Jerry Yang was the 2007 world champion, and he won $8,250,000! Here he sets out how his life has changedsince starting poker playing.
I have six kids and had been working as a psychologist for a foster family agency. So my income, before winning the Main Event, was not too good. Eight million dollars in prize money changed our lives. My wife stopped working and is now able to spend a lot more time with our children. I contributed 10% to charity, and I’ve since opened a Japanese restaurant called Pocket 8’s Sushi and Grill in California, named after my winning hand.
Winning the World Series took me by storm. I come from a very poor background, from a hard-working family. I’ve always lived a very modest, quiet, private life. Then this happened and suddenly I was in the spotlight.
People saw me in that spotlight and now they think I haven’t played poker since winning the Main Event. The truth is that I have been playing, but I haven’t gotten a lot of TV time. Mostly, I have been playing charity events. Since winning the World Series I’ve raised another $800,000 for charities like Make-A-Wish Foundation and Ronald McDonald House. I’ve used the window of opportunity that comes from winning the WSOP to make a difference in the lives of sick kids. Without winning the World Series I would never have been able to do this work.
People think every champion has to go on TV and get noticed and play huge games. I was invited to play High Stakes Poker. Then the person told me that I had to put up $200,000. I said, ‘I don’t see the point of gambling for that kind of money.’ Then they called me again and said I can come on with a buy-in of $500,000. They don’t get it. I’d sooner donate that money to a charity. People don’t recognise that you can do so much with poker to help people and make their lives better. I do things in private, between me and God. That generates the most blessings.
I’ve met very sick kids in hospitals and played poker at their bedsides. I’ve played in charity tournaments with people like Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire and Justin Timberlake, and I’ve had the chance to learn that all of them are very nice, very down-to-earth people. Any opportunity that I have to raise money for sick or underprivileged children, even if I have to get there with my own money, I do it. I believe that being a Christian is the right thing. Bringing it together with poker is also the right thing. I sense what is right in my heart, and I follow my heart.