– General Information –
Chan has won 10 WSOP gold bracelets which means he’s tied in second place with Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey on the all-time WSOP championships list. He is the last player to have won two WSOP Main Events in two consecutive years. He’s also known for his cameo appearance in the 1998 cult classic movie Rounders.
– Key Career Dates –
- 1978: He moves to Las Vegas to pursue a career as a professional poker player.
- 1985: He wins his first WSOP bracelet.
- 1987: He wins his first WSOP Main Event title.
- 1988: He defends his WSOP Main Event title. He’s the last player to be able to do so. A year later, he finishes second.
- 1998: He appears in the classic poker movie Rounders starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton.
– Johnny Chan’s Career –
→ Beginnings ←
Chan moved from China to Phoenix, Arizona with his family in 1968. His parents owned restaurants in the US, and after closing, he used to play cards with the restaurant employees. He went to college in Houston, majoring in hotel and restaurant management. He dropped out at the age of 21 and moved to Las Vegas to become a professional poker player.
However, his first live casino experience was even before his 21st birthday. He visited Vegas at the age of 16, and managed to buy in for a cash game despite not being of legal gambling age. According to the urban legend, he turned $500 into $20,000 in one night, then lost the whole $20,000 the next day.
→ Live Tournaments ←
Johnny Chan has amassed over $8.748 million in live tournament earnings over the course of his career. His Hendon page notes 150 individual cashes which come from a span of 37 years. With those results, he would be the second most successful Chinese player according to the site, behind Aaron Shu Nu Zang ($20.345 million) – however, Chan is included in the American all-time money list, not the Chinese. There, he’s currently in the 67th spot.
His first recorded ITM finish comes from 1982. He won a $10,000 America’s Cup of Poker event for an unknown amount of prize money. A year later, he defended his title in the same event. Then, he got $130,000 for it.
His biggest live tournament payday is for a second place finish in a $400,000 buy-in 8-handed invitational Sit&Go. The event was called “Poker Superstars”, was held at Caesars Palace in 2005 and featured, among others, Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson and the eventual winner, Gus Hansen. “The Oriental Express”, Johnny Chan earned $750,000 for his performance.
Chan’s other big tourney scores include a victory in another Poker Superstars S&G for $400,000 later in 2005, and two other first place finishes in the $5,000 Hall of Fame Poker Classic event in 1988 and 1989 for $232,000 and $194,000, respectively.
→ World Series Of Poker ←
Johnny Chan is one of the most successful players in WSOP history. He won 10 bracelets – only Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey have that many besides Chan. And only one person, Phil Hellmuth, has more – he has won 16 events.
Chan was the last person to accomplish something that would be almost certainly impossible these days: he won two WSOP Main Events back to back. He triumphed in 1987 and in 1988. Then, he got heads-up for the title in 1989 – however, he was eventually bested by a fresh young player named Hellmuth. The unique third victory in a row didn’t come. But still, two first and one second place in the Main Event in three years is undoubtedly astonishing. He got $625,000 for his first title, $700,000 for his second, and $302,000 for his runner-up finish.
His incredible stretch of Main Event scores earned him the number 5 spot in our compilation of the greatest live tournament heaters of all time.
The first time he cashed in a WSOP event was in 1983. The first time he won a gold bracelet was in 1985, in the $1,000 Limit Hold’em event for $171,000. The only year when he managed to claim two bracelets was in 2003 – he won the $5K No Limit Hold’em and the $5K Pot Limit Omaha tournaments that year. His last WSOP title out of the total of 10 comes from 2005, 20 years after his first one. He won the $2,500 Pot Limit Hold’em event.
Overall, he has cashed in World Series events 51 times over the course of his career for a combined $4.681 million. He even made it into the money in one of the most recent Main Events in 2018. He finished 612th out of a field of 7,874 for $21,750.
→ Live Cash Games ←
Chan was a regular feature on the classic poker TV show Poker After Dark. He appeared on some episodes where he would play high buy-in Sit&Go tournaments, but a lot of times he would play high stakes NLHE cash games.
In one of the episodes, he got into a $26,000 pot with Daniel Negreanu where Chan was holding a full house while Negreanu had a straight – a hand that has been talked about from time to time ever since. The reason the hand is so famous is that the two poker greats called out each other’s hands perfectly.
Chan also appeared on PokerGO’s revived version of Poker After Dark.
He also talked about in an interview that at the start of his career, he made his money in cash games and then transitioned to high buy-in tournaments. He recommends the same to players who are new to the game.
→ Online Poker ←
There is no account on any poker site that is proven to be associated with Johnny Chan.
→ Scandals ←
The Shutdown of His Club in Houston
In December 2021, the poker club owned by Chan in Houston, TX, 88 Social, suddenly limited cashouts to $2,000. That is never a good sign, and lo and behold, the club shut down a few weeks after, unable to cash out the around $1 million worth of chips the players were still holding. Chan claimed that his business partner emptied out all the cash and ran while he was playing at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
Outside this story, there isn’t really anything other scandalous that Chan has done. However, there are a number of interesting tidbits we can share about him.
The introduction of hole card cams
Chan’s level of mainstream attention is partly due to the fact that at the time he defended his WSOP title, ESPN started to include hole card cam footage in their broadcast. Initially, the players’ holdings were only revealed on the turn. It still made for a much better viewer experience which led to a spike in the ratings. However, the invention wasn’t without a drawback. Chan said this in an interview once:
“I think [hole cams] changed poker a lot. For the better, actually. You pick more newcomers and new players, new style, new everything. (…) Actually, I got so much disadvantage. Everybody knows how I play, when to bluff, where I’m not bluffing. So I need to change my style.”
The “Johnny Chan play”
Daniel Negreanu can be credited for coining this phrase. It’s a two-street line: the act of check-calling the flop then leading the turn out of position as a bluff.
Johnny Chan is perhaps best known for his cameo appearance in the movie Rounders. The movie came out in 1998, and it stars Matt Damon as Mike McDermott, a poker super talent in the New York underground gambling scene. McDermott idolizes Chan and often re-watches the final hand in the 1988 WSOP Main Event the Chinese “master” played against Erik Seidel.
Chan also shot a scene for the movie with Damon. In it, they’re in an Atlantic City casino and Chan is being bluffed off of his hand by the protagonist who is raising his hand blind.