It’s a dream scenario for most poker players.
Thai Ha was in Day 2 at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) Main Event in January in the Bahamas. Things were going well, but he was running a bit late. The line to get coffee was long and took more time than expected.
The Platinum Pass was relatively new at the time, but despite being late, Ha was in luck. His table was selected at random to draw for a pass. Players and media surrounded his table as he tried to make his way to his seat. The flop was dealt, and Mike Leah looked to be ahead with a pair of tens after the flop.
A player to Ha’s left, however, flipped over Ha’s cards as he still wasn’t seated. The result?
“It’s me,” Ha shouted, as he made his way to the table. “Wow!”
That final card had been another 8 and Ha had made trips.
The 27-year-old from Philadelphia has been playing poker professionally for the past five years and had secured a $30,000 Platinum Pass. The prize includes a $25,000 buy-in to the PokerStars Players NL Hold’em Championship at the PCA in January, six nights’ accommodation at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and travel expenses.
There was a round of applause as he finally made it to his seat and claimed his new prize.
“I was very surprised,” he said of the win. “I don’t think I’ve ever won anything similar to that. All my friends said I’m the lucky one.”
Move to the U.S. life-changing
After growing up in Hanoi, Vietnam, Ha came to the United States at 17 for his high school and college education. He attended Keystone College and majored in accounting.
Beyond poker, Ha also taps his business knowledge for investing. That includes the Hidden Gem Cafe, which he opened with a friend he met at the poker table. The restaurant, which is located in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia, serves Hong Kong-style Chinese cuisine and has received nice reviews.
Ha hopes to parlay his poker winnings into other successful ventures and also invests some in cryptocurrency. He credits his move to the states as life-changing.
“I love living here,” he said. “It has given me so many opportunities to be successful.”
Ha still has family back in Vietnam.
Like many players, college was a training ground at the poker table for Ha. That first year, he and some friends would throw parties regularly and bust out the poker chips.
Never had he took the game seriously, but that changed when he turned 21. Ha began playing more live cash games and found he had some skill at the table.
What does he like most about the game? The math. A fitting answer for a trained accountant. But Ha said he also enjoys the psychology and decision-making based on particular situations – and the cash is nice, too.
“I missed the online poker boom,” he said. “By the time I started playing seriously, I had to play online on offshore sites. I always think of myself as a quick thinker, and of course, playing card games for money is always fun.”
The life poker allows him to live
At the tables, Ha is no slouch with more than $900,000 in live tournament winnings. That total includes several nice amounts of cash at casinos in the northeast including the Parx and Borgata.
After college, he took a job as an accountant for a small business but hated it.
While he still wasn’t that great a player yet, Ha decided to play an event at the Borgata. He won the competition and took home $15,000. That job was soon in the rear-view mirror, and he began playing US poker full-time.
His biggest win came in 2016.
Partaking in the Lucky Hearts Poker Open at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla., in a $350 No Limit Hold’em event, Ha took home the title for $230,422.
Outside of poker, Ha’s hobbies include playing games in general, and he spends much of his free time reading books or watching his favorite TV shows.
The Platinum Pass also allows Ha to partake in one more of his interests: chilling at the beach. While he plans on bringing some serious poker game to the Atlantis, Ha has no plans only to stay indoors catching cards and betting chips. The white sands of Caribbean await and he plans on having plenty of fun on this poker vacation.
“I’ll try to play as much as I can during my stay in the Bahamas, but I’m also going to enjoy the beach and activities,” he said.
When the Players Championship gets underway, however, Ha will be looking for a deep run. Either way though, he’s thankful for the life poker allows him to live.
“Poker has given me so many opportunities including the freedom to do what I want and love,” he said.
“I have money to invest because of poker. I don’t have to work a 9-to-5 job also because of poker. It has definitely given me a choice to find what I want to do in life.”
He added, “I’m just a kid with a dream.”