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American pop culture was introduced to Johnny Chan in the poker cult favorite movie Rounders. The back-to-back Main Event Champion was a technical advisor on the film but only agreed to do the movie if he could a cameo. Chan, Doyle Brunson, and Phil Hellmuth are locked in a competitive, but friendly, career bracelet race. Chan was the first to ten bracelets, one of three players to win back-to-back Main Events, is near the top of the all time WSOP money list and all time money finishes.
Chan’s family immigrated to Hong Kong in the mid 60s before his family came to America in 1968 settling in Phoenix. After five years the family moved to Houston where they owned several restaurants. Chan learned to play poker in the back rooms and basements of his family’s restaurants.
Chan was sixteen and armed with a fake ID and had $500 in his pocket for his first trip to Las Vegas. He got his taste for poker and the seed was planted. Chan turned his $500 into $20,000 in the first night he was there. Like many young gamblers that aren’t ready for the massive swings, he lost it all the next night.
Chan returned to Houston and continued to work for the family business. He attended the University of Houston and studied hotel and restaurant management. Chan ultimately decided to drop out and move to Las Vegas to begin his career as a 21 year old professional poker player.
Chan struggled mightily in his early years. He would build a bankroll, lose it, and then build it back up again. He took a lot of random day jobs and pawned his possesions while building himself back up. His life took a turn for the better when he quit a four pack a day smoking habit and started to eat healthier in 1982.
Chan earned his nickname, “The Orient Express,” that same year at Bob Stupak’s America’s Cup of Poker. He eliminated every player at the final table in under an hour. His fearless and aggressive style was starting to take form, priming him for his first WSOP cash in 1983.
Chan won his first of ten bracelets in Limit Hold’em in a 1985 event. His next two bracelets were from his 1987 and 1988 Main Event wins. Chan came close winning a third Main Event in a row when a largely unknown pimply-faced Phil Hellmuth won the Main Event in 1989 and Chan took second. Chan won his second limit event in 1994 in a Seven Card Stud event.
Most of Chan’s WSOP success has come from his talent in big bet structure games; eight of his ten wins have come in pot limit and no limit events. His other bracelets include a 1997 Deuce to Seven Draw, 2000 Pot Limit Omaha, 2002 Heads Up No Limit Hold’em, 2003 No Limit Hold’em, 2003 Pot Limit Omaha, and 2005 Pot Limit Hold’em.
Chan’s lucky orange has become synonymous with him, much like Ferguson and his hat and glasses or Phil Laak’s hoodie. Chan started carrying the orange with him as relief from the heavy cigarette smoke that used to be found in poker.
Chan’s best playing days are not behind him by any means. He cashed in last year’s Main Event, final tabled a APPT High roller event, and has the most wins on record for NBC’s Poker After Dark. He is not looking to tie Hellmuth this year the “Orient Express” wants to pass him and take back the career WSOP bracelet lead.