|Sexton's Corner, Vol 57, "Part 2"
Legend Of Legends
s we learned from Part 1, when Johnny Chan decided to turn pro and move to Las
Vegas in 1978, it was a decision he made that met considerable resistance from his
parents. Attending the University of Houston seemed to
be the right path to take, as far as his parents were concerned. Johnny had touched
the money that could be made in the gambling world in his trips on junkets between
1973 and 1978, including that one early trip in the beginning where he parlayed $200
off his credit card into $30,000 in one week playing poker at the Golden Nugget! In this
article let’s take a look at what happened to Johnny Chan’s career when he first came
to Las Vegas to pursue his dream of being a poker pro. There has to be hundreds of
thousands of aspiring poker players over time who have tried to come to Las Vegas to
reach the top of the poker world, but only a handful have ever done it. As we will learn
in Johnny Chan’s story, there is no one who has done it in such spectacular fashion as
him. Today he is truly a living poker legend, but in the beginning, it wasn’t easy starting
out in 1978! Let’s go back in time and ask him a few questions to hear his story from
Sexton’s Corner: Johnny, when you first moved out to Las Vegas in 1978 to start
your pro poker career, I was wondering what Casinos you chose to play poker at?
Johnny Chan: Well, back then there were a few selections: The Dunes, Silverbird,
Golden Nugget, Stardust, Sahara, and Binion’s Horseshoe. (Note: Some small games
existed at the Fremont, Circus Circus, MGM, and the Landmark also.)
Sexton’s Corner: Were they playing a lot of No Limit Hold’em then?
Johnny Chan: When I first came out the $10/$20 Limit Hold’em at the Golden Nugget
was the most popular game. Sometimes we would play $20/$40, and $30/$60. The
$10/$20 game was my bread and butter.
Sexton’s Corner: When you were working at the Fremont Hotel, did you play in that little $3/$6 Limit Hold’em game?
Johnny Chan: (He begins to laugh here.) You Know………….Yes I did.
Sexton’s Corner: I’ve heard poker players say: “I remember when Johnny Chan worked in the kitchen at the Fremont, and he played in that little
$3.00/$6.00 Limit Hold’em game in the poker room there.”
Johnny Chan: You know, in that $3/$6 game, when you didn’t have much money, it was a good little poker game for me…………trying to win $80
to $100 each time I played, added to my pay as a chef at the Fremont, so I could build up my bankroll again.
Sexton’s Corner: When you played some of the rocks, they probably weren’t ready for you, the way you’re known for mixing up your play. I’m
sure they didn’t know what to think of you in that little game!
Johnny Chan: All of that is true. They didn’t know what to think of this young Asian kid. They couldn’t read me, so sometimes I took the worst
hand and hit a gut shot straight and beat them. So often in their frustration they might start calling me names. (Here Johnny has a good laugh
remembering the old days starting out in that small game.)
Sexton’s Corner: Johnny you mentioned you only had to work as a chef a few months, before you were able to build your bankroll back up.
Between 1978 and 1982 you slowly earned your way up the ladder playing in cash games, and around 1982 something amazing happened to you
in your first big tournament win. Can you tell us about what the event was and why it was so special?
Sexton’s Corner: During this time period, before you hit it big…….Did you ever
have to get a job?
Johnny Chan: Yes…..In the beginning I had a few bad habits. I played craps, bet on
sports, and played black jack. I won in poker, but I would lose playing all of those
house games. Due to this, I found myself having to find a job for 3-6 months, to build
up my bankroll. I was a chef at the downtown Fremont Hotel/Casino.
Johnny Chan: Yes, that was the America's Cup held at Bob Stupak’s at Vegas World. (Later Vegas World was where the Stratosphere was
built.) It was a big event for me……..a $10,000 buy-in. The final table had nine players and I personally knocked out everyone myself in less than
one hour! Bob Stupak said, “I never saw anything like this.” It was Bob Stupak that gave me my nickname The Orient Express, as a result of my
performance in that big tournament.
Sexton's Corner: Your entrance on the big stage in a $10,000 Buy-in event back in 1982 truly raised your profile in the eyes of the poker world.
The buzz of your knock out performance taking everyone out so quick was the talk all around town! Johnny “The Orient Express” Chan was
catchy and so appropriate. I didn’t realize it was Bob Stupak who gave you that nickname.
Johnny Chan: Yes, Mr Stupak did that for me. (As Johnny has a big smile on his face and nods his head.)
Sexton’s Corner: Did you ever stop to think back since 1982 of the amazing whirlwind you’ve had in poker? My word………the incredible streak
you had in the late 80’s which we will be talking about in Part 3 of your story, right up to the poker boom that happened around 2003. Sometimes
you must feel like one of those talented and aspiring comedians on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. When they were a big hit the first time
they performed on National TV, their whole careers exploded to the moon almost overnight! It was like if you won over Johnny Carson…….you
were a giant hit overnight and launched overnight into super stardom! The Orient Express is respected and feared at the table unlike anyone else,
and is still going strong right up to 2008 today!
Johnny Chan: I feel very fortunate how my career has played out for sure.
Sexton’s Corner: I’m curious: How many children do you have today Johnny?
Johnny Chan: I have six: Two boys and four girls. My oldest is 28 and my youngest is 14. They live in Las Vegas, LA, and New York. I have
one daughter who has now moved back to Beverly Hills.
Sexton's Corner: Are you a Grand Dad yet?
Johnny Chan: Not yet…………..Maybe that will be the next exciting thing?
From 1982 through 1986 Johnny Chan began to be a force to be reckoned with in the cash games, and that certainly has been true 22 years later
right up to today. In fact, Johnny will tell you he has always played more in cash games his whole career verses tournaments. In 1983 he started
his cashes at the WSOP with a 4th place finish in match play, to win $8,000, and won his first WSOP gold bracelet in the 1985 WSOP, winning
Limit Hold’em and cashing in big for $171,000. He bought his parents a Mercedes, and they could see Johnny was on his way to do what he had
always dreamed of doing. His parents said, “Maybe this career Johnny wanted to follow wasn’t such a bad thing after all!” Neither his parents or
anyone else in the world could have ever dreamed what Johnny Chan was about to do starting in 1987, where to this day ,it is called the greatest
streak in the history of poker! Stay tuned for Part 3 of the story, where Poker’s Greatest Streak is highlighted……….You don’t want to miss this!
The Cab Is Parked,