When you think of the top poker players in Canada, familiar names like Daniel Negreanu, Jonathan Duhamel, and Mike McDonald come to mind — they occupy spots one to three on the career live tournament earnings list. Not too far down that same list is a man with a less familiar name: Tuan Lam.
You'd be forgiven for responding with "who?"
Unless you have been around the game for a while and have a strong memory, Lam could easily escape recognition. Sitting in eighth place on the Canadian all-time money list with career tournament earnings of $4,851,424, Lam earned all but $10,000 of that sum with a single tournament result.
Lam, a former PokerStars Team Pro, finished second in the 2007 World Series of Poker Main Event and then disappeared from the poker scene, never scoring another tournament result since. The Vietnamese-born resident of Mississauga, Ontario took his seven-figure payday and vanished.
He has been a bit of a mystery ever since. He doesn't use Twitter or Facebook, hasn't been seen at any poker events, and has been impossible to track down ... until this summer.
Our colleague Chad Holloway tells the story in his "Where Are They Now" article posted on the global PokerNews site:
For the better part of seven years, Tuan had vanished, but suddenly there was a sighting during the 2014 WSOP Main Event. Sure enough, that same day, Day 1c of the tournament, my colleague Mo Nuwwarah spotted Lam in the field. I cautiously approached Lam and asked if he’d be willing to speak with me at the end of Level 2. He was a little surprised someone recognized him, but he hesitantly agreed.
“I play cash games at Bellagio with my friends,” Lam explained when I mentioned that someone had seen him there. “I want to hang out with my friends. We talk and this and that. I relax a little bit.”
The conversation spun from there, and when asked where he’s been since breaking through in 2007, Lam divulged that his time and efforts have been focused elsewhere.
“I was busy in Vietnam, and I didn’t feel well physically," he said. "Even this event, I don’t feel well either. I don’t know why, it’s sort of frustrating sometimes. I go back and forth to Vietnam. Sometimes I can’t stand the snow. It’s too cold for me and my health is bad. I was not in good shape.”
Lam declined to elaborate on his health issues, but he revealed that his trips to Vietnam were charity based.
“I do a lot of charity work," Lam continued. "I’ve been giving people rice and donating money to the poor people. I go around and help people, that’s what I wanted to do. I feel good when I do that. I was busy with all the paperwork needed to go to Vietnam. It took me years to do that. I got frustrated, but I said I’ve got to do it, I promised, so I didn't give up.”
After that, Lam was also more than willing to reminisce his run in 2007.
“I remember that year, when I came to Vegas, it was my second time,” Lam said. “I was up about $40,000 playing cash games. One day I lost it playing big limits — I lost it all back and I was down after that. So I said to myself, 'I need to do it, I need to do something on that trip,' and I did it. I was very dazed, but no matter what people say, I kept myself calm.”
So what did Lam do with the $4,840,981 payday? He didn’t buy a car, nor a house, but he does admit he’s given a little back playing online. “I’ve given back some money online. Sometimes it was boring at home, and when I went to Vietnam I sometimes stayed home and got lonely, so I played online and gave some back. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t like taking risks. I've kind of settled down a little bit.”
Even after losing some online and giving more to charity, Lam has saved enough to live a content life. “I feel very comfortable with the money, with my life, stuff like that," he said. "My life was changed after that.”
As the 20-minute break came to a close, Lam’s attention turned back to the Main Event, the first and only tournament he played at the 2014 WSOP.
“At the beginning, I was doing very well," Lam said as he launched into what was akin to a bad beat story. "I was in a good mood, but somehow I threw a card away and it went down the table and jumped off. The way the dealer acted made me feel very bad about it, and now many of my chips are gone because the dealer got me upset. He said, 'Floor, come over,' but everyone at the table knew it was a mistake, and he knew it too, so I don’t know why he tried to piss me off so much. Since then, my chips are gone. I don’t even care, I want to go home.”
Lam, who hasn’t spoken to anyone from the 2007 WSOP final table in the years that have passed, didn’t appear to have the passion he once had for the game. He seemed genuinely upset by the aforementioned situation with the dealer, and there was no doubt he wanted to be anywhere else than at the poker table.
Where Lam goes from here is anyone’s guess, but chances are he’ll slip back into poker obscurity, which is just where he wants to be.
For a reminder of the day Lam was in the spotlight, watch his finish in the 2007 WSOP Main Event in this video: