The hard road to freedom
It was not an easy climb to the top though. Scotty’s childhood was anything but a happy one—his country was demolished by war and his family was torn apart— and young Thuan had to grow up quickly and rely on his iron-will to survive.
At the age of 11, Scotty fled from Vietnam, with the blessings of his family. He first landed in a refugee camp in Taiwan. Although there he no longer had to fear the hail of bullets, he still could not stand being confined to this “jail” of barbed-wire fences. He had risked his life leaving Vietnam in hopes of a better future and not to be locked up. At the age of thirteen Scotty escaped and found himself a job doing manual labor.
During the Vietnam War and in the post war years, thousands of American families declared themselves willing to accommodate or adopt the young victims of war — the children refugees and orphans. Aid organizations and religious associations assisted the countless Vietnamese children, Scotty being one of them, travel to the United States and one year after escaping from the refugee camp Scotty was informed that they had found a host family for him. So in 1976, Scotty boarded a ship and headed over to America, to stay with his sponsor in Chicago, Illinois. Although a dream had come true for Scotty, this by no means made it easier for him to adjust to a new country, culture, language and lifestyle. The climate though, as it turned out, is what posed to be the biggest problem and Scotty, due to the unaccustomed inclement weather in Illinois, requested a new sponsor in an area where the weather was more like that of his homeland. Scotty was granted his request and received a new sponsor in Orange County, California.
A “difficult” teenager
The climate alone could not work wonders though, nor could it veil the memories and horrible events Scotty had to go through as a child. He was tortured by these recollections of the past, and although his sponsors were very kind to him they could not replace his family. His past made Scotty feel like a stranger in America and he developed a rather rebellious streak, one that showed by his disruptive behavior especially at school. It was at this point in his life that Scotty was first introduced to poker. Soon he was spending more time in dark backrooms playing cards than in the classroom and he was eventually expelled from the school.
Already as a child in Vietnam, Scotty had heard of the magical place full of possibilities and endless opportunities known as Las Vegas and at the age of 20, Scotty fulfilled a life-long dream of his by making the trip with a couple of friends. Their first stop was Whiskey Pete’s at the edge of the city. Although they were only 80 km away from the “Strip”, the most famous street in Las Vegas lined with luxury hotels and beautiful sights, the boys were so enraptured that they spent more than two hours at Whiskey Pete’s. It was only after they had lost all their money though that they were thrown out because they were underage. At this point Scotty became angry and asked the security guard why they had not checked earlier when they had still had some money left. Being broke, the friends turned around to go home, without ever really having seen Las Vegas.
Enchanted by “Sin City”
It seems as if Las Vegas was calling Scotty though, because just before leaving, Scotty turned around one final time for a glimpse of the Caesars Palace logo lighting up the inky night sky and it was this particular sight that prompted Scotty to convince his friends to turn around. They ended up having a good time cruising the strip and gawking at girls and in the morning they scraped together their last remaining money to have breakfast at Harrah’s. In the early morning hours, his friends drove home without him, leaving Scotty behind in “Sin City”. Scotty had landed himself a job as a bus boy at Harrah’s and as fate seems to have it, on this random go-for-broke night, a future poker star was born:
“It’s like I was destined to be here,” Scotty remembers.
His new boss nicknamed him “Scotty” because could not pronounce “Thuan” and from then on he was known by all as Scotty. After finally turning 21, Scotty went to dealer’s school and wandered from the buffet table to the card rooms. By observing other poker players he soon realized he could make good money playing poker. He had no goals but he saw the possibilities. The $ 150 he earned every day he spent each night again playing $ 3/$ 6 Stud games. It did not bother him that he kept losing because he always knew that he would make another $ 150 the next day.
Scotty was a typical “donkey” (a weak player who makes blatantly bad poker moves) at the time, popular amongst other players because it was easy to win money from him. What Scotty has to say about this time in his life, “I didn’t even know what a donkey was. I didn’t know what a fish was. I just knew that the other players were always happy to see me. After each session, I’d go home and sleep, just like everybody else. Losing the money never really bothered me.”
