J.C. Tran is Main Event chip leader

By Arnold Warner

For the second year in a row a professional poker player from Sacramento has made the World Series of Poker’s Main Event final table. In 2012 Steve Gee went to the final table fifth in chips. This year, J.C. Tran has one upped him, leading the final nine by a healthy margin.

The 2013 Main Event had 6,352 players paying the $10,000 buy-in creating a prize pool of $59,708,800. First place will pay $8,359,531.

The “November Nine” and their chip counts when they resume play on Nov. 4 are: J.C. Tran, Sacramento, CA, 38,000,000; Amir Lehavot, Israel, 29,700,000; Marc-Etienne McLaughlin, Canada, 26,525,000; Jay Farber, Las Vegas, NV, 25,975,000; Ryan Riess, East Lansing, MI, 25,875,000; Sylvain Loosli, France, 19,600,000; Michiel Brummelhuis, Netherlands, 11,275, 000; Mark Newhouse, Las Vegas, NV, 7,350,000; and David Bene­field, Arlington, TX, 6,375,000.

Tran, a resident of Sacramento for nearly 30 years and a graduate of CSU Sacramento, has become a well-known fixture on the poker tournament circuit. He has won two WSOP bracelets, a World Poker Tour Title, WPT Season V Player of the Year, and over $8 million in tournament cashes over the last nine years.

We caught up with Tran a few weeks after he had returned home to Sacramento to ask him about his World Series experience and his plans for the final table as he takes his shot at the bracelet and $8.3 million.

THE CARDROOM: Can you start at the beginning and tell us how things went for you? How did you get where you wound up?

JC TRAN: Coming into this series I had a different mindset. I wanted to come out of this World Series a lot better than I did the last couple of years. I had negative results the last couple years, even though I think I had a cash or two in the Main Event, but it’s all been negative results and nowhere even close to something worth talking about.

So I feel like this year has changed. I came in, and I paced myself and I didn’t jump in and try to play every event possible. I still played a bunch of events and the reason why was I felt I was playing good and I wanted to maximize my time at the table, so I did that. And I think I had five cashes before the Main Event, one deep run in the $5K No-Limit—I didn’t catch a break there late—so I was still pretty bummed about my results before the Main Event and that’s when I told myself if I keep playing as good as I have this series things might turn around in the Main Event and I’ll probably make a nice little deep run.

You know, every year at the Main Event I always bring my best because of how I did in the series prior to that and when I got to the Main Event I said you know what, this is make it or break it right here.

I didn’t plan on playing any more tournaments after this series because my baby daughter is due in November and I felt like I needed to hurry up and get this out of the way now and not worry about any tournaments between here and November. And that’s when I went in and played very careful poker. I didn’t really gamble too much. I really don’t remember ever being all-in and behind.

I was all-in a few times on day three or so, in a couple of races and won those. Even though I had some decent chips starting on like day two or three I went down and got really short on one of those days, I want to say day three. I think it was late day three. I got down to about 12,500 when the blinds were like 1K/2K and I said to myself I can either give up now, and walk away like I did the last few years or I can just hang tight (you know, this was actually when I was down to about 20K). I said hang tight and hopefully in the next couple of orbits I’ll pick up something. I got it all-in with K-J against eights or something like that and I won that. Then a couple shoves got me back up above like 40,000 or 50,000 where I could open standard and just kind of chipped up from there. I got fortunate in some pots and hands.

As far as that, I feel like I never gave up and I told myself hey, if I can double up a couple of times I’ll be back up to a decent sized stack. I will play that much harder and I did. So I got back up to 100,000 or whatnot and started playing a lot smarter and a lot more careful and less reckless…. Y’know, I didn’t ever feel like I played reckless throughout the whole tournament at all, but I felt like there were a couple of spots where I was good enough to get off the hand, so from day three on out, even when it got down close to the bubble I had a decent sized stack. I wasn’t trying to clash with a lot of these bigger stacks. I wanted to get in there, get that cash in and just kind of get that off my shoulders and play some poker from there on out.

