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An Early Retirement

by Conrad Brunner |  Published: Sep 01, 2005


The online poker industry does not follow the normal rules of time. Having grown more in a few short years than most industries grow in a generation, the 24-hour clock on the virtual poker community continues to run at double-speed, which has a curious effect on those who live and breathe this business.

Take the case of Terrence Chan. PokerStars recently said a sad farewell to Chan, one of its most respected and longest-serving staff members. After several years of distinguished service, Chan decided to give up the nine-to-five to spend more time with his friends and family, and the company wished him well in his retirement.

There's nothing unusual about that, except that Chan is only 24 years old. He was just 19 (and studying business administration at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada) when he received his first PokerStars paycheck, but Chan's extreme youth did not stop him from becoming a prime mover in a company that grew from zero to two million subscribers on his watch. The excellent quality of today's PokerStars support system is mainly due to him.

Chan recalls the modest progress of online poker back in 2001 (which may as well have been in the Jurassic Period, given how the business has exploded since then): "When I started with PokerStars, you would see maybe one $3-$6 game, a $2-$4 table, and perhaps a threehanded or fourhanded $10-$20 game with names you'd still recognize today, like "The Grinder," and "Donald." Almost nobody multitabled in those days."

Chan was also consulted on the company's early software development. "We had a look at things like how the sliders should work, what specific poker terminology should be used, and what design of cards looked best on the table.

"PokerStars soon became the darling of the community and achieved some pretty solid success through word of mouth," says Chan. "We were growing steadily, and hiring more and more customer support staff. Then, Chris [Moneymaker, a PokerStars qualifier] won the World Series in 2003, and we knew that we had something huge on our hands."

In his "retirement," Chan has become a poker player once again. As well as a lucrative online playing record, Chan has contested three major TV tournaments since going pro, finishing in the money in the WPT PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and the PartyPoker Million. Chan, who helped set up the PokerStars office in Costa Rica, was also a member of the Costa Rican poker team, which successfully defended its World Cup of Poker title in London this May. While he has enjoyed playing in front of the camera, he is looking to make a living elsewhere: "I focus on ring games, as I believe most professionals should."

Chan's understanding of the game is such that PokerStars Cardroom Manager Lee Jones sought his advice on sit-and-go strategy for the freshly updated version of his book Winning Low-Limit Hold'em. "Terrence thinks about the game of poker more than anybody I know. The depth of his understanding is scary, and he seems to be virtually tilt-proof," says Jones.

As for his new calling, Chan explains, "Playing poker for a living is not easy. It's real work, and you have to treat it like real work. But, the reason I left 'Stars to play poker for a living is simply because I could make just as good, or better, money doing so, but on my own time. I loved working at 'Stars and all of my colleagues there, but the liberty that comes with playing poker for a living is huge."

Chan plans to divide his time between his adopted country of Costa Rica (he has a Costa Rican girlfriend and speaks excellent Spanish) and his native Canada. He's clearly enjoying his new freedom, and the only law of time and space he now adheres to is the golden rule of all full-time poker players: Please, no phone calls before lunchtime.

Conrad Brunner works for