Born in 1957, after a series of early location changes he became a professional player at the tender (legal) age of 21, dropping out of a hotel and restaurant managing course in Houston, Texas to pursue the life of a professional gambler in the place best suited for it. Within a few years, he was playing the best in the biggest, and winning consistently. He is known for his ‘lucky orange’ placed at the table according to Chan for its pleasant alternative odour to cigarette smoke, but copied by awe-struck or superstitious players with a nod to the original orange mascot to this day.
Apart from the two $10,000 No-limit Holdem events, his bracelets come from: Limit Holdem in 1985, Seven-Card Stud in 1994, Deuce to Seven Draw in 1997, Omaha Pot Limit in 2000, the Gold Bracelet Match Play in 2002, No Limit Holdem and Pot Limit Holdem in 2003, and Pot Limit Hold’Em in 2005. The range of games Johnny Chan played and continues to play is impressive, and to those who thought his bracelet-chasing days were over: the 2005 PLHE event had 425 runners including today’s expected ‘young guns’ and he beat them all, including Phil ‘the Unabomber’ Laak heads up to take another title.
Playing other respected young players heads up seems to be Johnny Chan’s speciality. The 2002 Gold Bracelet Match Play (which took place in the same year that Chan was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame) was a series of heads up matches, which ended with Johnny and Phil Hellmuth playing for the overall victory. This time Phil came second, reversing their position from the final of the 1989 WSOP Main Event where Phil pushed the back-to-back winner of the event for the previous two years off the top spot (by one place!). Then in February 2005, he found himself heads up against Gus Hansen in the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament, finishing second.
His 1988 victory heads up against Erik Seidel, too, ranks as one of the most dramatic. Having flopped a straight, he trapped Seidel into moving in with his losing pair of Queens, to the delight of those who reckoned that Doyle Brunson’s record could never be matched. Just as in the Poker Superstars Invitational, Johnny Chan had come back from a seemingly-impossible position to get to where he finished.
Searching for Johnny ‘Orient Express’ Chan propaganda and memorabilia online, I found his official website somewhat lacking in detail. Playlikechan.com seems to mainly be a black background with a little picture of a pretty happy-looking Chan in front of a pile of chips, where it appears you can buy his book: ‘Play Poker Like Johnny Chan,’ or watch a small selection of video clips of the man himself.
More impressive is the fact that more than one unrelated site gives detailed instructions on how to perform the ‘Johnny Chan Chip Trick’ as seen in the inescapable film ‘Rounders.’ Unless you’re already a close-up magician, following instructions like “At this point, your index finger should be laying on top of the middle finger” won’t teach you to look like Johnny at a poker table, but may induce you to see the film, where the poker legend plays himself, and you are treated to a glimpse of actual footage from the 1988 World Series.