Profile of the 1987 and 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion: Johnny Chan
If you’re looking for truly legendary performances in the World Series of Poker Main Event, look no further than Johnny Chan. Having won his first bracelet in 1985 (the $1,000 No Limit Hold’em event), he was primed to take the WSOP by storm.
How The 1987 WSOP Main Event Unfolded
In 1987, 152 players lined up in the Main Event, each paying $10,000 to enter. A star-studded final table featured Howard Lederer, Dan Harrington, Frank Henderson, and Bob Ciaffone alongside Chan.
At the heads-up stage it was just Johnny Chan and Frank Henderson. The final hand saw Henderson go all-in with a pair of fours and Chan call with Ace-Nine off-suit. It was a race. Neither the flop nor the turn helped Chan, so it looked like Henderson was about to double up. However, the dramatic nine on the river gave Chan his first main event win and a prize of $625,000.
Back-to-Back Main Event Victories
The following year Chan was back, taking on a slightly larger field of 167 players. Once again, he would reach the final table and once again found himself heads up. This time facing poker legend Eric Seidel.
In the final hand, Chan was dealt the jack and nine of clubs. Almost a dream flop saw a queen, a ten and an eight, giving Chan the straight. Even worse for Seidel was the fact that the queen gave him the top pair. All the cash went in on the turn, and Chan had won his second straight Main Event bracelet. A video tape of Chan playing this final table would later appear in the famed poker movie ‘Rounders’.
Incredibly, Chan would make it all the way to the final two the following year. This time around he would face Phil Helmuth. The pivotal final hand saw Helmuth’s pair of nines defeat Chan’s suited Ace. Chan was so close to an incredible hat-trick, but it wasn’t to be.
Other Major Tournaments for Johnny Chan
Outside of the Main Event, Chan would win 8 more bracelets at the World Series of Poker. This puts him joint second alongside Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson, with only nemesis Phil Helmuth ahead. When he won his tenth and final bracelet, he was the first player ever to reach that milestone.
Chan would also achieve great success in the Poker Superstars series, winning once and reaching at least the semi-final every time he played. In Poker After Dark, Chan would win four of his six appearances, famously beating Phil Helmuth heads up in the World Champions edition.
He was given the nickname ‘Orient Express’ after winning the final table at the 1981 America Cup poker tournament, defeating all other players in less than an hour.
Playing Style and Strategy of Johnny Chan
Johnny Chan is known for his observant and aggressive playing style. Known for mixing his strategy to take full advantage of any given situation, while remaining cool, calm, and collected in any given situation. One of the best examples of this is in the final hand with Erik Seidel in 1988, allowing Seidel to make the running when he virtually held the nuts.
Before and After the WSOP Main Event Successes
Johnny Chan was born in Guangzhou, China in 1957. At the age of 5, his family moved to Hong Kong, before making the move to the US in 1968 (first to Phoenix, Arizona and then in 1973 to Houston, Texas). A tale is told that at the age of 16, Chan would win $20,000 in one night with just $500 at a trip to Las Vegas. At the age of 21, Chan dropped out of a hotel and restaurant management degree at the University of Houston to move to Las Vegas and pursue a full-time gambling career.
To this day, Chan still plays at the highest level and regularly cashes in the main event of the WSOP. He cashed in 2010, 2012, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Could You be the Next WSOP Champion?
One of the joys of the World Series of Poker Main Event is that it is open to anyone to play. If you have the $10,000 entry fee, you can take a seat. Even if you don’t have that type of cash sitting around, there is still a way in.
Many online poker sites offer satellite events, giving you the chance to qualify. Some of these tournaments can have an entry fee of just a few dollars. Play those cards right and you could find yourself sitting amongst the likes of Johnny Chan in the main event.
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More WSOP Main Event Winners:
- Ryan Riess
- John Cynn
- Martin Jacobson
- WSOP Main (all the qualifiers)