Scotty switched to Texas Hold’em, a poker variation that best suited aggressive instincts, and worked his way up to play higher stakes. In 1985, the opportunity to deal at a no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament presented itself to him, and he took it, taking enough money with him to pay the ($ 1,000) buy in as well, if he managed to find the time to participate. Working all day and playing all night, Scotty was able to increase his meager bankroll (the money at one’s disposal to play poker with) at Lake Tahoe to $ 7,000 and his confidence surged. After giving it a great deal of thought whether or not it was a good idea to risk a part of his earnings playing in a tournament he had little chance of winning, he decided to go ahead and do it anyways. Although inexperienced at both tournament and no-limit play, by the time he had sat down at the table he had shook off every last shred of doubt. He played as if he had nothing to lose—as if each game was a cash-game at his favorite casino—and soon he found himself sitting across from only one other competitor in a heads-up match. Next thing he knew, the final guy he was up against suggested splitting up the prize money— $ 140,000 for both of them and $ 10,000 for the dealer— and Scotty did not hesitate long before enthusiastically agreeing.
Fame and fortune, ups and downs
So Scotty returned to Las Vegas a changed man, ready to turn his back on his old life and start a new one, figuring he would never have to look back. He quit his old job at Harrah’s and lived off of his winnings— which by then had grown to about a million dollars. Scotty was playing against poker professionals such as Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson and David Grey and everybody was talking about this young kid—the next big thing. Scotty who now considered himself a rich man, indulged in all the finer things stardom had to offer and bought himself a brand-new Chevrolet Z 28, a Corvette, and a luxurious condominium that he rarely stepped foot in, seeing as he had a luxury suite to his disposal at the Caesars Palace because he joined poker games there daily for astronomical sums of money. The casino treated him like a god giving him anything he wanted.
His life was soon a whirlwind, spinning out of control, because he could hardly handle all the fame and riches. Tipping big and caught up in the frenzy he could no longer tell the good friends from the bad ones. He started associating with the wrong people and snorting cocaine, yet he was ashamed of his addiction and only indulged in the bad habit alone in his suite. Still, Scotty thought that he was finally in control of his life and enjoyed his spot in the limelight,
“I thought that everybody liked me for me, but it was for the money, for what I could give them.”
Scotty had four casino lockboxes, two at Caesars and two at Bob Stupak’s Vegas World stuffed with chips and currency. He was convinced that the good times would never end. His success and glamorous lifestyle soon earned him the nickname “The Prince of Poker”. Money meant everything to him. It seemed to be at the root of his happiness but it was soon to become the root of all his problems.
One fateful day, Scotty lost everything, every last cent— playing dice. The dice went badly but although he kept losing more and more money he would not leave the table. He asked for both of his lockboxes and when they were empty he called Bob Stupak and told him he wanted the last two as well. After only four hours he had gambled away his entire fortune. It was not easy for Scotty to cope with this set-back,
“I felt absolutely sick. I felt like killing myself.”
The casino bosses of course had been watching Scotty and knew that the end was inevitable — that the house would get their money back— which is why they pampered and coddled him, so that he would continue playing. After it was all over and he had lost everything, the Caesars gave Scotty $5,000 and let him keep the suite. Everything else was soon gone though, the Chevrolet, the Corvette, and the condo. He returned to dealing at Harrah’s, and resumed low stakes play— to slowly rebuild his bankroll and his career.
Yet although these were hard times for Scotty, it was nothing compared to what he went through as a child. The strength he had found then, gave him the courage to keep going now. He had faith in himself and was sure that nothing and no one was going to bring down Scotty Nguyen,
"I had nothing," he says, "but that should prove to you how strong I am. I can go down seven times but always stand up eight. That’s why I always come out ahead, no matter how many times I get knocked down. Without a barrier there is no success. Without a hard time, there is no good time.”
As already mentioned, Scotty had already made a name for himself in the tournament poker scene by the time he was 23, and fulfilled every poker player’s dream of winning a Gold Bracelet only a little while later, in 1998.
