About Johnny Chan
On any given day you can walk into the Bellagio in Las Vegas and see some of the world's best poker players in the "Big Game," including Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Jennifer Harman, Barry Greenstein and more. Among them, you may even recognize one of poker's first super stars, Johnny Chan.
Tossing around thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars is nothing for Chan. He's made more than $5 million dollars in tournament winnings in addition to the money he makes in cash games.
Like most poker players though, Chan had to work to get to that point. As an immigrant from China, life wasn't always so easy for him, and poker wasn't a path his family wanted him to take.
He grew up modestly in Canton, China, until the age of six when his family immigrated to Hong Kong. Four years later, the family made the move across the Pacific to America. First the family settled in Phoenix and then in Houston where they started up a restaurant business.
Chan didn't speak much English when he first came to the United States and had to try to pick it up along the way as he attended school and acclimated to the American culture. One American pastime he did learn quickly was bowling. When he wasn't helping out in the family restaurant, he was at the bowling alley throwing strike after strike.
It was at the bowling alley he discovered poker, which turned into his real passion. He started out in nickel and dime games with friends, which quickly turned into much bigger money as he joined in the underground game at his family's restaurant. However, once he started winning too much too often, he was kicked out of the game.
At 16, Chan decided to try his luck at the card tables in Vegas. He took $500 and sat down illegally at a poker table and turned it into $20,000 in one night. In what became a regular pattern for Chan during his early poker career, he turned around and lost the whole bankroll the following night.
Instead of jumping right into a poker career, Chan eventually went to college in Houston and studied hotel and restaurant management in order to take over the family business someday. The poker bug had taken hold, though, and at 21, he quit school early and moved to Vegas to pursue a poker career.
His play had its highs and lows in those early years. Chan went through periods where he'd have to pick up a temporary job or hawk his possessions to keep going, but he was determined to make it big in the poker world. Doyle Brunson once said about the "hot-headed kid" that he had talent but "he didn't know when to keep his temper under control or know when to quit playing."
One thing Chan had on his side - besides that talent - was his Asian ethnicity. He went to Vegas during a time when there weren't many Asian players trying to make it big with poker. He said people would underestimate him and even call a bet just to see what he had, assuming he wasn't that great a player.
By 1982, something had clicked for Chan. He gave up his four-pack-a-day smoking habit, started exercising and eating healthier, and his play began to improve. That was the year he entered The America's Cup of Poker in Las Vegas and earned the nickname "The Orient Express" from Bob Stupak after knocking out 13 of 16 players in a little more than 30 minutes.
He went on to win the tournament and since then has won a record 10 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, two of which were from back-to-back Main Event wins in '87 and '88. He would have made it three Main Event wins in a row in 1989 if it hadn't been for then newcomer Phil Hellmuth. Chan blamed fatigue and overplaying his final hand, an A-7, for his second place finish.
In 2002, Chan got his chance to prove his talent against Hellmuth. The $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em event of the WSOP came down to the two again, this time with Chan coming out on top to win his seventh bracelet.
His WSOP wins also made his trademark orange famous. Chan liked to bring an orange to the poker table as an air freshener back in the day when smoking was still permitted inside the casinos. Since the rules have changed, the orange has gone from a practical accessory to a lucky charm that Chan always has at the table with him during tournaments.
Chan was one of the most well-known players during those days and is still considered to be one of the most well-rounded poker players in the game; his tournament wins are not only in Texas Hold'em events, but also in Omaha and Draw poker.
An event that helped propel him even further into the spotlight was the movie Rounders, in which he made a cameo and appeared in footage from his 1988 win in the WSOP Main Event over Erik Seidel.
Chan was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002 and continues to make his mark in the poker world. He's been competing in the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament in Las Vegas, mentored 2006 WSOP Champion Jamie Gold, and even made a final table in a 2006 WSOP event, proving he's still a threat for another bracelet, or perhaps many more bracelets.
According to his Web site, Chan's ultimate goal is to open up a casino of his own to manage. Chan has already proven he has the drive to do anything he puts his mind to, so perhaps people will one day be heading to Vegas to the Big Orange Hotel and Casino to watch some of the world's biggest poker players in the Johnny Chan Poker Invitational.
He used to be very weak at Limit poker, but he improved his Limit game significantly in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is probably surprising that I listed Pot-Limit Omaha as his best game, but I am going by results, and his best results over the last few years in side games (and even in the WSOP) have been in Pot-Limit Omaha.
Once he said to me, "I've never lost more than two hands with the same deck and I've never lost more than three hands with the same dealer."