Johnny Chan is virtually untouchable in poker legend. As one of only two living players to have twice won the World Series of Poker Championship, Chan is recognised as one of the best all-round poker players of all time.
Born in China in 1957, his family moved to Hong Kong in 1962. They then emigrated to the USA, moving to Phoenix, Arizona in 1968, and settling in Houston, Texas five years later. Despite speaking no English when he arrived in America, Chan was expected to move into the family restaurant business upon completing a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. But at the age of 21, Chan dropped out of university to devote himself to his successful poker hobby full time.
Moving to Las Vegas with his new wife in 1978, Chan worked in menial casino and restaurant jobs, promptly blowing all his earning at the tables as he struggled with the discipline he needed to succeed in Las Vegas. Then, in the early 1980s, Chan developed a more professional poker style, and the money and accolades soon started flowing.
His win in the 1983 America's Cup Tournament set him off on a streak on high profile tournament wins, culminating in two consecutive WSOP Championship titles, in 1987 and 1988, and a second place finish to Phil Hellmuth in 1999, when the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jerry Buss, another big time poker player, had promised Chan a NBA Championship ring if he could win 3 in a row.
Induced into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002, Johnny has now won 9 WSOP gold bracelets: the 2 Championships in 1987 and 1988; Limit Holdem in 1985; Seven Card Stud in 1994; Deuce to Seven Draw in 1997; Omaha Pot Limit in 2000; No Limit Holdem and Pot Limit Holdem in 2003; and the match between previous bracelet winners.
Chan himself rates his 1987 WSOP victory as the highlight of his career, when he became renowned for always playing with a "lucky orange" in front of him (he insists he liked the sweet smell to combat the cigarette smoke). But many see his 1988 triumph, when he came back from losing the biggest ever recorded pot in poker history, a whopping $1.2 million, as the finest example of his poker talent.
A very confident player, Chan plays in a recognisable aggressive style, constantly maintaining a bored expression, never showing any signs of stress. His nickname "Orient Express" comes from his fast and aggressive play. When he bets, he bets to win. He's not afraid to bluff a bad hand, and claims, "It doesn't matter if I'm dealt two Aces or a three and a five. In fact, I don't need any cards. I just play the person."
Chan's bullying style continues to frighten players and dealers the world over. He has travelled to Europe and Asia to compete in tournaments and side games, once flying to Paris with a contingent of Las Vegas pros at the request of a dying French billionaire to take part in a fortnight-long poker spree. Chan returned with winnings of around $1million.
No one knows how much Chan has won during his career. Playing many high-staking side games outside tournaments, Chan is reluctant to let the taxman get any where close to the real figure. He will only admit to earning more than $100,000 a year. With a million dollar country club estate in Las Vegas and 4 Mercedes Sedans (one of which has the licence plate spelling out the Full House hand Threes over Jacks which once paid off for him), Chan himself admits that £75,000 a month is not enough to cover his expenses.
Having always fancied himself as an actor, Chan played himself as the best poker player on the world in a cameo role in the Matt Damon movie "Rounders", where Damon describes playing a hand of poker in which he beat Chan. The film also uses actual footage from Chan's 1988 WSOP victory.
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Still playing poker and acting as a consultant to certain casinos today, Chan has made public his aspiration to one day own a casino of his own. He says his early successes came from there being very few Asian poker players in Las Vegas: no one expected him to be very good. Now he is a role model for millions; one who stands out among many other pro poker players for his abstinence from drinking, smoking and womanising.
The man who describes himself as "the coolest poker player you'll ever meet" believes there are only a handful of players who are as talented or successful as he is. There are few who could argue with that.
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