• Name: Kido Pham
• Current Residence: Garland, Texas
• Birth Date: February 6, 1972
• Birth Place: Vietnam
Mention Kido Pham’s name in front of many poker fans and be prepared for violence.
The Vietnamese-American professional poker player has been dragged through the mud on several Internet poker forums ever since he turned pro in 2004; however, his super-aggressive poker strategies and a number of highly questionable moves that have served to outrage millions of armchair rounders.
The results, however, speak for themselves.
Pham is a successful businessman-turned-pro with over $1 million in total tournament earnings, a self-educated rising star whose maniacal style of play has earned the admiration of pros like Daniel Negreanu.
Thang “Kido” Pham was born on February 6, 1972, in Vietnam.
At the age of eight, Kido and his family fled Southeast Asia in favor of a new life in the United States.
After a harrowing journey that involved transiting the South China Sea in a tiny wooden boat, the Phams would make it to America and eventually settle in Dallas.
It was there Kido started playing poker during his 20s, and managed to develop his poker tricks in some home’s poker games despite his family’s misgivings.
As his talent and experience grew, Kido began playing at higher and higher stakes while his conservative Vietnamese family looked on with disapproval.
After 10 years of play marked by steady improvement, Pham was ready to take his game professional.
His wife, however, had reservations.
So as Pham made plans to fly to Las Vegas for the World Poker Tour’s Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship in October 2004, he told his wife he was simply taking a business trip.
Then he holed up at the poker tables at Bellagio and walked away with a second-place finish in the main event, a cash worth almost $500,000.
Besides the controversy Pham no doubt created in his household when he returned home with a check worth $496,000 – quite the haul for a “business trip” – the newest face on the poker scene also made waves with his cocky demeanor and unusual play.
The source of contention was Pham’s play at the final table, which included Carlos Mortensen, as well as David “The Dragon” Pham (no relation), Erik Seidel and John Juanda.
Despite finding himself in the presence of such poker royalty, Pham refused to be intimidated.
On one memorable occasion, after being forced out of a hand by a large re-raise from the brassy young amateur, “The Matador” asked Pham what he had.
Instead of naming his cards, Pham reached over and drew a heart outline on Mortensen’s chest – explaining to the 2001 WORLD SERIES OF POKER (WSOP) Main Event champion that the cards don’t matter, so long as you have heart.
It was an audacious way to introduce himself to the poker community, but Pham wasn’t done yet.
By the time the table was reduced to three-handed play, Kido was ready to set the poker world aflame with the first in a series of increasingly more unbelievable plays.
Mortensen held a commanding chip lead, with around $5 million in chips to Kido’s $900,000 and David Pham’s $150,000.
With blinds at $80,000/$160,000, The Dragon was clinging to his tournament life and would be put all-in by the big blind in the next round of play.
For now, however, David Pham was on the button and Kido – who calls himself “Freeroll” because of the strife he dealt with while fleeing Vietnam – was in the big blind. The Dragon decided to postpone the inevitable and laid down his hand, while the Matador took full advantage of his big-stack status and raised all-in from the small blind.
Kido Pham looked down at pocket tens, and, shockingly, made the call.
With second place paying $500,000 and third place only $250,000, it was a quarter-of-a-million-dollar gamble that has been derided by bloggers and pundits alike, and the fact Pham managed to escape unscathed served only to further infuriate the masses.
Despite the fact Mortensen would eventually go on to win the poker tournament, Pham’s mystifying call would continue to inspire debate long after the event concluded.
By 2005, Kido Pham was building on his impressive initiation to tournament poker, logging a fourth-place finish for $182,964 at the WPT’s Mirage Poker Showdown in May (Season 4) and playing in the Paris/Bally’s WORLD SERIES OF POKER (WSOP) Circuit event in November of that year.
Wearing the colors of Team Bodog.com at the urging of his friend and fellow Dallas professional David Williams, Pham arrived ready for action and hungry for that first big victory, unaware his play in this event would increase his notoriety (and his bankroll) dramatically by the time the last card was dealt.
Again, it was a crucial final-table hand that would add to the legend.
With five players remaining and the blinds at $3,000/$6,000, Pham re-raised a J.C. Tran opener to $50,000 and chip leader and defending WORLD SERIES OF POKER (WSOP) Champion Joseph Hachem came over the top for another $100,000.
Tran got out of the way and Pham moved all-in for another $140,000. Hachem insta-called with pocket kings, and Pham turned over… JTo?!
It looked like the worst move in poker history and it may well have been, except for the fact the ensuing flop came #Js-#Jh-#2s, dealing a huge punch in the stomach to Joseph Hachem and all but giving the hand to Pham.
Two blanks finished out the board and “Freeroll” Pham suddenly found himself the chip leader by a mile.
Hachem would hit the rail a few hands later, and Pham would proceed to defeat friend J.C. Tran in heads-up play a few hours down the road to take first place and the accompanying $453,456.
Pham’s wacky play has become his trademark in the poker world.
Despite his relatively short history as a tournament professional, the television exposure his play has received has garnered him far more attention than the average poker player.
Most of the fan reaction to Kido Pham’s play has been intense and near-vitriolic, but “Freeroll” can rest assured he does have a fan in Daniel Negreanu.
Of facing Pham in a tournament, Negreanu writes in his blog, “There was only one player at my table who posed any threat; all the other players obviously read too many books on ‘proper play.’ Kido Pham didn’t read any books.
“Kido Pham had raw talent and honed his skills playing in private games in Dallas.
I had watched him earlier in the year at a final table against my good buddy Carlos Mortensen when Kido finished second, and I was wary of him – as he was very tricky.”
Tricky indeed – and successful.
Pham followed up his big win at the Paris/Bally’s WORLD SERIES OF POKER (WSOP)C event with a fourth-place finish in the $7,500 Heads-Up No Limit Showdown at the Mirage in May 2006, and an eighth-place finish in the Tournament of Champions freeroll at that summer’s World Series of Poker.
By the end of 2006 his total tournament earnings had reached $1.2 million – a satisfying haul for just over two years of professional play.
These days, Pham continues to balance his life as a tournament pro with his life back home in Dallas, where he and his wife split the duties of raising their two children, one of whom suffers from autism.
His family’s initial reservations about his decision to play poker tournament have all but evaporated, and Pham has always made sure to credit his wife for much of his success.
When he’s not playing poker, Pham spends time with his family or continues to build on his “other” career – as owner/manager of several dental clinics in Dallas.
His wife, a dentist, operates her practice out of one of Pham’s clinics, making for useful teamwork that no doubt inspires some debate about who is the real “boss” of the family.
Thanks to the increased television coverage that has to a large extent fueled poker’s explosion in popularity, millions of poker fans around the world can debate whether Kido Pham is a poker mastermind or a raving lunatic.
And thanks to Kido Pham and his oddball decisions, TV producers and tournament officials can be assured those millions of fans will tune in every week just to see what “Freeroll” does next.
It’s a symbiotic relationship that practically ensures that even though Kido Pham may not be a household name just yet, if he continues to find success with his super-aggressive style and maniac table image, poker stardom will come knocking soon enough.
• Owns several Dallas-area dental offices, including his wife’s practice
• Finished second to Carlos Mortensen at WPT Season 3 Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship
• Won Paris/Bally’s World Series of Poker Circuit Event in November 2005