Tonight Phan has joined a different club, that of those who have won a WSOP bracelet, thanks to his heads-up victory over Johnny Neckar. I caught up with Phan just after his big win.
You've wanted this bracelet for years. Why would you consider gambling for the bracelet the way you did, shoving all-in in the dark?
I love to gamble. Being a poker player is tough. You don't win tournaments if you're not a true gambler.
Sometimes you've got to take risks like that. I can outplay him, but I love to gamble. It's in my blood. With the Main Event bracelet I wouldn't do that, but with this bracelet - it's nice, but it's not all that.
Would you have been okay with losing one of those races and coming in second again?
It's fine. I've lost so many hands with pocket aces, pocket kings, on the river for my bracelet - I'm numb. I'm immune to it. Nothing can get to me anymore.
Last year you came in second, and there was a real "party time" atmosphere. You were drinking a lot and the crowd was really into it. Tonight I noticed that you seemed more focused than you were in the match last year. You seemed locked in on Johnny and he was locked in on you. Did you try to come in more focused than maybe you have in the past?
It's like I experienced every year going to school, going to college. Time after time, year after year, you want to learn more, and you want to make mistakes and learn from them. I've learned a lot from my mistakes in the past.
I'm playing so well the last four years, and my luck is just not that good at the World Series. I keep getting second, second, second. So this year, I'm really determined where if I get to a final table, I'm going to change my game all around and play a solid game. I want to try to play my best game.
I did that today. I put some sick reads on people and made some sick calls. I made a lot of outrageous calls yesterday and today with all my chips. It's unbelievable. When you're in the zone and you read the guy - you can't explain it. My instincts are unreal sometimes; I don't know.
I changed my game all around. People think I'm real loose and aggressive, but not really. I don't mind showing a bluff because I want to get them next time, because the whole thing about poker is it's a mind game.
There were a lot of swings in this match.
Earlier I had $3,300,000, then I was down to $600,000. I was pretty much over with. I told myself, "Don't give up!" And I doubled up three times. After the second double-up I knew he was done.
I noticed you were wearing your World Poker Open bracelet today. Did you put that on to remind yourself, "Hey, I've done this before and I can do it again"?
Kind of. It was a special one - I put a lot of money into upgrading it with white gold and diamonds, probably four times what the bracelet was worth. But 2007 was a special year for me, and in Tunica they make pretty nice bracelets.
How much is this win going to help with your charity work back in Vietnam?
I love to do charity work. I love to give back. And I guess it pays back. You just have to be nice to everybody. It's karma.
Every time I win something big, I donate a lot of rice and food to my grandmother's village and they're all real happy. I'll be going back there after this World Series to donate. It'll be fun.
That's my promise for the rest of my life. One day I'll open a business, and I won't mind giving half my profits to unfortunate people.
One last question. Would you say this win means more to all your friends and family supporting you than it does to you?
I think so, yeah. They're happier than me winning. I think my brother especially. I love him so much it's not even funny. He's always there. I think he's happier than I am. I think winning the bracelet means a lot to him.
For me, it doesn't really matter. The Main Event, that's my real goal.
Thanks for your time, John, and congratulations.
* * * * * * * * * * *
John Phan finally got the WSOP monkey off his back tonight, but to hear him tell it the result made no difference to him. Whether or not that's really true, the fact remains that he accomplished something big tonight and nothing will ever take that away from him.