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     "My first year as a professional gambler was the worst experience I ever had in my life," he says. While he learned the ropes, his losses mounted. Other players were drooling at the thought of taking money from this greenhorn from Houston who played like he couldn't give his cash away fast enough. "He was just a hot-headed kid with some talent," recalls Brunson. "Something would go bad and he would just go off the deep end. He was too impetuous and lacked discipline."

     Chan gambled like a desperate man, chasing his losses and hoping for miracles. "I kept losing money and had to get a job," he says, adding that he worked as a chef, dealer and floor manager at casinos to support his gambling habit. Still the well ran dry. "I borrowed money from friends, ran up my credit cards and hocked my jewelry at the pawn shop." He still smarts at the memory.

     He survived just long enough to turn the corner. "I finally learned when to quit," he says, intoning one of the golden rules of successful gambling. "In this game, you can't win it all at once. You have to learn control and limit yourself." When his luck started heading south, he'd head for the door. "There's always another game tomorrow," he's fond of saying.

     It was a profitable lesson. Soon he was taking money from the same players who so gladly accepted his flawed bets and bluffs. It was a reversal of fortune that Chan says he saw coming. "I always knew I'd become one of the top players because I have a big heart."

     "He learned to control himself," agrees Brunson. "Now he's the youngest great poker player. The rest of us are fading out, and he's just coming in."

han was born almost 40 years ago in Canton, China. His family left the country for Hong Kong when he was three to "seek out better opportunities," says Chan. Six years later, when he was nine his family emigrated to the U.S. and ended up in Houston. His father set up a restaurant while Johnny, the eldest of three children, learned how intimidating school can be when you're a minority and don't speak the language.

     "When I came to this country I spoke zero English," he says. "In the whole school there was only one other Asian. The other kids tell you something, you don't know what they're talking about. Sometimes they laugh at you, and you don't know what they're laughing about. They yell at you and you don't know what they're yelling about. That was tough." He doesn't elaborate on the rigors of his childhood but does volunteer that his two oldest children, who live in Houston with Chan's first wife, face bigotry just as he did.

     Chan is reluctant to talk much about his youth. He does mention that he's always had a competitive streak. Whether it was bowling on Tuesday nights or poker on Friday and Saturday nights, he was primed to win. "When I was young, I was one of the top three Asian bowlers in Houston." With his buddies he bowled in league play and was the team anchor. "I remember one game where I had to strike out in the tenth frame to bring home the money," he says, brightening at the memory. "Now that was pressure." He adds, of course, that he was equal to the task. "The more pressure, the more I concentrate." He still loves to bowl, betting thousands on a friendly game.

     In his early days in Vegas Chan says being one of few Asian poker players in town gave him an advantage over his opponents. "If they were Jewish, Italian, whatever, they had never played against an Asian. All their lives they had played against each other. They didn't expect a good Asian player. They underestimated me and gave me more action than I deserved. When I bet, I usually have a hand, and they would call me. They wanted to see what I had, just for their own peace of mind. They were throwing money at me." PAGE 7

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“My first year as a professional gambler was the worst experience I ever had in my life.”

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