By Michael Iverson
The leaves are starting to turn and the temperatures are starting to drop. If you have lived in the Midwest long enough you know that summer is officially over. I often find myself in a trance when driving through the country watching the colors change from tree to tree.
Poker can be eerily similar to the changing seasons.
We always see the rise of players, only to never hear of them again, whether they fall on hard times, a bad run of cards or they simply move on to bigger and better things. However, if you have played in the Midwest long enough you can encounter that stubborn tree, the one that never goes away. The leaves are changing year after year but this particular tree is always around and it’s about time this player is recognized by the community for what he truly is, a living legend in the state of Minnesota.
Kou Vang: A Hall of Famer in My Book
Kou Vang’s name is mentioned every year in early to late September as we gear up for the Fall Poker Classic at Canterbury Park.
Not only is this tournament series a staple for the poker community in the region, but it is also when the unveiling of the newest member of the Poker Hall of Fame is decided. The poker community throws names around like Bryan Mileski (Mid-States Poker Tour founder), Rob Waz Waz and even some of the cash game greats like Brian Clark or John Hoppmann.
I truly believe that some of these if not all of these players/ambassadors of the game will eventually get the recognition they deserve, but this year my nomination for the Hall of Fame would have to go to Vang.
Vang has managed to amass $1,431,308 in career live winnings over a series of 166 cashes, spanning a period of roughly 12 years, according to Hendon Mob. Some might look at that and not understand how amazing those numbers are in the Midwest, so let’s dive into them a little.
The winnings equate to $120,000 on average per year over the course of 13 cashes or roughly $9,000 per cash. Considering that most of the tournaments offered in the Midwest are mid- to low-stakes tournaments, the numbers become more impressive.
Looking at the numbers further as far as tournament play goes, Kou is a regular on the MSPT and was recognized during the Regional event at Canterbury Park in early August. Kou Vang was the first player to meet the criteria to be inducted into the MSPT Hall of Fame, which I can assure you is no easy task. The MSPT in my opinion is the premier tour in the area as it has consistently exceeded its guarantees and the staff that runs the tour (Bryan Mileski, Eric Anderson and Chad Holloway to recognize a few its employees) are top notch.
Not only did Vang receive the HOF honor in August, he followed that up by making the final table of the next Main Event at Canterbury, finishing runner up to three-time champion and current Hall of Fame member, Mr. Blake Bohn.
Is it a coincidence the same people are constantly putting themselves in position to not only cash but to win events (Vang, Bohn, Rich Alsup, Aaron Johnson to name a few)? This is how greatness is established, surviving the test of time and being in these spots over and over again.
An Ambassador of the Game
Besides the numerous accolades that Kou is starting to receive for his consistent play over the years he has also been a great ambassador for the game. If you follow Kou on Twitter, although he does not tweet as much as he use to he will always voice his opinion to improve the game.
A constant debate in the community is structures and payouts for tournaments. Kou has never been shy to offer his time to discuss the issues with management at local establishments in an effort to have a voice for the players. It is not to say that I don’t think management would listen to me. But let’s be honest, are you going to listen to a guy that plays 15 tournaments a year or are you going to listen to a guy that plays every major event that comes through the area?
It can be difficult to be an “ambassador” of the game. However, I think Kou does a great job promoting positive changes. In addition, Kou will always take the time to talk to the local players.
At the Table with Vang
I remember the first time I played with Kou at a an event and although he did not know who I was I was very much aware of his reputation.
He took the time to compliment a few of my plays and although I did not cash and I could have been just another “Joe” I often found myself at his table and in discussion with him from that point forward.
I will admit I have been fortunate to be on the right side of some coolers against him, such as the good old AA vs. KK, but those situations have also kept the dialogue going between Kou and me.
I have been down at Council Bluffs and he would always chat with me on a break, I’ve been on the dinner break of Canterbury events and he has invited me to sit by him to eat. Heck, he even free rolled me into an MSPT event, as someone that has only played a handful of the main events that opportunity will be embedded with me forever.
Similar to how Bohn put a kid into the Canterbury event, am I the only one that thinks about karma (Blake won the event!). These are things that cannot go over looked. The main players find themselves in the spotlight and doing the “right” thing or making someone else’s day. Kou is one of those guys!
Hall of Fame Nomination
In reading this you might be wondering what does this have to do with a Hall of Fame nomination. Well, the way I see the Hall of Fame is your character and conduct away from the table should be factored in besides your play at the table. Kou could have done those things for someone else or did do the same thing for someone else; the reality is he did it for me.
I am choosing to be a voice for a humbled person that is not out promoting himself as none of the greats ever do that. The greats need people to speak up and offer opinions or information the decision makers may not know. It is not to say that other candidates do not have similar accolades and that is what makes voting for the Hall of Fame so difficult.
I know that Kou will get into the Hall of Fame someday, but my hope is that “someday” is approaching very soon. I do not benefit in anyway by writing about these players or sharing my thoughts, but as a fan of the game I do like to recognize the “idols” as I see them.
Is this Kou’s year, only time will tell. My guess is whether he gets in this year or next year, you will still see him at the table and maybe, just maybe you will get a smirk or a quick glance from him as he is methodically analyzing the hand and how to accumulate all of your chips.
Please note, this article doesn’t even discuss Kou’s online poker achievements as those accomplishments and success would only improve his case to get into the HOF.
Michael Iverson is a recreational poker player who primarily plays 8/16 and 20/40 Hold’em along with multi-table tournaments at Canterbury Park. He is a contract manager in the legal department at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Michael lives in Stewartville, Minn., with his wife, Andrea and three children Gavin (9), Mackenzie (8) and Blake (4).