For Chen, throwing away thousands of dollars was a mere trifle. He earned more than $8.5 million from tournaments alone

Johnny Chan: Biography

Johnny Chan has gone through hard work to get to where he is today. As a Chinese immigrant, life was not easy for him and his family did not support his poker game.

Personal life

He was born in China and lived a simple life with his family. At the age of 18, he and his family moved to Hong Kong. After another four years, Johnny and his family immigrated to the United States. At first they lived in Phoenix, but over time the family moved to Houston, where they opened a restaurant business.

At the time, Johnny Chen spoke almost no English, but he tried to catch up with his peers by attending school and learning about American culture. He quickly mastered the American pastime of bowling. When he wasn’t helping his parents at the family restaurant, he was hitting strike after strike in the bowling alleys.


Bowling attracted him to poker, and it became a real hobby for him. At first he played with friends in $0.05/$0.10 blinds, but soon made big money by joining an underground game at his family’s restaurant. However, when he began to win more often, they stopped calling him “to the game.”

At the age of 16, Chen decided to try his luck at the Vegas card tables. The other day, he took $500 and sat down to play preference, which was illegal because of his age. Despite this, he saved up $20,000 overnight. The next month, the most typical thing happened for the beginning of his card career: he returned and won his entire bankroll.

Instead of pursuing a career in poker, Chen went to college in Houston to study hotel and restaurant management in hopes of one day taking over the family business. However, at the age of 21, Johnny became captivated by poker and dropped out of school without completing it. Johnny Chan went to Las Vegas to make a career in the world of poker.

During this time, Johnny’s playing career had its ups and downs. At times he had to look for temporary work and even sell family property in order to continue playing poker. Nevertheless, he was determined to succeed in poker – Doyle Brunson once said: “a hot kid who had talent but didn’t know when to keep his composure or quit.”

Besides talent, Chen had another advantage. When he lived in Las Vegas, there weren’t many Asian players trying to make money playing poker. According to Johnny, he was often underestimated and even called to see what cards he had.

A stunning success

In 1982, Johnny Chan’s life changed forever. He gave up his four-pack-a-day habit of smoking, began exercising, eating healthier, and improving his poker skills. That same year, he competed in the America’s Cup poker tournament in Las Vegas, eliminating 13 of 16 players in just over half an hour, and was nicknamed “The Orient Express” by Bob Stupak.

He won the tournament and has since won 10 World Championship of Poker bracelets, including two in the 1987 and 1988 Main Events; in 1989, he had a chance to win his third straight Main Event, but lost to then-rookie Phil Hellmuth. He cited fatigue and overplaying the last pocket card, ace-seven, as the reasons for his defeat, and ended up finishing in second place.

Revenge over Hellmuth

Johnny Chen got another chance to get revenge on Hellmuth in 2002, when the $2,500 no-limit hold’em event at the World Championship of Poker ended in a heads-up battle between Johnny and Phil, which resulted in Chen winning his seventh bracelet.

Winning the World Series made him world famous for his habit of bringing an orange to every game. Chen likes to bring oranges to the poker table as an air freshener. This habit dates back to the days when smoking was allowed in casinos. However, when the rules changed and oranges lost their practical use, Chen began bringing them to tournaments as a mascot.

Even though Johnny Chen is an old school player, he is still considered one of the most balanced players in the world. Not only did he win Texas Hold’em tournaments, but he also won Omaha and draw poker tournaments.

World recognition

The events that made Johnny Chan one of the most iconic figures in poker were the release of the film Rounders (in which he played himself in one episode) and his defeat of Chan by Erik Seidel in the final game of the 1988 World Championship of Poker Main Event.

Johnny Chan was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002. He continues to enjoy success on the green today – Johnny competed at the Poker Superstars Invitational in Las Vegas, where he coached 2006 World Poker Champion Jamie Gold, and made the final table.

Player’s best achievements

Date Where Tournament Place Prize
2005-02-01 USA $400,000 Grand Final
Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament, Las Vegas
2 $750,000
1988-05-01 USA WSOP $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship
19th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1988, Las Vegas
1 $700,000
1987-05-11 USA WSOP $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship
18th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1987, Las Vegas
1 $625,000
2005-11-13 USA Grand Final
Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament Season 2, Cabazon
1 $400,000
2005-06-25 USA WSOP $2,500 Pot Limit Hold’em
36th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 2005, Las Vegas
1 $303,025
1989-05-15 USA WSOP $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship
20th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1989, Las Vegas
2 $302,000
2008-06-14 USA WSOP $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha
39th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 2008, Las Vegas
4 $246,874
1989-12-22 USA $5,000 + 50 Championship Event – No Limit Hold’em
Hall of Fame Poker Classic 1989, Las Vegas
1 $232,000
2003-04-29 USA WSOP $5,000 No Limit Hold’em
34th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 2003, Las Vegas
1 $224,400
2001-05-10 USA WSOP $3,000 + 120 Texas Hold’em (no limit)
32nd World Series of Poker (WSOP) 2001, Las Vegas
2 $211,210

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