Over the decades of poker he’s been a success in, Johnny Chan has given few interviews and shoed away from sharing the secrets of his success. We’ve dug deep into the archives, however, and found 10 poker quotes from Johnny Chan which can inspire you to greatness in your own game.

The Orient Express Has No Brakes

Johnny Chan’s poker career centers around the delicate dichotomy of his personality. Warm and welcoming away from the table, he has single-minded dedication and poker aggression at the felt.

1. “Not too many players try to bluff me. If there’s any bluffing or stealing, I’m going to be the one doing it.”

Johnny Chan’s attitude has always been that if there is a door to be opened while playing poker, he wants to be the man to unlock it – or kick it off its hinges. The same applies to bluffing. Never anting to be the one to make the decision to call, Chan was known as The Orient Express for a reason.

Just like a runaway train, Chan was frequently the player raising the stakes and was never afraid to make poker’s greatest move – the bluff. Possessing a brilliant staredown, often laser-guided bet-sizing and a prowess in the late 1980s that made him seem unbeatable, Chan timed bluffs very, very well.

2. “I am the most aggressive poker player in the world.”

Never afraid, Johnny Chan has won 10 World Series of Poker bracelets playing a fearless style of poker all of his own. Chan said this at the time of him being a two-time back-to-back world champion.

In many ways, his aggression was in part his undoing as it encouraged other players to replicate the level of attacking poker they played and thereafter, Chan’s style was not unique. Nobody put a player to the test quite like Johnny Chan, however, and ‘The Orient Express’ ran over many a more timid foe in his pursuit of glory.

3. “At first a lot of players looked down at me when I would go home broke. Now they come to me for answers.”

Chan’s nature was always that of a truly humble man. Coming from a place of strong family values, Chan’s work ethic was unmatched, his fearless nature was not replicated by early opponents, and he knew his poker math. Those are all factors behind his incredible success but early in his career, he didn’t get the respect he deserved. Being Taiwan-American cast some players against him, in nothing more than a jealous nature reserved for those afraid of different cultures entering their country. That changed over time as Chan hinted at with these words.

Today, Johnny Chan is highly respected and a revered poker professional who has helped thousands of players improve at the game we all love. It wasn’t always a case, but Chan got the respect he deserved in the end.

Johnny chan How many

A Plan of Action 

Johnny Chan was the man, but he was also a man with a plan. Looking back, he might have been one of the first players to truly structure what he did from session to session, scuplting a career of greatness along the way.

4. “Every time you walk away a winner, you feel better and you sleep better. You have a feeling of winning.”

Johnny Chan’s record in poker tournaments is beyond impressive and it speaks volumes that the power of positive results influenced him so much. Today, in the midst of a GTO poker era, it is often said that results don’t matter and a focus only on improving your play will help.

That’s all very well and appeals to logic but Johnny Chan is evidence to the contrary. Chan chased victories and used each one to push himself further onward, winning again and again. In his poker career, The Orient Express has won an incredible 46 ranking tournaments. While he was obviously working on his game the whole time, the sweet taste of success was a major driving point behind him becoming the legend he is.

5. “When I sit down at a table I usually know who the strongest players are, so I leave them alone. They aren’t going to lose a lot of money. I pick on the weakest players.”

Never mind game selection, Johnny Chan was the master of player selection. Many players will make the mistake of sitting down at the table and assuming that they are the best player there. Johnny Chan made an incredible career by taking more money from weaker players and being happy to avoid those who might threaten his progress.

6. “When you play heads up, you train your opponent to do what you want. If I check, you are supposed to bet. If I bet, you are supposed to fold. If I call, you are supposed to bet again the next round.”

Johnny Chan was the master of manipulation and that extended to his heads-up game. With those 46 victories heads-up, there have only been 20 defeats. That’s a win-rate heads-up in some of the biggest majors in poker of 69.7%, better than a 2-to-1 record. As unbelievable as those numbers are, they have a solid science behind them.

Johnny Chan’s intimidation of players hasn’t come by way of aggression away from the felt. In fact, ask many players who they picked to win the 1987, 1988 and 1989 world championships, they all said Chan. OK, Phil Hellmuth got the better of him in 1989 but that could easily have gone the other way. The Poker Brat won one important heads-up against Chan, but Johnny knocked Phil out of the previous year’s Main Event.

7. “A lot of players don’t have a goal. I had to learn when to quit. I set a goal to win or lose between two hundred and four hundred dollars a day. I would quit when I reached my limit.”

The origins of Johnny Chan’s success may look to many like his bolt-from-the-blue successes in the World Series of Poker festivals of 1987 and 1988. But Chan was a cash game player long before he was a tournament smash hit and knew how to quit if he needed to.

Playing to strict limits, Chan was able to grow his bankroll, protecting him in tournaments such as the WSOP events that then filled up throughout the 1980s. Chan’s early discipline in cash games paved the way for his later success in tournaments.

Johnny Chan

The Secrets of His Success 

The Orient Express knew when he was on the right track and when he was likely to come off the rails. He learned it all through trial and error, the most reliable method to magic known to man. It made Johnny Chan a poker legend.

8. “If I don’t feel right, there’s no point playing.”

Knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run is a key lyric in the 1970s song The Gambler, performed by Kenny Rogers. It applies exactly to Chan’s attitude in early games and throughout his career. If he couldn’t give himself 100% to the game, then he didn’t take part in it. That approach dates back to a day in May, 1989, that Chan would like to forget but which informed his career’s later years.

9. “In 1989, it was just another day at the office. I didn’t play my A-Game and I got punished for it.”

If he had won the 1989 World Championship, then Johnny Chan would have achieved something no other player in history has done – to win three back-to-back WSOP titles. Chan came the closest anyone has ever come, finishing 1st, 1st and 2nd in the years 1987, 1988 and 1989, losing only to Hellmuth in the last year of the decade.

Looking back, Chan acknowledges that he failed to bring his very best on that day and ever since has sworn not to play should he not be able to get The Orient Express on the right track to begin with.

10. “If I could achieve one more thing in poker, I’d like to win another Main Event.”

When Johnny Chan told me this in 2017 in Las Vegas, I took it with a pinch of salt. Of course he wants to win another Main Event – who doesn’t? But since then, Chan has cashed in three of the six WSOP Main Event that have taken place live in Las Vegas, coming 1,066th, 612th and 560th.

Three cashes in recent Main Events would be perfectly acceptable to many players but for Johnny Chan, also known as The Orient Express, there is always another shot at glory coming down the line. Who’s to say that one of poker’s most recognizable faces and a Poker Hall of Fame legend won’t get there one day?

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Paul seaton


Paul Seaton, a poker luminary with over a decade of experience, has reported live from iconic poker events, including the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour. He’s not just a spectator; he’s been the Editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine and Head of Media for partypoker. Paul’s poker insights have graced publications like PokerNews, 888poker, and PokerStake, where he’s interviewed poker legends such as Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, and The Hendon Mob’s, entire lineup. His exceptional work even earned him a Global Poker Award nomination for Best Written Content. In the poker world, Paul Seaton’s expertise is a force to be reckoned with, captivating enthusiasts worldwide. 

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