|Johnny Chan was born in 1957
in Canton China. At the age of
6 his family moved to Phoenix
Arizona. Chan could not speak
a lick of English and was
teased a great deal as a child
because he did not understand
Johnny Chan was born in 1957 in Canton China. At the age of 6 his family
moved to Phoenix Arizona. Chan could not speak a lick of English and was
teased a great deal as a child because he did not understand the language.
The Chan family decided to move to Houston when Johnny was 12. His father
owned a restaurant there and Johnny worked in till he was 21. Chan’s father
wanted him to continue the family business but Johnny had other plans. But
lets not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
Being a young Asian boy in Houston Chan had a hard time. Chan found his
calling in his late teenage years but it was bowling not Poker that Chan
enjoyed more than anything. He would play poker when he was not bowling.
One night at his father’s restaurant he was playing nickel/dime/quarter poker
with some friends when an air conditioning repairman asked him if he would
like to sit in a different game. Chan asked what it would take to play and the
man responded $300 to $500. Chan sat and won a little over 1k. He began
winning every week until they told him they where canceling the game. Out
of curiosity Chan went by the game on the respective night and all the
normal cars where in the parking lot. Chan had been ousted because of his
When Chan was only 16 years old he made his first trip to Vegas where he
illegally sat with $500. In one night he had turned his $500 into a little over
20k. However, he lost it all the very next night.
At his fathers request Chan enrolled into the University of Houston to get a
degree in hotel and restaurant management. Chan attended for short time
then decided he needed action and a 30k a year job just would not cut it.
So in 1978 Johnny moved to Vegas. He started playing at the $3 tables
because he only had a $120 bankroll. In those days Johnny was not a great
player. He held Casino Jobs so that he could play in the games. He even
hocked off much of his jewelry and positions so he could play. Doyle Bronson
says “Johnny was a hot headed kid with some talent. But he couldn’t keep
his temper under control on know when to quite playing”. Chan continued to
be the “Fish of Las Vegas” until his son Jason was born in the early 80s.
Chan who used to smoke upwards of 4 packs of cigarettes a day quit
smoking, started exercising, eating right and started playing right too. To
help detour the smell of cigarettes Chan decided to bring an orange with him
to the poker table. “I like that smell much better than cigarettes” says Chan.
It has become his trademark at the table.
Still relatively unknown on the tournament trail Chan entered into Bob Stupak’
s(owner and founder of Las Vegas’s Stratosphere where Johnny now owns a
restaurant) America’s cup tournament. Towards the end of the tournament
Chan knocked out 13 of the final 16 players in a little over 30 minutes. He
was quickly nicknamed “The Orient Express”.
Chan was the first great Asian poker player. Since he broke into the game
there has been a huge influx of great Asian players. There is over 50 Asian
pro’s on the pro tournament circuit today.
Chan’s playing style is extremely aggressive. He has been called a bully at
the table more than once. It has served him well. In 1987 he won the main
event at the World series of poker. Then one year latter he came back and
successfully defended his title. Poker enthusiast and Lakers Owner Jerry
West was so impressed with Chan’s performances that he promised if Chan
had a three-peat he would give him a NBA championship ring. Amazingly
Chan almost did it. In 1989 Chan found himself heads up at the final table
against a relatively unknown punk kid named Phil Helmuth. Chan lost and the
rest as they say is History.
Chan’s 1988 victory over Erik Siedel was immortalized in the Matt Damon, Ed
Norton Movie “Rounders”. Johnny even had a cameo appearance where Mike
McDermott(Matt Damon’s Character) sits down at a 300-600 Holdem game
with Chan. Mike plays tight and decides to bluff Chan on one hand and does
so successfully. However, The editors cut out Chan’s famous line after Mike
takes it down.
Chan asks “Did you have it”.
Mike answers “Sorry John I don’t remember”
Edited out Chan Answers “What’s yours is yours”
When asked about his tournament performances over the past few years
Chan says “Tournaments are for people who want to be a celebrity, I am
already a celebrity. I make my money in the ring games.” Chan is not very
modest. When asked about Amarillo Slim Preston (the 1972 winner of the
WSOP) Chan replied “He won’t even sit with me, I would eat him alive”.
How much money he make? Chan declined to answer stating “The tax
collectors don’t need to know how much I make”. Chan is a fan of the finer
things in life. He has 3 Mercedes’, one red convertible with a license plate
reading 333JJ (One of Chan’s big winning hands). He has a million dollar
country club ranch in Las Vegas and likes to sport nice clothes and jewelry
including a $15,000 Watch. After winning 75k in one session Chan said “This
doesn’t even cover my monthly expenses”.
Chan’s lifelong goal is to own his own Casino. He is well on his way. Including
owning his own restaurant in the Stratosphere he has worked as a floor man
and pit boss. Chan says he knows everything about running a casino. Most
recently he has served as a poker room expert at Ft McDowell Casino just
outside of Phoenix. As part of his job he plays tournament winners heads up.
The first time he did this he beat the player in less than 10 minutes.
Johnny is a true legend of the game. His playing style was revolutionary and
he continues to win consistently; even if it’s not on ESPN.
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