“All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ” Review

[LL] “How much do you know about Jerry Yang?” Leroy the Lion inquired.

[RR] “Not much. Chinese guy who became a billionaire during the dot-com era by founding Yahoo”, Roderick the Rock replied.

[LL] “Actually, that Jerry Yang is Taiwanese-American, but I meant the other Jerry Yang, who is about the same age as the entrepreneur.”

[RR] “Oh, you mean the amateur who won the World Series of Poker in 2007. All I know is that he got very lucky and then basically disappeared from the poker world.”

[LL] “Luckier than you think. But he did continue to play; he just hasn’t had any other notable successes unless you count 5th place in the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up Championship for $75,000.”

[RR] “That’s what, like two heads-up wins?”

[LL] “Three. The blinds went up pretty fast though.”

[RR] “Perfect for the luck master.”

[LL] “That’s really the story of his life, which is actually very interesting. In his autobiography, All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ, Yang (or more accurately, his ghostwriter Mark Tabb) deftly jumps back and forth detailing his two treacherous journeys, in poker and in life, where a single misstep could be fatal, one literally and the other figuratively. The book opens with the Californian heads up at the World Series of Poker Main Event but then flashes back to the separate tracks of his childhood in Laos and the start of his poker career.

Although the title cleverly rhymes ‘camp’ with ‘champ’, Yang’s beginnings were so humble that getting to the refugee camp was already a major accomplishment. Before leaving his birth country, he was so poor that he had never worn shoes or underwear and played soccer with pig-bladder balls and marbles with carved rocks. He, his family, and his entire village are in constant danger from North Vietnamese soldiers, crop failures, and Mother Nature, so his father decides to risk everything, as little as that is, to leave the country and hopefully relocate to the United States. Carrying just some food and a few of their meager belongings, they try to use the cover of darkness to reach the Mekong River, which they hope to find a way to cross into Thailand.

Meanwhile, Yang’s poker story begins on his sofa, where he is enchanted by the World Series of Poker Main Event final table playing on ESPN. He quickly realizes that Texas Hold ‘Em is about much more than the cards and is immediately hooked. He starts with a meager $50 bankroll, playing small tournaments in local casinos while dreaming of satelliting into the WSOP Main Event.

Yang needs a lot of luck to survive his two difficult journeys, but he’s an intelligent, quick learner who goes from ESL1 classes to high school valedictorian. He also has the courage and ambition to rise from his impoverished youth to a successful career as a psychologist and family counselor and the World Series of Poker Main Event champion.”

[RR] “Sometimes you need to make your own luck.”

Title All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ
Author Jerry Yang with Mark Tabb
Year 2011
Skill Level any (history) / Beginner (poker strategy)2
Pros Fascinating stories of Yang’s escape from Laos and success at the poker table.
Cons On the poker side of things, Yang’s luck is extraordinary3, leaving his poker journey inspirational but nearly irreproducible.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. English as a Second Language.
  2. Yang details several WSOP Main Event hands throughout the book which contain some poker advice, but he ends the book with an appendix titled “Jerry’s Winning Poker Strategies”, which contain the brief sections on “8 Things Beginning Players Need to Know”, “Top 8 Rookie Mistakes”, “Top 8 Tells”, “Top 8 Hand to Play”, and “Basic Tournament Strategy”.
  3. For example, during his first day of the 2007 WSOP Main Event, Yang was dealt pocket Aces seven times, far above the one or maybe two you would expect.
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