TC: So when the bubble occurred your chip stack was in the range of average?

TRAN: Yeah, a little bit above or below average at any given point. I never got to a point where I was risking a majority of my stack or being all-in on the bubble or whatnot. I had a decent stack, I think it was like 25 big blinds or whatnot. I’m the type of guy, I consider myself an old-school player and when I get down to 25 big blinds I still feel like that’s a lot of chips. Even when it gets down to 10 or 15 big blinds, I don’t panic. I don’t go into shove mode. I still feel like I can open and make folds if someone put me all-in, stuff like that. A lot of other guys get down to 10 or 15 big blinds and it’s just a shoving stack and I feel like there’s more value than that.

So on the bubble I did get some hands to double up or win some pots. But I never really remember extremely sucking out on anyone for my tournament life. And I feel like I’m the type of guy that, my style of play is, yes, I do play aggressive when given the chance to and I can play solid when I need to and I feel like I put my money in good as much as possible and I just need those few breaks to continue to play to the next day. I felt like that worked out pretty well the whole Main Event.

TC: Were there any couple of hands that stood out, or was it just a slow and steady build?

TRAN: I want to say day five or day six I started off with five or six hundred thousand. I lost a couple bad beats where I got down kind of short but I chipped back up. I remember I peaked at about 800,000 chips, then I won my first million dollar pot—the first time I went over a million—when I got A-K against queens and I believe I got an ace or king on the turn and I busted somebody. I felt like those were the key hands that I’d been struggling to win over the last couple years.

So that’s how I did it. I felt good. I felt like things are turning. You know, I’m not looking to be in that spot, flipping with a big stack for all my chips, but when I need to I will. I’m more of a believer in putting my money in good and letting it hold, or chipping up slow. I’m not trying to win a million at a time. I’d rather chip up slowly, win that in a few hands than try to win it all in one hand. And I felt like that’s what I did to get a big stack, put a lot of pressure on the smaller stacks—didn’t really try to collide in humongous pots with the big stacks even though I had them covered. I just feel like if I play smart it will come to me and sure enough, that’s how it fell out.

TC: When did you feel comfortable that you would make the final table?

TRAN: I’d say with about four tables left. I felt like I have a decent stack and I’ve been playing good enough and my head’s cleared up. Some of these guys, you could sense the fatigue in them. And some of them I felt they just weren’t that experienced when it got down to that stage and I felt like this was where my experience could pay off, and I felt like I was the most confident player of what’s left of the field. I felt like I’d been there before as far as other major tournaments. It helped out a lot. I felt like I was in the zone, I didn’t feel fatigued which is good and my instincts were better this time.

TC: When did you become chip leader?

TRAN: I want to say there was a couple times where I was chip leader with about 20 players left, but it was so close throughout the whole tournament, I felt like it kind of varied back and forth. When we got down to two tables I had the lead most of the time and kind of pulled away slowly. Every little bit helps. I felt like I’m in a really good spot and there’s so much play still that my stack only matters versus the shorter stacks because against the others we’re not going to get it all-in unless they’re really good premium hands. So I’m not going to get it all-in on a coin flip against those guys preflop. I felt like I’m one of the better deep stack poker players at this table, because of my experience. I’m not familiar with how these guys play but my experience in tournaments should pay off and hopefully it will.

When I first started making goals in poker, one of them was making the final nine of the Main Event—it’s one of the bigger goals, probably the biggest. I had goals to win other majors—I’ve won those. This was the one last goal that I hadn’t achieved that I remember and now that I’m here It’s time to put a new goal and that’s to win the Main Event. That’s the last goal I can achieve for my career.

It’s like an NBA player, you know, you can win MVPs and make all stars, but at the end of his career if he doesn’t have that NBA title or NBA ring or a football player a Super Bowl ring, then you’re missing that big gap in your resume. And this is that one chance that I get so I’ve got to do it because this could be my last opportunity.

