Xao Jerry Yang

At the 2007 World Series of Poker (WSOP), a 39-year-old social worker and psychologist from southern California walked away $8.25 million richer. His name was Xao “Jerry” Yang.

Jerry Yang started playing poker only two years before his surprise win, in which he beat over 6,000 other serious poker players. He earned a place in the tournament by winning a satellite competition worth US$225 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in his home town of Temecula in southern California.

Jerry Yang reveals the tactic he employed in order to clinch the title: “I study my opponents very carefully, and when I sensed something, when I sensed some weakness, I took a chance. Even if I had nothing, I decided to raise, re-raise, push all-in or make a call….The only way that I could win this tournament was by being aggressive from the very beginning and that’s exactly what I did. And thank God I was also able to pick up some good cards at the same time.”

Despite such a short history of playing professional poker, Jerry Yang has been ranked 11th based on all-time earnings from live tournaments.

Nicknamed “The Shadow,” Jerry Yang is an ethnic Hmong who left Laos with his family in the 1970s. They sought refuge for a few years in Thailand before moving to the United States in 1979. He has a Master’s degree in health psychology and has worked as a social worker and therapist.

Jerry Yang has pledged to donate at least 10% of his takings to his favoured charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children, and the Ronald McDonald House.