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Sexton's Corner, Vol.59, Johnny Chan, Legend of Legends: Part 4, "The Golden Touch"

Sexton's Corner, Vol.59, Johnny Chan, Legend  of Legends:  Part 4, "The Golden... 0001

Johnny "The Orient Express" Chan has had the golden touch throughout his entire career. In Part 3 we viewed Johnny's incredible poker streak in 1987, 1988, and 1989 of winning 4 out of 5 WSOP or Hall of Fame Main Events in a row with one runner-up, as a record that will never be equaled or broken by any other poker player! Both the WSOP and The Hall of Fame tournaments were held back then at Binion's Horseshoe. Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps has now won 8 gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, combined with his 6 gold medals won in the 2004 Olympics held in Greece for a grand total of 14 gold medals and 16 Olympic medals overall! To be sure, this record will be unreachable as well! Spectacular records that are set by the great ones inspire all of us. Great athletes like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Dan Gable, and Michael Phelps are legends in their respective sports, just as Johnny Chan is in the poker world.

The WSOP Main Event in 1988 was the year Johnny Chan had trapped Erik Seidel on the last hand to capture his back to back titles. That scene was immortalized in the popular movie, Rounders, which many believe was the greatest poker movie ever made! We began our conversation by discussing the movie in which Johnny Chan had a cameo role, and here is how our conversation unfolded:

Sexton's Corner: If I go back to that famous movie, Rounders, made around 1998, where you played yourself, it almost has a cult following with all of its popularity. There are many who feel it was the best poker movie ever made. I still remember that scene with you and Erik Seidel, when you trapped him in that last hand. It is one of the most famous scenes…………I don't know how many times it has been shown now. I don't know how it has affected your life, but this movie I believe, set the stage for what we now refer to as the poker boom.

Johnny Chan: All right………….I think you are 100% correct. I mean that movie………….a lot of people told me that was the best poker movie ever made. I wish somehow they would make another one……Rounders 2. Someday the producer is going to say, "Johnny you're right…..we need to make a Rounders 2." That was the best movie ever made, but Eric, like me was a young man with a lot of heart and plays very aggressive. He could have taken me down many times, but unfortunately he was not experienced enough.

Sexton's Corner: Correct me if I'm wrong, because I want to mention this in the article, as some people may not know the details of that key hand. You started with the {j-Clubs}{9-Clubs}, and I think Erik had the {q-Clubs}{7-Hearts}. The flop was {q-Spades}{10-Hearts}{8-Diamonds}. In other words you flopped the nut straight. You bet $4,000. and Erik raised $50,000. You smooth called. The turn was the {2-Spades}, which didn't help anybody. You both checked. On the river you checked, and he fell right into your trap and went All-in. I remember you stood up, as you could see he was drawing dead. On the river came the {6-Diamonds} which didn't mean anything and it was all over. It was pretty cool in the movie Rounders because it replayed that famous scene that actually happened in real life.

Johnny Chan: The style that Erik Seidel was playing………I figured any time you check to him he's going to bet. That's why I figured it made no sense to run him out of the pot on 4th street. So on 5th street I was just betting my life he would move all-in, and I was right!

Sexton's Corner: You know, speaking of Erik, he is quite a gentleman. He is always under the radar, but he does have eight gold bracelets. I know you have ten, but we don't hear much about Erik. He is quiet, modest, and of course a terrific player.

Johnny Chan: Erik is like a little sniper. Every now and then he shows up and boom…..gets another bracelet. You know those bracelets……………If I knew then what I know now, I would have played a lot more tournaments like Phil Hellmuth. He's played probably one thousand times more tournaments than I did. Back then I was playing cash games. You know, I was winning $5,000 to $10,000 a day, so I said to myself… 'why do I need to play a tournament and lock myself in, where if you're lucky you might play for three days to win $100,000?'. In cash games you might play an hour, take a break, and do what I want. I believe in the 80's and 90's I was the best No Limit Hold-em player in the world, so like I say, if I would have known then what I know now, I would have played a lot more tournaments for sure.

Sexton's Corner: Your famous poker streak in 1987, 1988, and 1989 bears out what you are saying. To win four 1st places in a row in the biggest Main Events and one runner-up boggles my mind and vaults you into the poker history books forever. To say you had the golden touch in the eighties would be un understatement. In fact, before you won your 1st WSOP gold bracelet in 1985, you could see you had the golden touch even earlier in 1983. That was the year you managed to get 20% of both Tom McEvoy and Rod Peate, who ended up 1st and 2nd respectively in the 1983 WSOP Main Event. That had to be a nice little score for you back in 1983 which helped you make your bankroll transition! You had a great nickname "The Orient Express " that Bob Stupak gave you when you won your 1st big tournament, the America's Cup at Vegas World, about the same time. The guy who stopped your momentum then was Phil Hellmuth in the 1989 WSOP Main Event. He was such a young kid back then. What can you tell me about Phil that you remember?

