|Sexton's Corner, Vol 58, "Part 3"
Legend Of Legends
s highlighted last week, Johnny Chan came to Las Vegas to pursue his poker dream in 1978, and
experienced ups and downs before winning his first WSOP gold bracelet in 1985, in limit hold'em, for
$171,000. From that win to his tenth WSOP gold bracelet in 2005 could only be described as
poker's greatest streak.
Top poker players and experts agree that what Chan did in the years of 1987, 1988 and 1989 was
poker's finest achievement, especially in poker's two biggest events, the World Series of Poker and
Poker's Hall of Fame. Both of these great poker tournaments were held at Binion's Horseshoe, and
were considered the two biggest events in the poker world at the time! From 1987 through 1989
there were only two major poker events each year and here's how Chan performed in these
1987 WSOP Main Event: 1st
1988 WSOP Main Event: 1st
1988 Hall of Fame Main Event: 1st
1989 Hall of Fame Main Event: 1st
1989 WSOP Main Event: 2nd
As I'm writing this article, I've just watched Michael Phelps win his seventh gold medal in swimming at
the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He won it from behind by .01 of a second to tie Mark Spitz's feat of seven
gold medals in Munich from 1972, a record that stood for 30 years. In the 100 meter butterfly event,
Michael Phelps wowed the world with his last half stroke, reaching for the wall against Serbian world
champion, Milo Cavic, to win that seventh gold medal by .01 second!
So how does all of this tie into Johnny Chan's feat of pulling off poker's greatest streak? Johnny Chan's ".01 moment" happened in 1987 with five
tables still left in the WSOP Main Event. If he doesn't escape this near-impossible situation, there would have been no amazing poker streak at all,
since he wouldn't have made it to the 1987 final table to win that first title. Here's what happened:
In the 1987 WSOP Main Event, with five tables remaining, Mike Sexton witnessed an incredible hand involving Johnny Chan and Richard Klamian.
Chan raised from near the button with A-J off suit, and Klamian called with The flop was 4-. Klamian checked, of course.
Chan, always the aggressor, said, "All in!" Klamian couldn't believe his good fortune as he was about to knock Chan out of the 1987 WSOP! He
quickly called and proudly rolled over his hand -- a wheel with a straight flush draw on the flop. Chan was dismayed and stood up to leave as the
came on the turn. Then came the miracle card on the river, the , to split the pot!
Chan was still alive and played through the last 45 players to win his first WSOP Main Event, thus beginning poker's greatest streak. Was it just
luck or pure destiny Chan hit that needed three-outer as a 15-to-1 underdog to split that key pot? At that precise moment, when he was standing
up to leave on the turn, what were his odds to win the 1987 and 1988 WSOP Main Events back to back, and then become the runner-up to Phil
Hellmuth in the 1989 WSOP Main Event? Factor in not only doing this epic feat, but factor the odds of winning the Hall of Fame Main Event during
this streak in 1988 and 1989 as well! We'll have to ask Mike Caro, "The Mad Genius," to even come close to the odds of all of this happening! To
me, it would seem to be less than one hundredth of a percent, from the point of almost certain elimination with 45 players left in 1987.
The 1998 WSOP printed a brochure which included a picture of Johnny Chan in a Superman costume, a tribute to his leading the all-time WSOP
money earners list for over ten years, due to his epic streak. At that time the list was as follows:
Johnny Chan -- $2,313,694
Stu Ungar -- $2,081,478
Phil Hellmuth -- $2,006,025
Berry Johnston -- $1,690,912
Hamid Dastmalchi -- $1,600,700
Jack Keller -- $1,554,330
Doyle Brunson -- $1,524,115
Huck Seed -- $1,441,468
Dan Harrington -- $1,325,858
John Bonetti -- $1,244,182
Johnny Chan has been around poker for 30 years and is going as strong as ever. His collection of 10 WSOP gold bracelets remains tied with
Doyle Brunson for second all-time, behind Phil Hellmuth's 11. Again, it is worth mentioning that Johnny Chan has spent most of his poker playing
time in cash games over his career versus tournaments, or there is no telling how many bracelets Johnny might have won to date. The only time
Chan and Hellmuth were heads-up for a WSOP bracelet was 2002 in the NL Heads-up event, which Chan won. easily. I was the official WSOP
photographer in 2002 and I can tell you, the attention this event created was overwhelmingly electric! I remember Johnny walking up to me
minutes before they sat down to battle heads-up, and I wished him luck, just as I did for Phil. Johnny quickly told me, "Tom, there is no way I'm
going to let Phil Hellmuth beat me today for a bracelet… no way!" He was extremely focused that day, and found redemption from what
happened to him in 1989.
