Johnny Chan was born in Guangzhou, China, in 1957. He and his family moved to Hong Kong in 1962, and later relocated to the United States of America, specifically, Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. The family finally settled down in Houston, Texas in 1963, where they owned a chain of restaurants. As per his family customs, Chan enrolled to study hotel and restaurant management at the University of Houston so that he could continue running the family business. However, when he was 21 years old, Chan dropped out of college and became a professional poker player. His nickname is “The Orient Express”, which was given to him after beating 9 players in less than an hour during Bob Stupak’s American Cup poker tournament in 1981. Chan currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.
When Chan was 16 years of age, he made a trip to Las Vegas. This is probably where he picked up an interest in playing poker. However, it wasn’t until 5 years later, when he was at the legal age of 21, that he decided to drop out of college and focus on the sport. Chan rose to fame in the late 1980s when he won two World Series of Poker (WSOP) circuits, consecutively, in 1987 and 1988. He was among the first poker players of Asian origin to break into the scene.
After his two wins at the WSOP events, Chan almost won a third time, but finished in second place to Phil Hellmuth in 1969. In 2005, Chan broke the record of the most won WSOP titles, bagging a tenth title that year. He has 10 WSOP bracelets to his name, placing him as the world’s second highest bracelet holder to Phil Hellmuth, who has 13. This has earned the Asian poker star millions of US dollars over the years.
Chan has also competed in other tournaments such as the World Poker Tour (WPT), World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions and the National Heads-Up Poker Championships.
Chan was first recognized for his poker skill in 1981 when he beat 9 players in under an hour’s time and earned his nickname. After this, he became even more famous after winning two consecutive WSOP titles; but what really got him noticed during this time is the fact that he would carry an orange and place it beside himself as he played.
People figured that having the orange somehow aided his wins, and some of them even began carrying fruit too. However, Chan explained that the orange was his companion because it had a sweet smell, compared to the smell of cigarette smoke that he was trying to avoid during tournaments. Part of his reason for this may have been because he had previously quit smoking.
Chan is also famous for his contribution in the media field: he has written for Card Play magazine and the Trader Monthly, appeared on two seasons of the High Stakes Poker series, co-authored a poker instructional book called Play Poker like Johnny Chan, starred in two films called Rounders (1998) and the Poker King (2009), and he created an online poker site called ChanPokerOnline.com, which was shut down in August 2008.