Johnny Chan, Poker Player Biography
by Jennifer Newell
Johnny Chan was born in 1957 in Guangzhou, China. His family decided to emigrate in 1962, first heading to Hong Kong where they lived for six years and then to the United States in 1968. His first American home was in Phoenix, Arizona, but the family then traveled to Houston, Texas, where they opened several restaurants.
Chan was supposed to follow his family's footsteps and maintain the family businesses, but he was interested in poker and began to spend his spare time playing small games with older and more experienced players at the local bowling alley, before he was old enough to play in casinos. He then started underground poker games in the basement of his father's restaurant, but those ended when he became too skilled and others did not want to lose their money to him anymore. Though he pursued his education at the University of Houston, majoring in hotel and restaurant management, his heart was at the poker tables, and he eventually quit school to move to Las Vegas and compete for a living.
His first years in Vegas were rough ones, as he lost his bankroll and had to sell his jewelry and some of his possessions to continue playing. But he eventually quit smoking, got healthy, and concentrated very heavily on improving his game on a level that made him a winning player in the poker capital of the world at that time. It was actually then that his tradition of bringing an orange to the tables began, as the scent of the orange overshadowed that of smoke in the poker rooms.
Chan's first noted win was in 1982, when he claimed victory in a $10,000 buy-in championship event at the America's Cup of Poker in Las Vegas. It was during that tournament that he gained his nickname "Orient Express" by eliminating 13 of the 16 players in the tournament in less than an hour. He won the same event the following year as well and began to rack up other tournament wins, such as at the Grand Prix of Poker and Amarillo Slim's Superbowl of Poker. But the most well-known of his accomplishments began with a simple final table finish in the 1983 World Series of Poker Match Play event. That fourth place WSOP cash wasn't huge, but it led him back to the WSOP to try again, and in 1985, he won his first bracelet in a $1K limit hold'em event, and it was worth his biggest payday to date of $171K.
It was only the beginning. Chan took his game to a new level in 1987 when he won the $10K buy-in NLHE World Championship tournament at the WSOP, for which he collected $625,000 and the most prestigious title in all of poker. His run then continued into the next year, when he won the WSOP Main Event again for $700K, this time becoming one of only a few players to win them consecutively and remaining to this day the last one to do so. He looked to then collect his third title in 1989, with even an NBC championship ring on the line that Los Angeles Lakers Jerry Buss promised should Chan win his third title in a row, but Chan ended up losing that Main Event in the heads-up battle with Phil Hellmuth.
Chan's next significant win came at the 1994 WSOP, where he won a bracelet in a stud event and finished second in a deuce-to-seven draw tournament, showing more of his diversity as a player and proving to be one of the most feared player in any live poker tournament. In 1997, he did win the deuce-to-seven tournament at the Series, then added WSOP wins in PLO in 2000, Match Play in 2002, two wins - one in NLHE and the other in PLO - in 2003, and one in pot-limit hold'em in 2005. With that, he was up to ten, which is a big piece of poker history to this day, as only Doyle Brunson holds ten and Phil Hellmuth holds 11.
Other strong finishes, such as several on the World Poker Tour, have not gone unnoticed, nor have his several Poker After Dark victories, or deep runs on the Asian Poker Tour and PokerStars.net Asia Pacific Poker Tour.
Chan has become somewhat of an icon in the poker industry, as he was immortalized in the movie "Rounders" for his 1988 WSOP Main Event win over Erik Seidel and proved himself to be a lasting figure with consistent successes at the poker tables. His significance was solidified with a 2002 induction to the Poker Hall of Fame. But beyond the tables, Chan has been an entrepreneur who counts among his successes the 2005 book "Play Poker Like Johnny Chan," the 2006 book "Million Dollar Hold'em," and the 2007 online poker venture that was Chan Poker. He has shared many of his poker insights through columns in poker magazines, and he even appeared in a 2009 Hong Kong poker movie called "Poker King" as himself. He also has a stake in the All-In Energy Drink company that has been a staple at the WSOP for several years. And with a mind that is always filled with new ideas, including a long-standing one to open his own casino, Chan's name may continue to dominate in the gaming world as it has at the poker tables.
Read Johnny Chan's Profile for more information including his tournament results and total winnings.
Jennifer Newell is a freelance writer, originally from St. Louis but now living in Los Angeles. She fell in love with poker while working at WPT and began writing about it in 2005.