By Keegan McCann
Newly minted World Poker Tour Lucky Hearts Poker Open champion Alex Yen didn’t pick up poker until he was in college studying finance at the University of Indiana. Once he did, he never wanted to do anything else.
“(My friends and I) started playing for beer money, and they would all beat me and take my money,” Yen said. “By sophomore year, I started playing online poker, and that’s when things really started to click and take off.”
By his senior year of college, the finance student was making pretty good money at the tables, but with a strict Asian household growing up in Chicago, he didn’t know what his parents would think when he told them he wanted to turn pro at a card game. His parents had emigrated from Taiwan about 15 years before he was born and didn’t play many card games.
“Really, almost no poker growing up. We played five-card draw growing up, very basic like what you’d see in the movies but not for any money, just for fun. We played a lot of mahjong, though. We are Asian, so mahjong is blood,” Yen says with a laugh. “Right out of college, I thought they weren’t going to be okay with it at all. Overall they are pretty supportive, they saw it was something I wanted to do, I was young, didn’t have a family yet, and they said go for it.”
Now, the 36-year-old still lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, thanks to his college days, but he has added a girlfriend into the mix after meeting her online two years ago and has now been playing professionally for just over 15 years. When he’s not at home with his girlfriend, he’s mainly playing cash games at his local casino. His favorite game is Pot-Limit Omaha but says his home games can get pretty wild, which fits right into his style of play.
“I do pretty well in cash games, but I’ve always liked chasing the big prize that tournaments offer,” Yen says, “Pot-Limit Omaha is my bread and butter, but my favorite game is called super-short D. It’s a dealer’s choice game that me and my friends made up. It gets wild.”
While primarily a cash game player, Yen does have some prior tournament success under his belt with $391,224 in tournament earnings, according to the Hendon Mob website, finishing runner-up in two separate Mid-States Poker Tour Main Events in 2014 and 2015 but had never tasted gold until Wednesday.
“My friends make fun of me all the time, saying you must have chopped it with your [heads-up] opponent both times cause I played so bad,” Yen says. “I had that monkey on my back and had to get it off, really prove myself.”
After adding his name to the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup and taking home the $975,240 from the LHPO, Yen bumps his career tournament winnings to just north of $1.3 million and gets the proverbial monkey off his back. What he plans to do with the winnings is another story.
“It feels absolutely incredible. I’ve never won a tournament (live or online). It is a pretty unreal feeling. This (win) was huge for me,” Yen says. “I really don’t know yet what I’m going to do with (the money). Maybe a little real estate, some investing, and some fun.”