TC: Will you be watching on ESPN to get a look at the other guys’ play?

TRAN: I’ve already seen the first few episodes. I watch it because I’m a fan of the World Series, but also it basically reminds me of each day. When you play so many hours for seven or eight days you kind of start to lose memory of what happened in the first few days and watching this kind of refreshes it. When it gets down to day five, day six, day seven I’m definitely going to watch. See what I can pick up and be ready for it. I’m not going to take everything I see as is because everyone’s going to adjust. There might be some that don’t adjust and some that adjust to me. I’ve got to do the same.

TC: How would you rank making the final nine in terms of your poker achievements?

TRAN: I would honestly have to say this beats it all. When I won the WPT [Player of the Year] it was a very big thing, there was a lot of prestige to it, but I think this is a bigger accomplishment than anything else in my poker career.

NorCal players who cashed in the final 10 events of the 2013 World Series of Poker (including two from Event #26 we missed in the last issue)

Event #26 – Seniors No-Limit Hold’em Championship: $1,000 buy-in, 4,407 entries, $3,966,300 prize pool

224th, Alfred Ahlm, Lincoln, $2,895

398th, Gary Waters, Manteca, $1,903

Event #53 – No-Limit Hold’em, $1,500 buy-in, 2,816 entries, $3,801,600 prize pool

20th, Jeffrey Johnston, Clovis, $19,046

27th, Diego Marchioni, Sunnyvale, $19,046

67th, Samuel Lee, San Francisco, $7,375

158th, Isaac Baron, Los Gatos, $3,725

180th, Brian Maier, San Jose, $3,345

213th, Tanya Kirk, San Jose, $3,041

222th, Steve Gee, Sacramento, $3,041

238th, Nabil Zumout, Stockton, $3,041

244th, David Blatte, Nevada City, $3,041

279th, Faraz Jaka, San Jose, $2,775

Event #54 – No-Limit Hold’em. $1,000 buy-in, 2,883 entries, $2,594,700 prize pool

19th, Marcus Mack, Hayward, $12,999

28th, Matthew Weber, Sacramento, $10,534

35th, Charles Henry, Benicia, $10,534

51st, Chandrasekha Billavara, San Francisco, $7,135

52nd, Tosten Walshlommen, Santa Cruz, $7,135

74th, Renee Luba, Monterey, $4,307

93rd, Erkut Yilmaz, Sacramento, $3,243

106th, J.C. Tran, Sacramento, $2,854

116th, Brenton Reynolds, Santa Clara, $2,854

120th, Seyed Edalat, San Jose, $2,854

163rd, Timothy Milliron, Oakland, $2,542

244th, Myung Kil, San Francisco, $2,075

256th, Christopher Marohn, San Jose, $1,894

271st, Jerry Utke, Modesto, $1,894

276th, Roger Edelen, Folsom, $1,894

277th, William Daymon, McKinleyville, $1,894

Event #56 – No-Limit Hold’em, $2,500 buy-in, 1,736 entries, $3,949,400 prize pool

3rd, Dan Owen, Napa, $312,516

53rd, Gordon Vayo, San Francisco, $12,124

85th, Evan Schwartz, Oakland, $6,713

94th, Gary Pisarek, Lincoln, $6,003

127th, Jeffery Wakamiya, Carmichael, $4,857

163rd, Jim Watson, Lodi, $4,462

194th, Jason Montague, Berkeley, $4,462

Event #57 – No-Limit Hold’em, $5,000 buy-in, 784 entries, $3,684,800 prize pool

20th, J.C. Tran, Sacramento, $24,872

47th, Kelsey Hendriks, Chico, $14,333

59th, Raul Morales, Porterville, $12,122

Event #58 – The Little One for One Drop No-Limit Hold’em, $1,111 buy-in, 4,756 entries, $4,280,400 prize pool

