEN?

Granted, Juanda was succeeding at these varied distances at the junior high school level, not the Olympic level, but it's still remarkable, and I caught a bit of a wistful look in his eye as he continued to talk about athletics.

"I wonder about it sometimes," Juanda said. "I wonder if I had stayed with it and trained very hard, whether I could have been good enough to represent my country in the Olympics. But I didn't stay with it, because in Indonesia it isn't like it is in the US, where star athletes can focus just on their sports and not worry about money. Back home, even the professional soccer stars need day jobs, like working somewhere as a bank teller, in order to make ends meet."

Juanda also succeeded in school ("I was in the top five in my class") and at more conventional toil ("I got a job as a door-to-door salesman after college, and was the most successful one in our business, even though my English still wasn't very good then"), and I wanted to know where his drive to succeed came from. He probably paused longer before answering that question than on any other.

"That's a tough one," he said. "To be honest, I think the main reason for my drive is that I'm afraid to fail. My father wasn't always successful, and my mother had to work incredibly hard for us. She literally worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, while we were growing up. She sacrificed a lot for us. Her sacrifices allowed me to come here, and I wanted to be sure I didn't waste her efforts."

THE WORLD'S LUCKIEST PLAYER?

I know I've wandered pretty far off the poker track, trying to let you know a little about one of poker's greatest champions…but the funny thing is, there are a lot of people who look right past John Juanda's record, and don't consider him a great champion. They think he's only moderately talented and literally the luckiest poker player to be found.

I asked John about this and received a broad smile in return. "Yes, I know a lot of people think that way, and it's fine with me," he said. "In fact if you just want to call me "Lucky John" that would be OK. A lot of people think Phil Ivey (who won three bracelets at the 2002 WSOP) is lucky too.

"I don't mind that image," Juanda continued, "because it helps me win a lot more. People make a lot of mistakes against me because of it. Some people are afraid to play pots against me when they should, because they 'know' I will get lucky against them. There are lots of other variations of that, ways that the image causes them to play badly."

There are many poker professions who, despite the money earned from those opponent errors, wouldn't be comfortable with such an image, because their self-images and egos are tied very closely to their poker success and the public's perception of them. Clearly Juanda doesn't fall into that category, and I wanted to know why; I guessed that the answer was probably related to Juanda's modest and friendly demeanor.

BLAME GLAZER IF JUANDA DOESN'T SOUND VERY HUMBLE HERE

After protesting that "You write and say too many nice things about me, Andy, I'm not perfect, I get mad at people too," Juanda was willing to accept some of my theories and expand upon them.

"If I'm friendly, if I'm willing to share advice with someone whom I don't really 'need' to help, it's probably because a lot of people were very helpful to me when I was starting out," John explained. "There were a lot of people who didn't need to offer me help, they were much more advanced than me, but they didn't make a big deal out of it and it seems right to be the same way with other people now that I'm the one who has become an expert.

"As far as why I don't have a giant ego," he continued, "it's probably because I realize poker is just poker. It's just a game. There are a lot of other things in life that are a lot more important, or even just different.

"Look at you and me, Andy," he added. "I'm a better triple-draw player than you are, but you're a better writer than me. Does you being a better writer make me stupid? Does me being a better triple-draw player make you stupid? There are a lot of different ways to be smart. If a brain surgeon makes a mistake when he plays in a poker tournament once in a while, that doesn't make him dumb, it doesn't mean he's not a great brain surgeon, and it certainly doesn't mean that he's less important in the world than someone who only plays poker. I think you have to keep poker in perspective."

COULD A MEDICAL DEGREE BE IN JUANDA'S FUTURE?

That John Juanda keeps poker in perspective is one of the reasons the poker world might lose him eventually. "Poker has been great, it has been fun," Juanda said, "but I'm financially comfortable now, and there isn't as much challenge, unless they do something like come up with a new game, like triple-draw, where I have had a lot of fun figuring things out. I don't know when, exactly, but at some point I want to go to medical school. I might not even stay in the US forever, I might go back home someday, but I'll be around for a while, I know that."

Curiously, just as Juanda was explaining the reasons why he might not stay in poker forever, he also admitted that winning today's tournament meant a lot to him.

"I used to play so, so many tournaments," he began. "If you play a lot of tournaments, you're going to get lucky and win a lot of tournaments, and I think I stopped appreciating the winning for a while. This one is different. I haven't played any events with a buy-in smaller than $1,500 this year, so I haven't won much, and this one feels special."

There was another reason why this one felt special to Juanda, another of those "this almost sounds too good to be true" kind of reasons. Daniel Negreanu has been running a fun little pool for who would have the best overall performance at the 2003 WSOP, and Juanda hadn't been playing well until now.

PLAYING THE HAND INSTEAD OF THE PLAYER

"I don't think I was that focused before," he said. "I mean, I was playing in a no-limit tournament, I made a raise with two threes, and one of the tightest players I know re-raised me. I moved all-in on him, I mean, how dumb is that, I KNOW my hand can't be any good against him. Against some players who might be making a play at me, it could be, but there was no way against this player.

"I have had friends come up to me who are in the pool," Juanda continued, "and they say to me, 'John, we picked you up high, we picked you #1, when are you going to start winning?' I hate when people have faith in me or bet on me and then I don't live up to it."

I know John Juanda isn't perfect, is no saint. I'm sure he's done things he's not proud of, although I do not know of a single one; he has feet of clay, just like the rest of us, and so if I've rambled on too long, or put him up on a pedestal so high that he can only fall off, please excuse me. It's just that of all the people I know in the poker world, there are only a few who can live up to John as a role model not just as a poker player but as a person, and if there was ANY chance that he might leave the poker world before I had a good excuse to tell you about him, I wanted to jump on it.

EVEN IF HE LEAVES, WE MIGHT SEE A COMEBACK

I don't really expect John to vanish from the scene immediately, and even if he does leave, he might find himself experiencing withdrawal pangs, just like a boxer who retires but can't resist coming back for just one more fight.

For those of you who haven't yet enjoyed the punishing privilege of playing with (against) John, and even more so the chance to spend some time with someone as well-grounded as John is, I hope John delays his departure from poker. I know I like seeing him at tournaments, unless I'm stuck with him at my table, which makes winning considerably more difficult for me (I still quite haven't gotten over a $500 buy-in stud event at the Commerce when I came to the final table as the chip leader and John carved me into tiny little pieces…of course, I never made a single mistake and he got lucky and….).

One thing I also know is that if John does go to medical school, and someday after he's in practice, someone I like needs his care, I'll be the happiest person in the world that he left poker…and if the person in his care is your friend, you'll feel the same way.


Final Official Results

1. John Juanda Marina del Rey, CA $130,200
2. Shahram Sheikhan Las Vegas, $65,100
3. Ralph Perry Las Vegas, NV $32,540
4. Al Korson Albuquerque, NM $19,520
5. Jimmy Cha La Habra, CA $16,280
6. Huck Seed Las Vegas, NV $13,020
7. Dean Shulman Los Angeles, $9,760
8. Mel Judah London, England $6,520

9th-12th, $4,880: Larry St. Jean, Salisbury Beach, MA; Doug Saab, Trussville, AL; Andrew Kelsall, Lutz, FL; Tom Savitsky, Randolph, NJ.
13th-16th, $3,260: Benny Wan, Alhambra, CA; David Halpern, New Orleans, LA; Tianxing Fu, Cypress, CA; Gavin Smith, Ontario, Canada.

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