Johnny Chan: I'll tell you why I think I lost that tournament to Phil in 1989. We played till about 3:30AM on the third day of the WSOP. We came back at 10:00 AM because that is when ESPN wanted to start the final table on day four. I was so tired, I just wanted to get it over with, and I know I didn't play my best. I didn't know it was that important winning three in a row back then. Now man, I'll tell you, they would have had to put a gun to my head to get those chips off me. I just wanted to get it over with, and I went in with A7s against his pocket 99's. I tried to get lucky and just roll the dice, but I didn't play my best. When our rematch happened in 2002 in a WSOP Heads-up event, I took it much more serious, and won quite easily against Phil. I took him down like he wasn't even in his chair!

Sexton's Corner: Phil Hellmuth seemed to pick two of the greatest hold-em players out on the planet and studied their every move: you in No Limit and Jack Keller in Limit Hold-em. I remember up in Lake Tahoe, not long after he won the 1989 WSOP Main Event, at the Super Stars of Poker event held at Caesars, Phil anchored himself close by the final table in the stands and intensely studied Jack's every move for five or six straight hours at the final table! He was soaking up information like a sponge, watching every move Jack made. I might add Jack won the event and dominated the field. He certainly was regarded as one of the best Limit tournament players in the world, and won the 1984 WSOP No Limit Championship Main Event himself. Although Jack Keller has passed away, Phil gained a lot of pointers from him. Some people see him show boating or cutting up and complaining if things aren't going his way, but he has been a student of the game for a long time. During your streak did you get the feeling Phil was studying your every move?

Johnny Chan: {(With a little smile)Johnny said yes very emphatically.} Phil studied me for a long time. He was a very hard worker. During my streak he was watching over my shoulder all the time! He followed me wherever I went. He was a good kid who would even jog with me around the Horseshoe occasionally. He is a good person and family man, even though he acts like a sissy person at the poker table, whining and complaining all the time.

Sexton's Corner: You know Johnny, you and I have been on cruises together, like all those Party Poker Cruises, and when Phil is away from the tables socially, he is fun to be around, and he is a good family man.

Johnny Chan: Oh, like day and night. Phil is a good person , but he has to learn how to grow up. You know poker is a man's game……. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen! Once he loses, cusses out the players, and makes stupid jokes…………it's too much!

Sexton's Corner: How many books do you have out now?

Johnny Chan: I have two: "Play Poker by Johnny Chan" and "Johnny Chan's Poker"

Sexton's Corner: For our readers, as I think I know the reason………..Why do you so often have an orange in front of you during a tournament?

Johnny Chan: You were around in the early eighties, and as you know, the poker rooms were very smoky. I needed some air freshener and the orange worked good. It also seemed to be my lucky charm. So I guess it's a two part answer.

Sexton's Corner: You were on Poker After Dark four times I read somewhere, and you have the best winning percentage of all players with three victories. Is that true?

Johnny Chan: Yes, and I should have won 4 out of 4 times. On the show I lost, I knocked almost everyone out myself, and then lost to Joe Hachem. I was so frustrated, as I misplayed a hand where I think I had {k-Clubs}{7-Clubs} verses his 78 off suit. I could have raised it and could have won the pot. Instead, the flop comes 88 to make him a set, and I doubled him up and lost the tournament.

Sexton's Corner: Wow…………if you had won that show, you would have been undefeated on Poker After Dark. There are many great players who have been on that show who have never won. Your record on that show seems to be a reflection of just how tough you are when you are down to one table. Is the structure fast on the show, or could you tell us what your secret is?

Johnny Chan: That tournament structure isn't too fast. You just have to be careful. Timing is everything, and I'm very good at timing. Like the Poker {Super}Stars Invitational, my record there is 2nd, 1st, and 3rd in the three or four years they held this event. The reason I'm so good on that show or Poker After Dark is I've played with the great players for many years and I know how they play. Now days at big events, like the WSOP, I hardly know anybody! I don't know if they are bluffing, coming or going. They make wild plays, they are dangerous, and they are fearless. Many are online players, and it creates a lot of landmines out there!

Stay tuned for Part 5 of Johnny Chan's story, where we will hear about some of his recent promos like All In drink unveiled at the 2008 WSOP, his opinion of the November 9 WSOP format, a few WSOP suggestions, and who his hero is in the poker world.

The Cab Is Parked,

Tom Sexton

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Poker Trivia Question and Answer #8 (from last week):

There have been a total of six Tournament of Champions winners. The first three were in the years of 1999, 2000, and 2001, as this was the original TOC founded and created by Mike Sexton. After a hiatus, the World Series of Poker held the next three TOCs in 2004, 2005, and 2006. What were the names of all six TOC champions and in which year did each win?


1999 – David Chiu

2000 – Spencer Sun

2001 – Brian Saltus

2004 – Annie Duke

2005 – Mike Matusow

2006 – Mike Sexton

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Poker Trivia Question #9 (answer next week):

There is one great professional poker player today who used to be an air traffic controller. He and all of his colleagues across the United States were fired by the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, for not reporting to work. Their Union Representative gave them all some bad advice during a boycott for better benefits, and the President replaced them all with the National Guard. As a result, who was this one former air traffic controller who moved out to Las Vegas after being fired by the President, and ended up winning multiple WSOP gold bracelets, who is also known for being a big time winner in the cash games as well?

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Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is

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