To some, poker is just a game, a last-ditch effort to win big. But for others, it’s a profession, a way to a better life. A quiet neighborhood in the famous and wealthy Orange County, California. Inside this multi-million dollar home, a full house in more ways than one. 44 year-old Yan Chen and his wife, Carol, are getting their sons ready for school. Yan is a former sushi chef who has a degree in political science and briefly attended Columbia Law School. Today, he makes his living doing something entirely different. Professional poker player. Proudly. To be a good professional gambler, you have to use everything you learned at school. Mathematics, psychology, human behavior, self control, empathy in a weird sense. Because you have to sort of like be able to relate to how your opponents think. When the kids are off to school, it’s time for Yan to head
back to work, in his home office. For Yan, poker is an around-the-clock profession. Two-thirds of his work is spent online, where money changes hands
quickly and efficiently. Yan does play multi-tables,
sometimes two or three at a time. But still, he prefers to invest his time in a single high-stakes game. I don’t play for recognition. I don’t play for respect. I don’t play to become
a poker celebrity. Actually, I find that cash games fit my lifestyle much better. I don’t have to travel, so I
actually play cash games. So you play for money period? I play for money period. I play for money, play for my kids’ lifestyle. Yan’s lifestyle in America is a stark contrast from his humble roots.
He was born in Xian, China, where his father supported
the family working as a janitor. I grew up in abject poverty.
I’m talking about like, literally most of the
boys complain about taking hand downs from their older brothers, but I literally had to take hand downs from my older sisters, because
we were so poor, and I went to boarding school where usually the more privileged kids go. And, you know, I was definitely
one of the very, very poorest. And I remember every day
at the breakfast line, my biggest decision was trying to figure out the combination of food
that would be most filling so that would hold me over
all the way to lunch time. Commerce Casino in Southern California, the largest poker casino in the world. This is where Yan regularly comes to play, but only at the high-stakes tables. Lying is legal. I never lie.
Not in a poker game actually. You caught me lying every time. You talk loose and play tight. Charm is a part of the game, because you’ve got to make sure
people are willing to play with you, even if they know you’re good. How good a player is Yan? As good as they come. The buy-in at this low-hand, one-draw,
five-card game is U.S.$15,000, though each person usually puts
far more than that on the table. Yan’s shades mask his expressions,
and where his eyes are looking. On this day, he is not faring well. In fact, Yan’s been in somewhat of a rut. Last week I lost a quarter of a million dollars. Pretty much I lost every day last week. But that’s something I have to deal with. I play high-stakes poker. The potential reward and potential
loss could be huge. Yesterday was another pretty typical day. I started out the day losing U.S.$65,000, and then I won U.S.$133,000. Those highs and lows are also shared
by Yan’s wife, Carol. You have to deal with it.
Sometimes he tells me he lost. You know, big loss, like last night,
you have to deal with that. Sometimes I get, not like depressed,
but sometimes … … you wish him to make
back the money, but he has stress so I have to be patient. I think I love him very much. I told him, like, one day
if you are very poor, I will stand by him, go with him, everything. This is my dream house. In Orange County, the weather, everything is good. But before I never thought about
having that kind of good life. You know, everything is good. The dream comes with a price. Yan often plays for days without stopping. His record is 90 hours straight, earning him the nickname,
the “Marathon man.” Are you addicted to poker? No, not at all. I can walk away any time. I love poker, but I’m not addicted.
I can walk away from poker any time. Ironically, Yan sees himself playing
poker for the rest of his life, though not as much when he gets older. But he admits the game
can take its toll psychologically. You play a game, but the goal
of it is actually to win money. And when you win, somebody loses. If you do this day in, day out,
eventually you lose empathy for people. As I have achieved a level of financial
security, I start to look back on things, and start to realize money
is not everything. It’s definitely something
I’m working on. Although poker is all about
deception and taking a gamble, Yan says he hates to lie
and never purely gambles, but rather, gambles when there’s
an advantage only. Perhaps it’s those contradictions
that make Yan what he is: a successful poker player who’s always hard to read.