After busting out of the ongoing World Poker Tour (WPT) Sanya, Pete Chen has decided to stop playing poker for the next three days.
The real reason for this is that he wanted to spend more time with his girlfriend, who had flown to this island paradise southwest of mainland China for the weekend. He could have opted to join the Hublot Elite High-Roller event which has a high buy-in and a thin field, but chose to step away from the game—at least for the next three days.
That’s actually news for a guy who averaged nearly one multi-day tournament PER DAY for the past two years.
The man known in his home country of Taiwan as Chen Yan Han began as a Cash Games specialist but eventually converted into being more active in the tournament scene since his first reported cash of a mere $461 for finishing 23rd in the 2011 Macau Poker Cup KO Bounty event.
In 2014, he attained the coveted PokerStars Asia Player of the Year (POY) award as he amassed fourteen cashes and victories in the Macau Poker Cup (NLHE Deepstack) and the Asian Poker Tour (APT) RWM Poker Finale (NLHE 2). Chen also went deep in the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) Main Event in Macau by finishing in fifth place for his biggest cash of the year at $74,170.
In 2016, Chen cashed an astonishing 51 times with six titles. That’s tied for second place for the year with Las Vegas native James Petzing (whose only cashes abroad were late in the year in Canada) and just one behind another American in John Hoilley who practically toured the entire United States to get his earnings.
“There were a few tournaments that I cashed in over here in Asia that didn’t report (to hendonmob.com),” he said. “I should have been number one.”
That’s how determined he is to become number one.
2017: Chen’s year?
Chen has collected a total of fourteen titles in his eight year career but none was sweeter than winning his first major event: the inaugural WPT Beijing Main Event just last April.
He finally laid to rest all talk about him being among the best players to never win a relevant title (much like tennis star Marcelo Rios—who was number ranked in 1988 but never won a grand slam title, or Louis Oostuizen who has the most second place finishes in the major golf tournaments with no title).
“People keep saying, ‘yeah, you’re POY, you got tons of scores, but you never win a Main Event’ and I say ‘yeah, that’s true.’” Chen conceded. “That (winning in Beijing) was pretty amazing. I was short stacked nearing bubble time then in the Final Table I was the chip leader but I still wasn’t feeling safe because in tournaments, anything can happen.”
“I found a way to finish the tournament strong and it was pretty nice and it felt pretty good, and the trophy is a really big one—about twenty kilos.”
But Chen didn’t even have time to savour his first Main Event win as just a week later he was back in Macau and later to the Philippines (wherein he collected twelve more cashes) before heading over to the United States for the World Series of Poker (WSOP)—and a smorgasbord of events that he could play virtually every day.
“Last and year and this year, I just stayed at Rio (All-Suite Hotel and Casino—competition venue of the WSOP) so I can just go downstairs and play,” he recalled. “For 45-50 days, all I see is the casino. I never go out.”
That’s the kind of dedication Chen puts in to his craft, but it almost paid off in Event #56 when he was within a heartbeat of his first ever WSOP Bracelet.
Chen was one of the last two men standing in a field of 623 in the $5,000 NLHE and all he needed to do was get past Argentinean Andre Korn in heads-up, trailing 2-1 in the chip count. However, the good run belonged to Korn as he escaped being dominated by Chen in the decisive hand landing in second place—for a payday of $382,122; his biggest cash to date.
With two of his biggest cashes coming in 2017, Chen is closing the year strong as he is currently leading in the Global Poker Index (GPI) Asia rankings and is on pace to snare the GPI Asia POY award as well. And he isn’t bashful about chasing the renown that comes with it.
“I guess I’d be more famous to get that GPI Asia POY title,” he said. “For me, playing tournaments is not just (about) money. I try to get a lot of media, try (to) get more famous I guess. I don’t want to be the second or third best in the world. I want to be the best.
“After the PokerStars Championship in Barcelona where I finished in the €10K (8-Handed NLHE) at fourth place (for $162,583), I moved up to top seven this year, which is the highest for any Asian player. I’m in GPI Asia number one but getting in the top ten or twenty is usually for European players who play in those Super High Roller events so it’s an honor.”
For his efforts, Chen is presently leading the WPT Asia Pacific (APAC) POY race and will be seeing action at the WPT Tournament of Champions this coming May at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
He already has eclipsed his 2016 record with 55 total cashes, albeit with only two championships. Chen is already looking forward to 2018 with a bigger sense of purpose.
Driven to be on top through hard work and dedication
“I play too much,” said the 29-year-old who turned pro in 2009. “In 2014, I played like 1,500 hours. The next two years, I played something like 2,000 hours but this year I played something like close to 3,000 hours; which is something like I only sleep, play cards and study.”
Chen has debunked all notions that making a living by playing only in tournaments isn’t feasible.
“I play a ton of tournaments in a year and that’s why I (can) try to achieve this,” he said.
Chen’s strategy next year is a huge step with the same regimen: play as many tournaments possible, but see action in higher buy-ins—high-roller range types.
“The problem really is for those (who say that you can’t make a living playing in the live circuit) is that they don’t play high buy-ins,” he lamented. “If you play a small amount of tournaments and you play in small buy-ins, of course the variance is so high and you have to pay for tons like hotels, travel, but if you can play like high volumes and high buy-ins you can definitely make a lot of money.
“And there’s another bonus in that you can get a contract with a poker company (which he does with GGNetwork’s “Tilt King”) or if you can win POY just to have some money for next year then if you want to sell your action, a lot of people want to buy. So that could be really easier to play in higher buy-ins next year.”
Another thing is that Chen is also looking at expanding his arsenal and invade the Mixed Game scene.
“Good players should be able to play different games,” Chen said. “You gotta find more games to play and not just Hold ‘Em coz Hold‘Em tournaments during the WSOP always have like about four thousand players and the Mixed Game has usually about three or four hundred players so it would have less variance.”
Upping his activity rate above the one he’s already set over the past two years seems to be an implausible goal but Pete Chen is out to set records, chase accolades and become one of the undisputed best poker players in the world—and he’s not even thirty years old yet.
With his focus, dedication and drive, it won’t be long before Pete Chen becomes universally known and could be mentioned in the same breath as the living legends very, very soon.
His 2017 has yielded a personal high in cashes, his first major, his biggest hauls and a near miss at a WSOP Bracelet.
What 2018 will bring is chapter yet to be written, but it is full of promise for this young Taiwanese idealist whose star is absolutely on the rise.
Story by Noel Zarate