Born in Guangzhou, China in 1957, Johnny Chan moved with his family to Hong Kong, and from there to America, finally settling in Houston, Texas. Chan was expected to continue his family’s restaurant business and began majoring in hotel and restaurant management at the University of Houston. At age 21, though, he left university and moved to Las Vegas to take up a career in professional gambling.
Johnny Chan won the World Series of Poker championship event in both 1987 and 1988, and went on to finish second to Phil Hellmuth in 1989. No player has won the World Series back-to-back since.
Chan was first in money won all-time at the World Series of Poker in 2002. In 2005, he became the first player to have won ten World Series of Poker titles, after beating Phil Laak in a Texas Hold ’em tournament.
Johnny Chan became known for the "lucky" orange he kept in front of him at the poker table, apparently for its pleasant scent.
In 2005, Chan won the $400,000 first prize in the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament, beating 22 top players to make it to the finals and then defeating Todd Brunson after three matches. In turn, Chan was beaten by Brunson in the semi-finals for the Poker Superstars III tournament.
So far, Johnny Chan’s total tournament earnings exceed $6,300,000.
In addition to his other firsts, Johnny Chan was the first poker-playing movie star. It was Chan, shown trapping Erik Seidel, that Matt Damon idolized in the movie Rounders, which features a clip of the final heads-up match in the 1988 World Series of Poker main event. Chan made a cameo appearance in the movie.