8th, Alexander Case, Menlo Park, $71,311

12th, Chiab Saechao, Visalia, $42,675

42nd, Jeffrey Hutchison, Mammoth Lakes, $13,526

56th, Bradley Wolf, Menlo Park, $8,988

102nd, Gordon Vayo, San Francisco, $3,723

129th, Gregg Wilkinson, Sacramento, $3,723

162nd, Brian Henzig, San Jose, $3,723

166th, Larisa Bushman, San Jose, $3,167

236th, Jamie McCarrel, Lafayette, $2,739

248th, Toan Nguyen, Elk Grove, $2,739

293rd, Tony Bracy, W. Sacramento, $2,354

334th, Steve Conigliaro, San Francisco, $2,354

391st, Jose Vallejo, San Mateo, $2,054

418th, Kevin Nathan, Roseville, $2,054

424th, John Dull, Fresno, $1,797

439th, Deip Paul, San Jose, $1,797

454th, Andrew Jenkins, Monterey, $1,797

460th, Randy Lew, Mountain View, $1,797

474th, Sarah Tolagson, Monterey, $1,797

478th, Alexander Wilkinson, Lafayette, $1,797

486th, Rostislav Tsodikov, Daly City, $1,797

490th, Randy Gil, Milpitas, $1,797

491st, Tim West, Los Altos, $1,797

Event #59 – 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball (Limit), $2,500 buy-in, 282 entries, $641,550 prize pool

16th, Marco Johnson, Walnut Creek, $7,345

Event #60 – No-Limit Hold’em, $1,500 buy-in, 2,541 entries, $3,430,350 prize pool

7th, Cy Williams, Davis, $78,006

75th, Brian Vu, San Francisco, $5,797

82nd, Mark Pham, Santa Clara, $5,008

116th, Joshua Shaw, Sacramento, $3,841

133rd, Dokyun Kim, San Rafael, $3,841

149th, Alvin Gulke, Clovis, $3,430

160th, Nolan Brown, Granite Bay, $3,430

172nd, David Marshall, Fremont, $3,430

185th, Thiagara Arumugam, Santa Clara, $3,087

193rd, Steve Kim, Oakdale, $3,087

241st, Gabriel Lucero, Pleasanton, $2,778

Event #62 – No-Limit Hold’em Main Event, $10,000 buy-in, 6,352 entries, $59,708,800 prize pool

J.C. Tran, Sacramento, chip leader going into November’s final table

24th, Steve Gee, Sacramento, $285,408

32nd, Dan Owen, Napa, $229,281

41st, Josh Prager, Yuba City, $185,694

61st, Erkut Yilmaz, Sacramento, $123,597

123rd, Blake Yu, Alameda, $50,752

131st, Max Steinberg, Oakland, $50,752

143rd, Garrett Gruener, Berkeley, $50,752

146th, Seaver Kyaw, San Francisco, $50,752

154th, Olaoluwa Okelola, Palo Alto, $50,752

220th, Tommy Chen, San Jose, $42,990

235th, Shawn Lawrence, Fairfield, $37,019

292nd, Michael Engell, Fairfield, $32,242

357th, Joseph Hertzog, Visalia, $32,242

389th, Gregory Liang, Sunnyvale, $28,063

395th, Dutch Boyd, Sacramento, $28,063

483rd, Tony Scherer, Truckee, $24,480

487th, Tuu Ho, San Jose, $24,480

504th, Jeremy Stribling, San Francisco, $24,480

512th, Juan Pena, Tulare, $21,495

520th, Vishnu Chada, Santa Clara, $21,495

587th, Darrell Ticehurst, Hillsborough, $19,106

607th, Richard Soares, Hanford, $19,106

640th, Kit Phaphon, Fresno, $19,106

644th, Zachary Dowhower, S. Lake Tahoe. $19,106

648th, Andres Garcia, Salinas, $19,106