Cashing numerous times for hundreds of thousands of dollars year in year out at the World Series of Poker and making more than his fair share of final tables along the way didn't change things. Neither did proving he could win online as well by taking down the main event of the 2006 PokerStars' WCOOP.
Earning a reputation as one of the most feared players in tournament poker history and gaining the respect of every one of his peers didn't do it.
Just a few hours ago, Tran became the last man standing of the 2,718 players who signed up for the 2008 WSOP Event 49 $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em, winning more than $600k and becoming the latest pro to remove the "best player without a bracelet" label from his back.
But for J.C. Tran this should mean so much more. The Vietnamese-American has kept a smile on his face and a fierce determination to win in his heart since his brother first introduced him to the game on his 21st birthday. With his unparalleled natural poker instincts, it didn't take long before J.C. started winning, and winning big.
But while he's plowed through the fields in major poker tournaments across the U.S., winning more than anyone could be expected to, and is a threat to go deep every time he sits down at a tournament table, Tran has also had to sit quietly while other less impressive players have collected huge sponsorship deals and endorsement contracts.
I met with Tran back in November 2007 when he once again had a chip lead in a major poker tournament. This time it was the World Series of Poker Circuit event in Lake Tahoe, just a stone's throw from his Sacramento, Calif. home.
Among other things, we talked about why his face isn't splashed all over billboards and TV screens pimping poker and anything related, considering his track record proves he's one of the best players in the game.
Sadly, J.C.'s answer was that he's Asian. Tran's point was that Madison Avenue and the like consider it tough to market Asian people. Considering the small number of Asian people who are even on American television, in poker or otherwise, it was a point well taken.
Some Asian poker players don't speak English very well (of course, the same could be said of some Caucasian players!) and, as J.C. said, a good number of others do little to promote their own public image, exhibiting some pretty off-the-wall behavior (insert Vinnie Vinh story here).
But Tran is not that kind of man. He's super cool, super nice and a superior poker player to boot. After doing his best to explain why he's not one of the faces of poker despite so obviously being deserving of the same perks poker's elite share, Tran went on to say he may just give up tournament poker altogether if things don't turn around.
"It's kind of not fair that I don't get the recognition and endorsements I deserve and there are players out there who don't do half of what I do and they do [get them]," he said, explaining that the profitability of out-of-the-spotlight cash games may draw him away from all these made-for-TV tournaments if things don't change.
Maybe now it won't have to come to that. Maybe now he'll get the respect he deserves.