If you watched the 2006 WSOP Main Event final table action, you probably noticed a guy Jamie Gold used to run up to, whenever he hit one of his trademark lucky draws and ousted an opponent.
That guy though, was much more than Jamie Gold’s mentor, or coach. He was two times WSOP Main Event winner, Johnny Chan, a player with far more to show achievements-wise than probably anyone around the 2006 final table, or possibly even more than many of those players combined.
Born in 1962, in Guangzhou, China, Chan moved to Hong Kong with his family when 6-years old. They moved to the U.S. in 1968, first to Phoenix, AZ, then to Houston, TX where his parents started a restaurant.
Chan himself didn’t speak English when he first arrived to the States, he was forced to pick the language up on the go. Getting used to and integrating into the western culture wasn’t an easy feat either. The first typically American thing that Chan got the hang of, was bowling. He would spend countless hours at the alley, as a matter of fact, it was the bowling alley where he was first introduced to poker.
From the small-change games at the alley, he quickly promoted to organizing higher stakes underground poker events at his parents’ restaurant. Pretty soon, he was beating people left and right, and eventually he got left out of the action because of his winning ways. Even though his family was strongly against his forging a future in professional poker, Johnny took $500 to Las Vegas once and quickly turned it into a respectable $20k bankroll. The following day, he lost it all.
Faced with failure, he decided at his family’s insistence to give his poker dreams up for a while. He returned to Houston to attend a restaurant and hotel management school, in order to shape up for taking over the family business. At 21 though, the temptation of easy money at the green felt proved too much: he quit school and moved to Vegas for good this time around.
For a while, he struggled with the ups and downs mediocrity bestows upon every gambler wannabe, but he stuck it out for better or for worse. In 1982, he became sick of being stuck in mediocrity and decided to clean his act up. Literally. He quit smoking, he began to eat healthily, improved his lifestyle, and took on a whole new attitude towards the game. All this resulted in his radical improvement as a poker player. It was about that time that he developed the habit of taking a fresh orange to the poker table. He said the orange was supposed to act as an air freshener around him through its strong scent, because back in those days smoking was allowed in pretty much every casino and cardroom. Nowadays, the orange is just a good-luck charm for him.
His first big win came in the America’s Cup of Poker in 1982, when he steamrolled over the competition, winning the tourney and earning the nickname "The Orient Express” in the process.
Johnny Chan was the last poker professional who won back-to-back WSOP Main Event gold bracelets. He emerged victorious in 1987 and 1988, and would’ve won his third consecutive title in 1989, had it not been for Phil Hellmuth who confined him to second position. L.A. Lakers owner, Jerry Buss had promised him an NBA championship ring, had he managed to win 3 consecutive WSOP titles, but he came up just short of it.
All-in-all, Johnny Chan has an astonishing 10 WSOP bracelets, (he beat Phil Hellmuth heads-up in the WSOP’s $2.5k NL Holdem event in 2002, to exact some revenge), and he finished in the money 38 times.
The WPT saw him reaching a final table and finishing in the money three times.
The footage of his 1988 WSOP win was featured in the movie "Rounders”.
He currently owns a poker site (Chanpoker.net) and he nurtures dreams of someday running a casino of his own.