S.J. poker player wins $1 million pot - Saturday 12th of March 2005

There were cheers for Danny Nguyen at both of San Jose's card clubs this weekend, after the local poker dealer and hometown hero won the $1 million prize in the World Poker Tour's Shooting Star Tournament at the Bay 101 Casino.

``He's just very well-liked. It's nice to have a local guy win,'' explained Ron Castro, a shift manager at the Garden City Casino, where Nguyen has worked as a card dealer for several years.

More than 2,000 players and spectators filled the cavernous Bay 101 club with cheers when Nguyen won the final hand with a pair of threes shortly before 10 p.m. Friday, said Samuel Quinto, Bay 101 tournament director. The hand was good enough to beat Canadian Jay Martens in the final round of the five-day tournament, which drew Hollywood celebrities such as James Woods and Tobey Maguire, as well as poker stars like Greg ``Fossilman'' Raymer and Chris ``Jesus'' Ferguson.

Across town, when his victory was announced on the floor at Garden City, players and club employees gave another round of applause for the easygoing Nguyen, Castro said. They did it again when the day shift manager made a similar announcement Saturday.

``It's like hitting the lottery,'' Castro added. ``It opens a lot of doors for him.''

Nguyen was lying low on Saturday, taking calls from friends but begging off from talking with a reporter. His wife, who also works as a chip runner at Garden City, called in sick Saturday.

Friends say the couple have four children and have lived in the area for years. Nguyen worked at Bay 101 before he moved to Garden City, Quinto said. ``A lot of us know him on a personal level. We've worked with him and seen him play.''

Castro said Nguyen's victory was in keeping with his character. ``He's a good dealer but he'd rather play than deal. And he's not afraid to play high on a limited bankroll.''

After his victory Friday night, the normally low-key Nguyen was buying drinks for friends at the Bay 101 bar. Quinto said he indicated that he'll probably leave his job, at least temporarily, to play on the tournament circuit.

The Shooting Star tournament will be televised in June, and that could bring Nguyen more attention and even some endorsement offers, Quinto added.

Having a dealer from the area win was all the sweeter for fans, Castro said. Quinto agreed, before excusing himself to go back to work. Bay 101 was hosting another tournament for professional poker players Saturday. The winner was expected to earn a $225,000 purse.

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