PokerStars was trying something new.
After holding the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure on a cruise ship in 2004, it moved the growing event to the Atlantis Resort and Casino in 2005. PokerStars also decided it wanted to hire a blogger…just for the week…to cover the event. That blogger was me.
Within minutes of my being on the assignment, somebody pulled me aside and pointed to a young guy I’d never seen before.
“That’s Terrence and he used to work with us,” I was told.
That was the first time I saw Terrence Chan.
The 2005 PCA happened to coincide with Chan leaving his job at PokerStars where he had been a large part of creating the top notch customer support system and team. He was moving on to play cards professionally.
Over the course of the next few days, I noticed Terrence’s former co-workers seemed impressed with him. It was as if they knew he could play, but didn’t know he could play.
Chan showed them they were right. He made a run all the way to 20th place in that tournament. During that week, he became a friend and person I genuinely enjoyed covering.
Since then, I’ve watched him almost win a WSOP bracelet and win hundreds of thousands of dollars in the live tournament world. And those hundreds of thousands are only what he wins when he’s not really working.
In the years since Chan first played poker in 1999, he’s turned himself into a fierce and feared high-stakes heads-up and six-max limit hold’em player. Because it’s very rare to find that particular blend of poker in live games, Chan’s efforts are aimed almost entirely online.
Over the years, I have written quite a bit about Chan on this blog, and each year he gives me more to write about. Last Spring, he won two limit hold’em SCOOP events in one night. Now, he’s won a WCOOP bracelet.
At 28 years old. he does it all as he travels around the world, training in Mixed Martial Arts, and living what appears to be a pretty great life.
With all that in mind, I asked Chan a few questions the day after he won. Here’s how he responded.
PokerStars Blog: Were there any particular moments in the tournament when you thought, “I’m going to make the final table?”
Chan: Strangely, the first time I thought this was with 11 players left and I was in third place. I did some quick math in my head and figured I was a pretty solid favourite to final table. Of course you really never know, and at any given point you can just lose 2-3 big pots and go broke.
PokerStars Blog: How would you describe your basic philosophy as it pertains to poker?
Chan: There is always a correct play. We may not know what it is, but we know it is there.
PokerStars Blog: You’re friends with a lot of the members of Team PokerStars Pro. Did you end up facing any of them during your victory?
Chan:I started at a table with Bill Chen and was at tables late in the tournament with both Ylon Schwartz and Chad Brown.
I tortured Bill. I won like every hand I played against him and busted him early. I kind of felt bad ,of course, since he’s a good friend. I played very few pots against Ylon. I played a lot of pots against Chad, and in the early going he was torturing me and accumulating a big stack of chips, but in the end I won a gigantic pot off him with set over set (TT vs 55). He never really fully recovered from that.
PokerStars Blog: Who do you look up to in the poker world?
Chan: I have always — despite not being a very mathy person myself — looked up to the most mathematical and analytical minds in the game. Guys like Bill Chen, Jerrod Ankenman, Chris Ferguson, Andy Bloch and so many others who have done real original work in the areas of poker, math and game theory blow my mind. These guys — and others — who have done real work and I have mostly just ridden their coattails to success.
PokerStars Blog: Really? Two SCOOP and one WCOOP in one year? What have you got figured out that nobody else knows?
Chan Again, I have a fantastic support system. I have the best friends in the world to learn from.
PokerStars Blog: When you’re playing, it seems so automatic. How did you develop the ability to play hands on auto-pilot?
Chan: Hundreds of thousands of hands of high-stakes limit hold’em — that’s pretty much it! When you’ve played that many hands, you’ve pretty much had nearly every hand on nearly every flop (or at least a similar one) after every betting sequence!
PokerStars Blog How often does it happen that you actually have to think for more than two seconds about what the correct play is?
Chan: Actually, there are a lot of decisions where I wish I had more than a
second to decide. However, I’ve played enough to know that if I’m unsure about a decision, that it necessarily must be a close decision (otherwise I would know clearly what the right play was). It would actually be worse to play really fast and suddenly stop and think about a decision every so often, since my opponent would be able to infer that I wasn’t 100% confident about my decision. Regardless of whether the game is online or live, if you play at a fast pace, it is better to make a quick decision that might be slightly wrong than to give away the tell that you have a tough decision.
PokerStars Blog: In the grand scheme of things, $60,000 isn’t that big a win for you, but at the same time, you seemed really intent on winning. Why?
Chan: Actually, when it got down to like 50-100 players or so, I was actually thinking “Heh, it’d be kind of cool to make the final table.” I never really thought about winning. I thought making the final table would be cool because I’d still get some props after the SCOOP performances.
At one point during 4-handed play I lost a number of pots and was the short stack and thought I was about to bust. At that point I was even okay with going out fourth. But once I got the chip lead 3-handed, I thought, “Now I’m going to be really upset if I don’t win.”
For some reason I just felt that I had to win, that my friends and even total strangers who had known what I had done in the spring wanted me to win. People want to see Roger Federer win Grand Slams, Tiger Woods to win golf majors, Anderson Silva to knock people out and so on. Once I got down near the end and had all of the interwebs cheering for me, I got to feel what that’s like for a few brief moments. And that definitely motivated me.
PokerStars Blog: You seem to spend more time on the road than you do at home. Why? Any thoughts of settling down?
Chan: It’s not so much more that I spend more time on the road than at home that I just think of the concept of “home” as more fluid than most people. I like to go places for a month or maybe a couple months at a time and just experience what it’s like to live there.
I certainly may settle down in the future. But for now I am single with no kids, unattached from the world, so I see no reason to. Settling down is totally reasonable for people who have wives and kids and stuff, but if you don’t have any of those things holding you down, then why not enjoy what the world has to offer? If I were to find the right person that I would want to settle down with, then obviously I would do so. But it’d have to be a pretty special person to make me do that (and they’d have to be willing to put up with me!).
PokerStars Blog: You play online cash games almost exclusively. Is it just impossible to find the kind of live action you need or do you just prefer online?
Chan.: Casinos won’t typically spread a heads-up game, nor are there usually even 6-max tables for limit hold’em live. Also, a lot of the action I get are from players in not only the U.S. but also various parts of Europe, so unless those people happen to be where I am, I’m more likely to be able to play them on PokerStars than in any given casino.
But even without these things I prefer online poker. I can show up and leave when I want without issue, I don’t have to carry a ton of cash around or make arrangements at my bank to wire money. I can quit my session and go to the gym with ease (which is very important to me). I can sit and wait for an opponent and pop in a movie and watch it until someone shows up. It’s just a combination of conveniences that makes it so much superior to the live experience.
Congrats again to Terrence Chan for his first WCOOP title and once again proving why I wouldn’t play him at anything over $4/$8 HORSE, and that would only be if I were looking for lessons.