One last thought about Johnny Chan's amazing poker streak from 1987 to 1989 that involved the lovable owner of the LA Lakers, Jerry Buss,
who loves poker. I asked Johnny, "I heard that Jerry Buss told you if you win three in a row he was going to get you an NBA Championship ring.
You sure came pretty close, Johnny! Was that a true story?"
Johnny answered, "In 1987 I was in a poker game at the Bicycle Club with Jerry Buss before the WSOP, and Jerry threw me a $100 chip across
the table and said, 'Here Johnny, I want 1% of you in the WSOP Main Event.' Anybody else I would have said no to, but you never say no to
Jerry Buss, so I said, 'Jerry, you got it.' A few weeks later I paid him whatever it was. Next year in 1988 he did the same thing. He said, 'Johnny,
you bring me luck, as my team won the NBA the same year you won the WSOP.' I said, 'Okay, Jerry, I think you bring me luck, too.'" Johnny
laughed as he said, "If I was smart I would have said, 'Jerry, let me buy 1% of the Lakers.' The Lakers lost to Detroit in 1989 and I lost to Phil
Hellmuth the same year. Jerry did offer to get me an NBA ring if I won the WSOP three years in a row, and I came pretty close to pulling it off."
Johnny Chan was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002, and nobody in the world was more deserving of this prestigious honor! He is a
legend of legends, almost a mythical icon to both his colleagues and his fans for all he has accomplished in the poker world. The swimming
world has it's legend in Michael Phelps, while the poker world has it's own legend in Johnny Chan. Both have completed phenomenal journeys
in the record books, that will probably never be broken in our lifetimes, if ever!!
Stay tuned for some interesting insights from Chan about Phil Hellmuth going back to the 1989 WSOP Main Event, and Johnny's role in a movie
called Rounders that ended up being one of the best poker movies ever made. Also, in Part 4 of Johnny Chan's story, we'll look at his success
in the various promotions he is involved with today.
The Cab is Parked,
On a split-screen hookup, Bob Costas interviewed an articulate Mark Spitz along with Phelps after Phelps' record-tying seventh Olympic gold
medal was captured for their thoughts on that closest-of-margins win. The win was exactly what the great ones do… succeed in dramatic fashion
to cement their reputations as legends of legends!
I thought I would wait tonight to see if Michael Phelps would win his 8th gold medal in his last race....the 400 IM relay race the USA has never lost
in Olympic history other than the 1980 Olympics our country boycotted. Oh yea......he just did it......8 Olympic gold medals in one Olympics,
combined with his 6 gold medals and two bronze from the 2004 Olympics held in Greece! He is now superman in the pool with a total of 16
Olympic medals and 14 of them gold medals! That record in our lifetimes will probably never be surpassed, just as Johnny Chan's major poker
streak will probably never be repeated!
Was it luck, destiny, or one of those phenomenal once-in-a-lifetime moments? Phelps experienced another close call earlier on his way to
swimming history in the 4x100 relay race, where the US's anchor leg, Jason Lezak, had to catch up from way behind to overtake a favored French
team. It was almost as if Phelps was jumping up and down rooting for his team mate, Jason Lezak to touch the wall first, and was willing his
teammate into first place! Truely this scene will forever be a part of the 2008 Olympics!