It took little steps though, for Scotty to get to where he wanted to be. In 1995, Scotty placed thirteenth in a limit Hold’em tournament at the prestigious WSOP and finished third at the Gold Coast Open playing no-limit Hold’em. In 1997, Scotty won his first WSOP Bracelet and almost $ 160,000 playing limit Omaha Hi Lo against stars such as Ted Forrest and Mike Matusow. When Stu Ungar won the famous WSOP no-limit Hold’em Main Event (also known as the poker world championship) in 1997 though, Scotty bought himself the daily paper with Stu’s picture across the cover and dreamed of the day when he would win the Main Event and have his picture on the title page.
Although Scotty began the World Series in 1998 with plenty of cash, his self- destructive gambling led him to go broke only days before the Main Event. Poker colleague Mike Matusow, no stranger to such a situation, invested $ 500—half of a satellite seat— in Scotty. Another one of Scotty’s friends came up with the other half and from that point on it was all up to Scotty. He did not disappoint, won his entry, and continued to play magnificent poker. Scotty was able to win against names such as T.J. Cloutier and Kathy Liebert and eventually found himself up against Kevin McBride in the heads-up, a play that went down in the history of poker:
Scotty held a J♦ and a 9♣ while McBride held a Q♥ and 10♥. McBride raised pre- flop and Scotty called. The flop came 8♣- 9♦- 9♥. Scotty now had Three of a Kind. Kevin bluffed, betting $ 100,000 and Scotty called again. The turn was an 8♥ and Scotty now had a Full House. McBride bet another $ 100,000, and Nguyen called yet again. The river was yet another 8♣. Now both had a Full House, although Scotty had the higher one. Scotty made use of this situation and bet $ 310,000. While McBride contemplated what to do next, Scotty the smooth talker, warned his opponent,
“You call this one and it’s gonna be all over baby!”
McBride thought it was a bluff, called, and it really was all over. So that year, Scotty was crowned as the 1998 World Champion of Poker, he was featured on the cover of poker magazines, and he became famous for his phrase, “You call its gonna be all over, baby!” Sadly, his triumph was overshadowed by a far greater tragedy as the next day one of his brothers died in a car accident in Vietnam. It is for this reason, out of respect to his brother, that Scotty never to wears the Gold Bracelet he won in 1998.
After paying back his supporters, Scotty still had $ 333,333 left in prize money. The first thing he did was buy a house for himself, his wife (whom he has since divorced) and their children. Winning the Series helped his financial life, but it went beyond that. It changed him as a man. Scotty, who was known for his explosive temper at the poker table, would throw cards around after a bad beat (being defeated even with a good hand), curse at the dealers, and cause scenes. He embarrassed his wife and he embarrassed himself. After winning he realized he could not do that anymore. He started working on his temper and carrying himself like a true champion. He definitely became calmer and started treating others with more respect. Scotty sort of brags when he says that between 1998 and now he has only cursed at a dealer maybe ten times, and never at the table.
Up until the turn of the millennium, Scotty sat at numerous final tables at renowned events and most of the time, placed within the top ten. For his second place finish at the 2000 Carnival of Poker in limit Omaha Hi Lo he won $ 25,000 in prize money. For his two wins at the Jack Binion World Poker Open (limit Seven-Card Stud and limit Omaha Hi Lo) he got $ 70,000.
At the 2000 WSOP Scotty came in fourth in limit Seven-Card Stud and won $ 30,300. That same year Scotty marked up one success after the other at the Orleans Open, Legends of Poker, and at the Austrian Classic while dominating the cash rankings.
Scotty Nguyen is unbeatable, baby
The following years Scotty jetted from tournament to tournament, and pulled off so many great shows that one would have to write a book to be able to name them all. In 2001, Scotty won his third Gold Bracelet playing pot-limit Omaha and with it, prize money worth $ 178,480. That same year, the “Prince of Poker” struck gold a second time and won the limit Omaha Hi Lo tournament, his fourth Gold Bracelet and $ 207,580 in cash. For his third place finish at the 2001 Tournament of Champions no-limit Hold’em tournament he won $ 74,000. His following two wins at the World Poker Finals (with $ 44,000 and $ 159,000 in prize money) were just two of the numerous other successes with nice sums of money as a reward.
