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Terrence Chan has been a big part of the poker world for more than a decade. First as a member of the team that developed PokerStars and later as a high-stakes, heads-up Limit Hold'em specialist. You could say Chan had it made. So why did the 32-year-old from Vancouver, Canada put it all on the line to pursue a career in mixed martial arts? In the latest episode of our poker documentary series Easy Game, we follow Chan in Vancouver to find out.
Man 1: Remember, how you train is going to come out in your fight. Right? Good round. Let's go. Come on.
Terrence: For this kind of thing, something that's just my dream, I don't want to call it a one outer. I don't want to think of it that way and even if it is a one outer, you know, this is what I've decided to do, and I'm just going to work as hard as I can to make it a reality.
Narrator: In the poker world, Terrence Chan is a specialist. Hailed as one of the very best heads-up Limit Hold'em players on the planet, he's been traveling the world and making money in that niche for the better part of the decade. In fact, Terrence was so dominant in that form of poker that there aren't many people left who will even take him on. But a couple of years ago, Terrence decided to give up playing cards professionally to focus on something new, and right now, he's getting ready to enter a world where there's no shortage of opponents looking for action.
Terrence: Renzo Gracie says, "Fighting is the greatest thing a man can have in his soul." Even though it's maybe physically unhealthy to take a lot of blows to the face, it's in a way very spiritually healthy and it really just teaches you a lot about yourself.
Commentator: Nice transition by Terrence Chan. Going from triangle to arm bar, to finish with a tap in the second round.
Fight Announcer: For the winner by submission due to arm bar, Terrence Chan!
Terrence: In the MMA world, I definitely know where I stand on the totem pole and it's near the bottom. I'm the runt. I'm a small guy in addition to just not having the skill and the athleticism of a lot of guys that I trained with or that I've trained with in other gyms. And so, just that fact alone means I get beat up a little bit more often. In the gym, some days it's a lot of fun and some days it's really tough and some days you wish you want to quit, but you put yourself through all those weeks and weeks of misery. And then, you just have this one culminating moment where everything you've done has coalesced into this great thing, and that's a really wonderful feeling to really just build up towards that goal. It's something we don't really have in poker, because you can work as hard as you can but it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to win the tournament or the final table that you've managed to get to.
Adam: I met Terrence in, I want to say in 1998. We were all a bunch of local guys who were playing 10/20 limit holdem at a casino over here called The Holiday Inn, and we were all sort of cutting our teeth at the same time playing this limit holdem game. That was really good. There was four or five tables every night, and here's this tiny little scrawny kid comes walking in one day and sits down and jumps into our game. And right from the get go was a real solid player.
Terrence: Yeah, the poker world was really different back then. In 1999, you could still smoke in the casino. So I would go play at a four-hour session and come back and I would want to burn my clothes and shave off all my hair because everything reeked of smoke. You just had all these characters and I was, by far, the youngest person playing. I mean, I was playing underage.
Adam: It was pretty evident quickly that Terrence wasn't a gambler. He wasn't there to, you know, try and get his gamble fix in, he was there to win money. Period. I remember we used to play this home game at a friend of ours' house here in Vancouver once a week and he came in one day saying that he was, looks like that he might be moving to Costa Rica to go work for PokerStars and we knew right away that PokerStars made a great decision there.
Terrence: Yeah, it was really fun being a part of PokerStars and watching it grow. And I remember the first time PokerStars had like 10,000 simultaneous players, I was in the office in Costa Rica and I kind of printed out the screenshot and every dude was really proud. You know all these kind of moments, like when Chris Moneymaker won the World Series we all just kind of stayed late. Stayed until, like, after midnight watching Chris Moneymaker on the livestream on the World Series. All these things were really cool. I really do enjoy in this kind of the startup aspect of things. Kind of being part of a team in that way.
Yeah, I was working at PokerStars but I was, on my off hours, I was playing party poker sit and goes. And those were really easy to beat back in the day, so I was making, you know, really high hourly compared to my salary at Stars which was good. Leaving PokerStars and starting to play poker for a living wasn't really scary because I was pretty confident in my ability to make a living as a poker player. A lot of my friends had gotten into playing poker for a living and they got to travel and they got to do all this fun stuff. So it wasn't really a monetary decision. It was just a lifestyle decision. You know I wanted to travel. I'd barely traveled at the time despite the fact that I was living in another country, and I wanted to do all that kind of fun stuff and not be beholden into the regular nine to five.
Adam: I think there are a lot of parallels between being a heads up specialist in poker and being a good fighter. He's got such an advantage on somebody coming in that doesn't have that background because you're constantly looking for leaks in the other person's game or mistakes that this guy's making, even if it's a little mistake. If this guy's leaving his arm open, as in Terrence's last fight where the guy left his arm open and grabbed it and boom it was done in a minute.
Terrence: When I was probably around like 27 or 28 I kind of thought, "I'd like to do one fight before I'm 30." I'm in the gym everyday. I'm training hard. I'm working hard but you never really know that much about yourself until you're actually locked in there with another guy who wants to cause you harm.
Chris: Terrence definitely has the competitive drive. I usually roll with him at least twice a week and he doesn't like it when he looses. Let's just leave it at that. The good thing with Terrence is if he does get caught in something not only is he right back at it but he wants to know, "What did I do wrong? How did you get it? Why am I tired and you're not?"
Terrence: I feel like I have a ton of work to make the major leagues or make the UFC and that kind of thing. And that's a distant goal but, I mean, when I started playing poker I never really thought I would be a high limit player either. So maybe you just kind of have to dream big and just hope that the unexpected things can kind of happen. "Is this something you really want to do?" and I've decided, "Yeah, This is something I love to do and that's all the motivation I need."