Especially afraid of professional player Lee Watkinson

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"I knew that if I could just play my best I would have a good shot at the title."

Once he landed in the finals, Yang was nervous, he said, and especially afraid of professional player Lee Watkinson, who placed eighth.

"I went heads up with him and knocked him out, and that relieved me tremendously," said Yang, who stressed that the players were quiet but friendly, "not bullies or anything."

From his winnings, Yang has pledged nearly $900,000 to be shared by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children and the Ronald McDonald House Charities in memory of his own difficult childhood. Raised poor in the Laos countryside, Yang and his family fled the Communist takeover in the mid-1970s and spent five years in a Thai refugee camp, where Yang suffered malnutrition. At age 13, Yang went to Nashville, Tenn., then moved to California in 1982. "I grew up with nothing. I understand what poor kids are going through," Yang said. "I wanted to be a doctor because of all the suffering I've been through." Yang moved to Temecula several years ago and works with foster children through a Moreno Valley agency.

He wants to get more involved with charities, once he decides whether or not he'll keep working. But first, Yang is preparing his return to the poker series.

"Any champ would love to defend his title," Yang said. "I will continue to support poker -- there's a lot of good that comes out of it in helping other people."


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