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     Moreover, Chan undoubtedly collects the bulk of his income from side games, the contests played outside of tournament action where the stakes are higher, the winnings easier to come by and the results shielded from the prying eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. "If you win a tournament," says Chan, "it's in USA Today. The world knows what you did. Nobody knows what you win in a side game."

     Instead of spending several days enmeshed in a grueling, elimination-style competition for, say, a $25,000 first prize, the top players compete in side games with gamblers from all over the country who flock to the tournament. In this way, they can pocket $50,000 with only a few hours' work. These outsiders, though often the best players in their own backyards, are generally out of their league against the Vegas poker pros. Their bankrolls provide the local pros with what, in essence, becomes a trade surplus.

     When there are no tournaments going on, players like Chan, Brunson and Reese wait for "the right people" to blow into Vegas with a sizeable bankroll. The scent of big money quickly draws the trio's attention. "Word spreads," says Brunson. "I'd say the three of us are the nucleus of most of the big games in this town." If the visitor stays at the poker table long enough, Brunson says, he'll leave wiser and most likely, poorer.

     "If there's one thing that's true in poker, it's that the money filters up," says Kathy Hudson. "There's a lot of ego involved in this game and a lot of people dream of playing the Johnny Chans of the world." They usually pay dearly for the opportunity.

     "The higher I play, the better I am," Chan says. "That's where the skill kicks in. When I play in the smaller games, my skill is no good. And in this business you have to be at the top of your game."

     "Real big money doesn't scare Johnny," says Cloutier with a shake of his head. "He's played in the biggest games they've had in this town."

     Chan also takes his talent overseas, traveling to Europe and Asia to compete in tournaments and lucrative side games. A few years ago a dying French billionaire invited Chan and several of his colleagues to Paris for a two-week poker blowout. According to Brunson, who was part of the Vegas contingent, Chan turned a nice profit from his sojourn in France. "It was a good trip for Johnny," he says. Chan reluctantly admits that his winnings probably weighed in at $1 million and adds that his pal Doyle donated a good percentage of that money. "Yeah, he was the big loser," says Chan, laughing.

     Their host, an entertainment mogul, died of cancer a month after they returned to Vegas. "He was a very nice man, plus being an action guy and having tons and tons of money," says Brunson.

     Chan willingly admits that his hunger for money can't be sated. "You can never have enough of it."

     And you can never spend it fast enough. Except for a $15,000 diamond-encrusted gold Piaget watch, Chan often dresses modestly in Head warmup suits and Ellesse tennis shoes when he's playing poker, but his palms are scorched where the money leaves his hands. With a million-dollar country club estate in Las Vegas, four road-hogging Mercedes sedans and a love of gourmet cuisine, Chan says a $75,000 winning spree wouldn't even cover his monthly expenses.

     "I'm a big spender," he freely admits. "For example, I like new clothes, so I might buy a $5,000 suit. That's why I keep playing. The government takes a bite of you, the mortgage takes a bite." He shrugs. "Life is too short, you have to enjoy it." PAGE 5

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“If you win a tournament, it's in USA Today. The world knows what you did. Nobody knows what you win in a side game.”

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