Johnny moved with his family from Hong Kong to Phoenix and then onto to Houston where his family owned some restaurants. He was expected to continue in the family business, even attending the University of Houston, where is was majoring in hotel and restaurant management. Knowing his yearly salary would only be enough for him to see two cards in a high-stakes poker game, Johnny took on a life detour, as a professional poker player. When he started playing poker, he also was an avid bowler. He used to hide some of his poker escapades by saying he was at the bowling alley.
His first year as a professional gambler was the worst experience in his life, while he learned the ropes, his losses mounted. Other players were drooling at the thought of taking money from this greenhorn from Houston who played like he couldn’t give his cash away fast enough. Chan gambled like a desperate man, chasing his losses and hoping for miracles.
He worked as a chef, dealer and floor manager at casinos to support his gambling habit. He survived just long enough to turn the corner, finally learning when to quit, you can’t win it all at once. Now when his luck started heading south, he’d head for the door. Soon he was taking money from the same players who so gladly accepted his flawed bets and bluffs.
Now Johnny may be poker’s most well known name. He is a legend in the poker world for winning ten World Series of Poker gold bracelets, tied for the most along with Doyle Brunson. But more impressively is that two bracelets were from back to back WSOP Main Events in 1987 and 1988. Amazingly he almost won in 1989 too, but finished second to Phil Hellmuth. He is not only known by poker players, but also by movie goers for playing himself as in Rounders. The movie contained footage of Chan’s victory against Erik Seidel in the 1988 World Series.
Chan is known for keeping a “lucky” orange in front of him on the table, and after the second consecutive WSOP title other players began bringing fruit to the table in hopes of increasing their luck. Chan says he only had an orange with him because of the pleasant scent, as smoking, which was allowed in many tournaments then, bothers him. Chan was once a smoker, but now he neither smokes nor drinks alcohol.
Johnny is also a savvy businessman, owning a fast-food restaurant in the Las Vegas Stratosphere Hotel and consulting for casinos and game makers.
Johnny’s winning WSOP hands:
Frank Henderson had 44, Johnny raised and Frank moved all in. The flop fell 58K helping neither player, and the T on the turn was equally useless. Just when Frank’s small pair looked like they might hold up a 9 came on the river and Johnny was World Champion.
Eric Seidel had Q7, joined Johnny limping to the flop. QT8 came down giving Chan a nutty straight and Eric a pair of Q’s. Johnny bet out and Eric raised, Chan obviously called. A 2 on the turn didn’t change anything, Johnny checked, sensing he was still on a draw Eric moved all in, with the trap set Chan called. The river was inconsequential, 6 came up, Johnny’s flopped straight was the winning hand.
In his own words:
“They didn’t expect a good Asian player. They underestimated me and gave me more action than I deserved. When I bet, I usually have a hand, and they would call me. They wanted to see what I had, just for their own peace of mind. They were throwing money at me.”
“I like to attack, Not too many players try to bluff me. If there’s any bluffing or stealing, I’m going to be the one doing it.”
“I don’t sweat, I’m the coolest poker player you’ll ever meet.”
“I won the case; they made a mistake. I asked the investigator a simple question: ‘How many gamblers do you know that pay any taxes on their winnings? He could not name me more than ten people in the whole country.” (After Chan was audited in 1982)
“If you win a tournament, it’s in USA Today. The world knows what you did. Nobody knows what you win in a side game.”
- 1985 – Limit Holdem
- 1987 – NL Holdem
- 1988 – NL Holdem
- 1994 – Seven-Card Stud
- 1997 – Deuce to Seven Draw
- 2000 – Omaha Pot Limit
- 2003 – NL Holdem
- 2003 – PL Holdem
- The last bracelet Johnny Chan got after the series of heads-up matches between other bracelet winners. Again he was heads-up with Phil Hellmuth. But this time he was the winner.