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Poker Legends: Johnny Chan

Written by Ben Blaschke

Asia has a proud record when it comes to producing some of the world’s finest poker players, but none has made as big a splash as the great Johnny Chan. Born in Guangzhou, China in 1957, he was five years old when his family moved to Hong Kong and 11 when they moved again to the United States.

His Asian heritage ensured that his approach to poker – which he first discovered at the age of 16 – was vastly different to that of the locals and he quickly found considerable success, winning his first World Series of Poker bracelet in 1985. However, it was his back to back wins in the 1987 and 1988 WSOP Main Event that ensured he would go down in poker folklore. Incredibly, he almost did the impossible in 1989 when he reached heads-up play in his quest to make it three in a row but ultimately finished second to Phil Hellmuth.

Still, winning back to back titles made him a household name and he was later immortalized in the cult poker film Rounders – to this day considered to be the only truly great poker movie by players the world over – with a cameo as well as footage of his 1988 win over Erik Seidel.

Chan on his way to winning the 1988 WSOP Main Event

Chan on his way to winning the 1988 WSOP Main Event

Chan is also known as the first man to win 10 WSOP bracelets when he won a $2,500 Pot Limit Hold’em event in 2005 – a feat only matched by two players since in Hellmuth (13) and Doyle Brunson (10). Just as impressive is the fact that he has won them across a range of different disciplines. While No Limit Hold’em is his specialty, he has also won bracelets in PLO, Seven Card Stud and Deuce to Seven Draw.

Although winning his 11th bracelet has proved difficult since his last in 2005, Chan remains a regular in poker tournaments around the globe including in Macau where he often comes to support the continuing growth of poker throughout China.