John Juanda was one of the biggest names and most famous faces during the height of the poker boom.
He was part of the prestigious Team Full Tilt. He played in the highest poker games and tournaments on the planet. He was perpetually on TV.
Then, he dropped off the North American poker radar. He moved the focus of his life to Japan and Macau.
It’s been four years ago since Juanda left Las Vegas for Japan and, he says, one year exactly since he’s played his last hand of poker - which was last year at EPT Barcelona.
A Living Winning Prop Bets
How - and why - has he been away from the game for a year? He's made a living winning prop bets.
You read that right. We caught up with him on Day 4 at EPT Barcelona where, despite a lingering illness, he's in the Top 5 chip counts with under 70 players left.
PokerListings: Whereabouts do you live now, John?
John Juanda: I still live in Tokyo.
Busy getting fit.
PL: Do you still spend a lot of time in Macau?
JJ: Not anymore. I haven’t played any poker the whole year. The main event in Barcelona is only my second event this year and the first one was the Super High Roller a couple of days ago.
PL: We noticed you also missed the WSOP. What’s going on?
JJ: What happened was that I made a bunch of prop bets with a good friend of mine. I don’t know how it started; we had dinner and a couple of drinks, and then we started challenging each other.
We ended up betting insane amounts of money on really crazy stuff. For example he bet me that I couldn’t do 20 pull-ups - and I mean Marine Corps pull-ups - and he gave me six months to train for it.
We also bet on running five kilometers. And here’s a very interesting one. He bet me he would be faster hopping 50 yards on one foot than me running 100 yards normally.
He offered me the bet at his Christmas party, saying ‘this is a sucker bet, I’m hustling you,' but I thought about it and couldn’t believe he would be faster.
PL: We would have thought you’d be a clear favorite.
JJ: Not really.
We also had another crazy bet on who would do better in proficiency in the Japanese language test. I basically spent eight-and-a-half hours everyday this year training and studying.
But now we’ve settled our bets and I started playing a little bit of poker again.
Doesn't miss the TV days.
PL: Are you saying you lost all the bets?
JJ: No, I won most of them.
PL: Were you hustled in the sprint race?
JJ: No. I passed him and won. But it was close. I also ended up doing 22 pull-ups.
I’ve lived in Japan for four years now and never learned the language but because of all these bets I got in shape and I learned Japanese, so it’s been a really good year.
PL: Maybe you were just fed up with poker and needed a break.
JJ: That was part of the reason. When I lived in Vegas or LA everything was close and easy to get to but from Tokyo it’s a hassle.
I like coming to Barcelona or Monte Carlo, for example, but there are no direct flights so the trips are very long.
I was ready to take a break. I’m not sure if I’m really getting back into it now, though. I’ll just see how it feels.
Manila next big thing.
PL: Do you miss the old days when you were on TV all the time?
JJ: I don’t miss playing on TV but I miss the big cash games in Australia and in Macau with the Chinese guys.
PL: You told us once you’d be playing in Macau even if the stakes were too high.
JJ: (laughs) They’ve been going really crazy there. The stakes are about 8-10 times as high as when I was playing.
My poker bankroll isn’t that big anymore so I would have to sell action if I wanted to go into these games.
PL: So where is your future?
JJ: I love living in Tokyo so that’s not going to change anytime soon. In the short run I might go to London from here as there might be a big cash game on.
Then, in the near future, I’m going to go to Manila - the new hot spot for cash games. I think that’s where the big cash games are going to be.