By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Men soon developed a reputation in the Vietnamese community. He sold his business, quit the day job, began playing poker full time, and became the go-to guy for other Vietnamese immigrants who hungered for seven-card stardom. But in a game where everyone is supposed to play their own cards and keep their own counsel, Men evolved into a troubling character. “There are stories about Men’s people slipping their tournament chips off the table during bathroom breaks and dumping them to other players on the team; that’s cheating,” maintains a former World Series of Poker champion. “Some of Men’s tournament wins were tainted because people dumped to him. We’ve been unable to prove this, but it’s public knowledge in poker circles. There’s collusion in which he plays partners and has his guys squeeze players out of key hands. They work out signals and do all kinds of dishonest things.”
While this player is obviously no fan of Men’s — and, it’s worth restating, the allegations have never been proved — he nevertheless allows, “You still have to give Men credit for being among the top-ranked players every year. Even if he gets a little bit of help, he still needs to be a damned good player to win as much as he does. Plus, he’s an excellent teacher who,” by financially backing his students, “puts his money where his mouth is.”
The most blatant accusation against Men centers around an incident that took place in Mashantucket, Connecticut, at Foxwoods Casino. Men was there with his guys for a poker tournament. As is their norm, they arrived with coolers full of steak, fish, rice and Coors. They shared a suite and set it up with hot plates, steamers and a fridge. After a team member overcooked dinner, the room filled with smoke and fire alarms went off. Hotel workers rushed inside and asked Men and his guys to leave while they dealt with the situation. The fire was put out, but rumors spread that tournament chips were found in the room. If true, that’s a terrible infraction of poker-tournament rules. It means that players on Men’s team had been pulling chips from the tournament as their likelihood of getting knocked out became more and more of a certainty, and they then provided those chips to the group’s winning players, who could surreptitiously supplement their chip stacks.
Men denies this completely. He insists that he got thrown out due to the fire, not for cheating. (Foxwoods has confirmed this, but, as one player puts it, “Of course, they would; the last thing they want anybody to think is that their tournaments can be corrupted.”)
“Cheating,” Men fumes, “goes against my Buddha. It’s against my religion. I cheat you once and it comes back to me. I have a family, I have a nice thing going, you think I’d cheat you to make my life better? No! God punishes people like that.” He leans forward and looks me straight in the eye. “People say things, but nobody can prove anything. If they caught me with chips, I’d never be allowed to play anywhere, not ever again. I travel all over the world, I play poker, I win. That is what I do.”
It’s the kind of blazing noon in Vegas that sends sweat trickling down your face. At the entrance of Circus Circus, a rundown casino on the northern end of the Strip, tired acrobats swing overhead, performing not-so-exciting feats with safety nets between them and the Middle American gamblers below. Seeming oblivious to it all, wearing an impossible-to-miss, sun-colored ‘N Sync T-shirt (he’s not a fan, but yellow is his favorite color), Men the Master materializes from a swell of tourists, struggling under a burden of half a dozen enormous plush toys. He walks with fast, choppy steps, hands me a SpongeBob SquarePants as big as my torso and says, “The casino has a game arcade upstairs. But they threw me out. Said that I win too much.”
Men’s family is visiting him here in Vegas for a few days, and he’s thrilled to have snagged some goodies for his kids. But that is not the only thing making Men happy. During a recent series of tournaments at the Bicycle Casino, Men cleared $200,000 in personal winnings, not to mention cuts from his team members. David Pham did so well that he also earned a bonus offered up by the casino: a 2002 Mercedes SUV ML500, which he sold to Men for $42,000.
Men would like to hang out with his family. But business beckons and his other family awaits. So he heads up to his hotel room and runs a half-dozen players through a quick poker review. They’re disassembling hands from the night before, discussing how they could have been handled better. Steve is nowhere in sight, and stringy-haired Hai Tran just won $40,000 at a no-limit Hold’em tournament. Men himself is having no success here in Vegas. He hasn’t come close to winning a tournament, and the cash games have been unproductive.
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