John Juanda got his MBA at Seattle University, but his most useful education may have actually come on the weekends when he was learning to play poker at nearby casinos.
"Perhaps the most underrated and neglected superstar in our game today is John Juanda," Daniel Negreanu wrote in a blog post years ago. "Without question, John has been the most successful tournament player in the world over the last five years."
"His consistency is unrivalled. If you had to pick one guy to make a final table, your best bet would be John Juanda, hands down. Yet I'll often read the message boards on the Internet and notice that John's name is rarely mentioned among the list of greats."
Juanda's results speak for themselves and prove his place among the greats. He's earned more than $24.6 million playing in poker tournaments alone since his entry into professional poker in the late ‘90s, making him one of the winningest poker players of all time.
Marbles for Money
Though Juanda didn't learn to play poker until he went to college his gambling roots run back much further, to his childhood in Indonesia.
Juanda was born the first of four children July 8, 1971, in Medan, North Sumatra. He spent many years of his childhood living with his grandparents while his parents worked to start up a business in another city.
Being apart from his parents didn't keep him from being exposed to his father's vices. He liked to drink and gamble, which never made for a winning combination, and in typical do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do fashion, he kept telling Juanda not to gamble.
Juanda apparently didn't heed that advice as he started playing marbles for money in grade school. Gambling wasn't a huge part of his life growing up though. Instead he was a well-liked, yet well-grounded child who was a track star in high school.
As the firstborn, Juanda was favored. He didn't let it go to his head, however, partially because of how his parents raised him but also because the firstborn has the responsibility to help care for the family. That duty led him to the United States for his college education.
It was on his flight to the U.S. to start his college education at Oklahoma State in 1990 that he actually got his first taste of poker. A friend taught him to play during the flight, so even though he spoke very little English when he stepped foot on American soil, he knew a game that's practically interlaced with the country's history.
Poker is Juanda's Next Career Move
It wasn't until Juanda wrapped up his undergraduate degrees in marketing and management at Oklahoma State and moved to Seattle to work on his Master's that he got more involved in poker.
He worked a variety of jobs to pay for school, including being a stock broker and selling Bibles. Though a self-proclaimed lifelong Buddhist, Juanda won awards for his Bible sales.
On the weekends in Seattle he headed to the local casinos to play poker. He honed his game and figured out quickly that he could make money playing.
As Juanda said in a Seattle University story, "I'd spend 12 hours playing poker, then go home to sleep, and I couldn't wait to get up and play again the next day."
After he completed his MBA in 1996 it was apparent to Juanda that poker was going to be his next career move. With the money he'd bankrolled while playing on weekends he embarked on becoming a full-time professional player.
He continued to work on his game at casinos and card rooms on the west coast, eventually settling near Los Angeles to find the bigger-stakes games.
John Juanda Heads to WSOP
It wasn't until 1999 that Juanda got up his courage to enter his first major tournament. He'd been regularly cashing in low buy-in tournaments but this was an event at the World Series of Poker - a $1,500 Limit Hold'em event.
He placed ninth in a field of 609 players and the following week came in seventh in the $3,000 Limit Hold'em event. At a final table filled with the likes of Josh Arieh, Humberto Brenes, Howard Lederer and "Captain" Tom Franklin, the $3,000 event made it apparent that Juanda was headed for greatness.
If that wasn't enough, the following few years made it crystal clear. In 2000, he went back to the WSOP and took 10th place in the $3,000 Limit Hold'em event. In 2001 he returned to take third in the $2,500 Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Split Eight-or-Better and seventh once again in the $3,000 Limit Hold'em event.
In the meantime Juanda continued to play in lower-buy-in events, only jumping up to $1,000 events here and there. Then in 2002 he hit his stride. He cashed in five different WSOP events, with 3 final tables and one his first bracelet win.
Less than two weeks later he followed that win up with a second place finish at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic. It was his biggest cash to date, $278,240, and also started a streak of final tables that lasted through the end of the year. Two more WSOP bracelets came in 2003 among his six cashes at the series.
A WSOP Europe Main Event Championship to Come
The list of Juanda's poker success goes on and on after that with cash after cash in tournament after tournament. Perhaps his most renowned was his epic win in the 2008 WSOP Europe Main Event.
Juanda battled it out at the final table in London for over 19 hours before defeating Stanislav Alekhin heads-up to seal his first WSOP Main Event crown and £868,800. His London success continued in 2010 when he finished second in the EPT/UKIPT £5,000 Main Event for £868,800.
During this time Juanda was also a prominent face in the Team pro lineup at Full Tilt Poker and was often on televised cash game shows.
Another bracelet in the 2011 WSOP followed ($10k 2-7 Draw) along with a third in the 2012 $100k WPT Super High Roller, a runner-up in the €50k High Roller at the 2012 WSOPE and a win at the 2013 WPT South Korea.
He was nowhere near stopping. He won the EPT Barcelona Main Event in 2015 for €1,022,593, racked up huge results at the 2016 Triton High Roller Series and 2017 Aussie Millions before back-to-back 2nd and 3rd in €25k events at the 2017 PokerStars Championship in Monaco.
In 2017 he won the HK$ 1m Triton Macau Main Event for USD $2,870,092 - to date his best live cash. With more final tables at EPT Barcelona in 2018 and the 2019 Triton High Roller Series in Korea, the money just keeps coming in for Juanda as he continues with his poker career.
In 2015 Juanda was deservedly inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. To this day, it's a safe bet to back him as someone who will make a final table - and to win a huge prop bet.
A Buddhist in Life and Poker
There are several things that keep one of the nicest guys in poker on the winning track. One is his friendly, level-headed demeanour at the poker table, which can make people think he might be a pushover but is really just a manner of self-control he's developed through Buddhism.
"I try my hardest to win, but I respect everyone I play with, and when I lose, I don't get upset," Juanda said in a Seattle University article. "One of the teachings of Buddhism is to have a sense of balance. I take satisfaction in doing my best and don't have overly high expectations."
That philosophy definitely helps Juanda keep from tilting his money away and it also works well with his strategy of treating professional poker play like a business. Always keeping a watchful eye on his money Juanda has been a successful "winning" poker player every year since he started playing professionally.
He's also responsible enough to invest some of his winning and put some away in savings for the future.
Another key to his success is the fact that he spoke very little English when he first came to the United States. When someone was talking to him and he couldn't understand what he was saying, Juanda would watch their body language and facial expressions and make an educated guess about what they were saying.
There are poker players all over the world who can attest to how valuable a talent that is at the table as they study each other's body language and actions looking for tells. Despite his skills, it's not his own interest in the game that keeps Juanda playing poker; it's his success in the game that keeps him interested.