AMERICA'S MOST DARING ASIANS UNDER 40
Prince of Poker
he secret to John Juanda's success as one of the youngest, winningest champions in professional poker history? An ideal mix of experiences in his early years.
A father who liked to drink while gambling forced Juanda to see over and over the sorry results of combining those two activities. His father lost practically every time he gambled and kept telling John not to gamble. The words had no impact but the example left a deep impression. To this day John Juanda never touches alcohol while sitting at the poker table. He does, however, enjoy asking casino waitresses to deliver bottles of beer to poker rivals.
As a track prodigy in high school in his native Indonesia, Juanda excelled at everything from the 200 meters to 5,000 meters. The longer distance runs burned into his muscle memory the importance of pacing. Major poker tournaments are grueling, around-the-clock affairs lasting up to a week. Juanda's ability to play himself into the final table with such consistency can be credited to his remarkable knack for conserving chips and energy through long stretches of promising hands that go nowhere.
Juanda's educational background left its mark in his distinctively low-key, relaxed and businesslike playing style. At the age of 19 Juanda came to the U.S. to study at the University of Oklahoma, then moved to the west coast for an MBA at Seattle University. That business training shows in Juanda's respect for the odds that underlie each hand and his skill at reading the character traits of the other players. The road to his biggest wins were paved by uncanny laydowns in the heat of head-to-head final-table battles.
And as most good poker players know, ultimately the outcome of every hand is controlled by the Big Dealer in the sky. That's where Juanda may be seeing the rewards of his stint as a bible salesman while earning his MBA. Any poker player who has won 3 WSOP championship bracelets and finished in the money in 145 tournaments in 7 short years for $6.3 million in tournament winnings owes many prayers of thanks to some higher power.
Maybe in recognition of how much he owes to that higher power, when he retires from professional poker, Juanda plans to go to med school to fulfill his dream of providing medical care to poor children in third-world countries.
Johnson Juanda was born the first of four children on July 8, 1971 in Medan in North Sumatra. He spent several of his early childhood years with grandparents while his parents struggled to start up a business in another city. John got his first taste of gambling in grade school when he began shooting marbles for money. Poker wasn't even part of his vocabulary until a friend introduced the game during the flight to the U.S. in 1990. By the time Juanda landed in Oklahoma City, he spoke little English but knew how to play poker.
After graduating from Oklahoma State with a double bachelors in marketing and management, Juanda moved to Seattle. He worked a variety of jobs to support himself while working on his MBA. Among them were selling bibles and stock brokerage. Juanda also discovered Seattle's many poker parlors. As soon as he got his MBA in 1996, he decided to make poker his career.
It wasn't until April of 1999 that Juanda felt ready to enter a major tournament, the $1,500 Limit Hold'em tournament at the World Series of Poker. His ninth place finish earned him $15,000. That was followed the next week by a seventh place finish. Barely four months later, came a $399,600 win in the $300 Limit Hold'em in Los Angeles. That gave Juanda the means to move to Alhambra to play poker full time.
During the summer of 2000 Juanda established himself as a rising star of the professional poker circuit with a half dozen final-table finishes. At the year-end US Poker Championship in Atlantic City Juanda came within one card of winning. The second place finish earned him $159,000, confirming his ability to make a comfortable living as a professional poker player.
With his $282,000 win at the Second Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica Juanda became a fixture at the final tables of major tournaments. He made more than twenty in 2001. Among them were three wins. The next year Juanda won his first WSOP gold bracelets and a $278,000 second-place finish in the same month at the $10,000 Five Diamond World Poker Classic. By the end of 2002 Juanda was finishing in the money so regularly that he was named Tournament Champion of the year.
Since then Juanda has continued his string of successes at even bigger, richer events, including a $500,000 win in Monte Carlo in 2005 and $732,901 in Australia in 2006. His 28 WSOP money finishes and 3 wins put Juanda in a class with champions like Dewey Tomko, Annie Duke, Scotty Nguyen and Puggy Pearson. Of the younger champions with Juanda's level of success, only Negreanu (32) is younger than Juanda.
John Juanda is single. He currently lives in Marina del Rey, California with his younger sister whom he is putting through school. When he isn't playing poker in front of crowds at major tournaments, he travels to underground games around the world. Juanda takes time out from poker to manage his investments. He hopes they will provide the nestegg that will finance his childhood dream of attending medical school and providing care to children in third-world nations.