Johnny Chan

With 10 World Series of Poker bracelets, 43 money finishes, 27 final tables and earnings over $8,500,000, only a handful of people can rival the poker record of this legend. Probably the first player with Asian ethnicity to make it big in poker, Johnny Chan or ‘the Orient Express’ is one of the first super starts of poker. He is often found tossing thousands and from time to time even hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas.chan

Early Years

Chan was born in 1957 in Guangzhou (also called Canton), China. When Chan was 5, the family moved to Hong Kong. A few years later in 1968 they moved to the city of Phoenix in Arizona. Finally, the family settled in Houston, Texas in 1973, where they opened a restaurant called Hoe Sai Gai or ‘The Great Whirl’. When not helping at the restaurant, Chan could often be found at either a bowling alley or playing chess. Chan and his family thought that the family restaurant would be his future, but a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada changed all that.

Entry into the World of Poker

Chan was introduced to poker by customers at his restaurant. Playing at a number of places around Houston helped him hone his poker skills. But as he started earning large amounts regularly, he was kicked out of the local games.

At the age of 16, Chan visited Las Vegas for the first time. He ended up losing all of his $2,500 bankroll in craps and blackjack. As he walked towards downtown Vegas, he entered the Golden Nugget Casino and noticed people playing poker. Chan sold his gold chain for $120 and took a $200 limit credit card. Within a week, the teenager was able to convert this $320 into $30,000. But winning and losing his bankroll became a regular pattern during Chan’s early years as a poker player.

Chan didn’t jump into a poker career immediately. He returned to Houston and continued working at the family restaurant. He went on to study hotel management to take over the restaurant. But he couldn’t get rid of his love for poker. At the age of 21, Chan decided to pursue his dream and quit school for a career in professional poker. His early years in Vegas were not easy. He often had to give away his possessions or take up a temporary job to keep going.

Apart from his talent, his Asian ethnicity also worked in his favor as many players tended to underestimate him. 1982 was a turning point in Chan’s career. His game improved as he started eating healthy, exercising and gave up his four-packs-a-day smoking habit. This was also the year when he earned the title of ‘the Orient Express’ from Bob Stupak, as he took less than 30 minutes to knock out 13 of the 16 players in the America’s Cup of Poker.

WSOP Bracelets

Chan has won an astounding 10 WSOP bracelets. These were won in years 1985, 1987, 1988, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003 and the 10th in 2005. He shot to fame with back-to-back world championship main event wins in years 1987 and 1988. His plans of a 3rd consecutive win were foiled by a young and then unknown Phil Hellmuth. As his wins have come from different events like Omaha, Texas Hold’em and Draw poker, Chan is known as one of the most well-rounded professional poker players. In year 2002, he was honored with a place in the Poker Hall of Fame.

Chan also took part in the Poker Superstars tournament to finish 2nd behind Gus Hansen. In Poker Superstars II, he got the better of Todd Brunson to win the first prize. However, in Poker Superstars III, Todd Brunson outdid him and Chan was out in the semi finals. Chan has also appeared on NBC’s Poker After dark.

Lesser Known Facts

In earlier days, when smoking was allowed inside casinos, Chan used to bring an orange with him to freshen up the room. Although now smoking is not permitted, the orange has become a lucky charm and his trademark at the WSOP. He owns totally six houses.

Chan appeared in the movie ‘Rounders’ with actor Matt Damon. He is highly superstitious and insists on a deck change after losing a hand. He wears a diamond rattlesnake ring. He has authored books titled ‘Play Poker like Johnny Chan’ and ‘Million Dollar Hold’em: Winning Big in Limit Cash Games’. He dreams of opening his own casino some day.

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