Furthermore, between 2001 and 2005 there was hardly an event where Scotty did not place within the top five, winning many, and earning even more in prize money. Wherever the Prince of Poker appeared, the other participants froze in reverence. Scotty Nguyen seems unbeatable. His greatest achievements include, besides the four Gold Bracelets, his performances at the World Poker Tour. Scotty is the only player who has managed to make it to at least one final table during every WPT season. Besides all that, to date, he has won 4 WPT titles, one of them being the championship title. For his win at the 2006 no-limit Hold’em WPT Championship, the Gold Strike World Poker Open, at the WPT Season 4 Scotty won an incredible $ 969,421.
Also in 2006, Scotty made $ 124,030 by placing second at the Bellagio Five Diamond World Poker Classic. For his sixth place finish at the Legends of Poker at the WPT Season 5, Scotty won $ 133,095 and for placing 11th at the WSOP 2007 Main Event he won $ 476.926. His third place finish at the 2007 US Poker Bowl was marked with $ 100,000…and the list goes on and on.
With approximately 44 first place finishes and nearly 250 cash rankings Scotty is one of the most successful and most active poker players in the world. His tournament winnings add up to over 6.5 million dollars, which puts him at number 9 on the list of the biggest money winners (as of March 2008). On the list of best WSOP Omaha Hi Lo players he is at number 2.
Scotty is a charmer. At the poker table, Scotty keeps a running commentary on the game. He talks a mile a minute and ends every sentence with “Baby”. And to top it all off, he uses table talk to get information from his opponents. Scotty’s brash approach to poker is most definitely augmented by his tendency to drink beer while playing. Those who lose a hand to the Prince of Poker will surely hear “That’s poker, baby!” as a consolation. As one of the brightest characters in poker, the gold chains and huge rings he wears to accentuate this, have earned him the nickname, the “King of Bling”.
Scotty’s money management skills are not exactly exemplary, and although Scotty never again lost as much as he did that time at Caesars, he has gone broke over two hundred times during his career. Yet despite his bad habits Scotty is still able to live large because he knows he can always rely on his poker skills and that he will never have to wait long for his next big win. Scotty lives predominantly off of his tournament winnings, with which he also supports his family in Vietnam. He also represents the Cherokee Casino Resort chain in Oklahoma.
The “Prince of Poker” private
Today, Scotty lives with his second wife Julie and his children in Las Vegas. He enjoys spending time in his garden and hanging-out with his monkeys. His living room is decorated with tournament trophies and poker accessories. In his free-time he enjoys to go fishing, and he describes one of his hobbies as “making babies”. This is what Scotty seems to be especially talented at judging from the seven children he already has (from his first and second marriage).
Respect is something that Scotty regards very highly, especially in the world of poker. A good poker player needs class and personality and he or she should never forget where they came from. It is amazing to make it happen and get big, as he would say, but the bigger you get, the harder you have to work to be kind. Scotty himself came from a very poor family, and even though he is on top of the world now, he never looks down on the people who have nothing. He wants to be a role-model to children and show them how important it is to stay true to yourself, just like Scotty:
“Scotty stays Scotty Nguyen, you know, baby!”
What really gets under Scotty’s skin, are the nasty players that just laugh at people and call people names because according to him, “That’s not poker, baby. That’s just dirty.” If he could, he would ban them from poker.
Scotty has come to appreciate the good fortune, a gift from god that has been given to him. People who he has played against are always amazed at how he manages to make the right decisions at the right time. Scotty even surprises himself sometimes, and does not have a good explanation for his talent, other than that it really being a gift from god.
Without a doubt, Scotty Nguyen is one of the most remarkable members of the poker scene. Not only is he one of the best and most active players, but he also had to work very hard for his success. He exemplifies how important it is never to give up, to always believe in yourself, and to always be thankful for what you have.
Scotty is a true poker player and seeing him play at tournaments is reason enough for many to turn on their TV. He fascinates with his irresistible charm and his super cool attitude. Somehow, he manages to be funny, smart, sassy and cool without being mean — something that is very rare, especially in a sport like poker where it often comes to heated verbal battles.
Although Scotty could easily be resting on his laurels now, Scotty is not even thinking of quitting yet. He loves the game, and besides, he wants to continue supporting his family in Vietnam. This is why we can look forward to seeing the “Prince of Poker” star in many more exciting and entertaining appearances because Scotty Nguyen is not done yet, baby!