Top 2010 Poker Player Stories – #26 Johnny Chan and the Main Event
There are very few names in the poker industry that are referred to with the same sense of awe as Johnny Chan. For nearly 30 years, Chan has been throwing cards around poker tables all over the globe, and stacking the chips of other poker players that have left with their wallets empty because they played with the poker icon. Bob Stupak once coined the nickname “The Orient Express” after Chan won the 1981 American Cup poker tournament, getting through the final table of the tournament in under an hour. The name just stuck and the train has been cruising along the tracks ever since. Chan was the last player to win back to back WSOP Main Event titles (in 1987 and 1988), a feat which is very likely never going to be replicated given the size of today’s fields. It’s also incredible that in 1989, he finished runner up in the Main Event to Phil Hellmuth. But the 10 time bracelet winner was immortalized in the movie “Rounders” where Mike McDermott watched the tape of Chan slow play a monster versus Erik Seidel en route to winning his second Main Event title.
Last year I had Andew Feldman of ESPN on our show (the TPT Live Show) to talk about the play at the final table after the November 9. As part of our discussion, we discussed if there was another player that would have the impact on the game of poker that Phil Ivey had in making the November 9. I somewhat jokingly said “Can you imagine if Johnny Chan was a November Niner? In fact, I think that Johnny Chan will make the final table again.” This year, he made me believe that it was not only possible, but likely. This made his 2010 Main Event story one of the best of the year.
Chan elected to play in day 1c of the 2010 WSOP Main Event, and he sat himself in the Amazon room in the red section. I wandered over to his table several times, and each time I stopped by he was involved in a huge pot, and he won it. He stacked his chips all helter-skelter, so that it was impossible to get a real accurate chip count on him. But I knew that he had a ton of chips in comparison to the other players that I had followed closely in the previous 2 days. When the day was up, I watched him write the number 163,700 on his bag at the end of the night, which as it turned out was good for 2nd most to end the day. Then when day 2a resumed, Chan was 4th in chips for that day, as only 2 other players from day 1a had more chips that The Orient Express, and again Chan wasted no time in getting action going. Johnny padded his stack even more, and would finish the day within the top 10 in chips with 281,000.
At this point, it was impossible not to think about the possibilities of a deep run in the main event by the two time champion of the event, and the 10 time bracelet winner. What a story that would be. Chan must have known, because he wouldn’t disappoint. On day 3, he used the large stack to his advantage with expertise, and would finish the day 9th in chips with 636,000. Chan made it impossible to talk about the chip leader James Carroll, or any other back story at that point. But he wasn’t through as the bubble came and went during day 4, and for the first time, Chan dipped outside the top 10 to 13th in chips, with more than 1.1 million heading into day 5. But his stint outside the top 10 was a short lived one, as after the end of day 5, Chan bagged up 2.5 million chips, good for 9th place with just 205 players remaining. The deeper the even went, the more it looked like this could be the year that Chan makes another Main Event Final Table.
But on day 6, the wheels fell off the cart in 2 big pots. Chan got his pocket Kings in against Robert Pisano’s pocket Aces, and Chan’s once big stack was reduced to just 800,000 chips. They would go into the middle a short time later with Chan holding pocket Jacks this time, but the word “call” came from Jonathan Driscoll who again, would turn over pocket Aces, and just like that….Chan was out.
22 years after Johnny Chan won his second main event, he gave fans of the game the thrill of the tournament for 6 days. In the end, he headed to the payout desk as the room stopped when they heard his name called “Ladies and Gentleman, eliminated in 156th place, 2 time WSOP Main Event Champion, Johnny Chan.” The room applauded the effort and sadly watched as the last WSOP Main Event Champion in the field was eliminated.
I’ll remember a lot of stories from the 2010 WSOP Main Event, but one that will certainly stick out will be the story that Johnny Chan wrote for 6 days, wielding his chips just like the Orient Express of old.