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A Poker Life -- Terrence Chan

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Sep 19, 2012

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Terrence Chan pays his bills by playing poker. He’s been doing it since 2004. But he doesn’t consider himself to be a full-time poker pro. Chan also competes as a professional mixed martial artist. He’s been doing it for the last couple years. But he doesn’t consider himself to be a professional fighter either.

Truth be told, the 31-year-old Canadian has pretty diverse interests, much more than consumes the typical poker player these days and Chan credits this balance for his longevity in a career that has produced thousands of has-beens and one-hit wonders.

Poker Beginnings

Chan was born in Vancouver on Dec. 8, 1980 to a middle class family of immigrants. His parents didn’t come to Canada with very much, but they worked hard to provide him with a childhood full of opportunities.

Chan’s parents expected the typical things from their son that most parents expect. They wanted him to go to school, work hard and stay out of trouble. For the most part, Chan kept his nose clean, but he did find himself drawn to gambling from an early age.

“I’ve always been a gambler,” admitted Chan. “Even as a kid, I would always be gambling on whatever I could. I remember playing the sports lottery and my cousin and I would bet our spare change playing Big 2. Even when I was in school, I’d spend my lunch hour playing cards or setting up sports pools. In the 10th grade, I kind of acted as the bookie of our class.”

In 1999, Chan enrolled in Simon Fraser University, studying for a degree in Business Administration. His cousin convinced him to visit a local casino and the action hungry Chan couldn’t resist.

“It was my first year in University and my cousin took me to check it out, wanting to play some blackjack,” recalled Chan. “I noticed another game going on where people were sitting at these lower tables, firing chips into the middle. I was interested, so I sat down.”

Chan was the youngest player in the game by a couple decades, but was able to figure out that the men were playing poker. He had seen the poker movie Rounders earlier that year, but still didn’t understand the rules. He went home and studied a bit and came back with enough knowledge to give himself a chance.

“I still didn’t really know what I was doing, but on the third trip, I somehow managed to win about $500 playing $4-$8 limit hold’em. At 18 years old, that was all the money in the world, so I was pretty hooked.”

A Job Opportunity

Before the Chris Moneymaker boom, there was only a small community of players who openly discussed the game online, at a forum called rec.gambling.poker. Chan kept up with his studies, but spent all of his free time learning the intricacies of hold’em. He opened up online poker accounts at Planet Poker and PokerStars, becoming one of the first to brave the primitive software being offered at the time.

Something about Chan’s posts on the forum caught the eye of Isai Scheinberg, a former senior programmer for IBM in Canada who went on to become the founder of PokerStars. Scheinberg emailed Chan one day, asking him if he’d like a job.

“I wasn’t even finished with University yet, but PokerStars was nice enough to pay for me to finish the rest of my schooling,” said Chan. “I moved to Costa Rica and eventually became the manager of support operations. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about the industry as a result.”

Though Scheinberg was one of those named in a federal criminal case on Black Friday for violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), Chan had nothing but nothing but positive things to say about his former employer and even posted an entry defending the company on his popular blog.

“I slept in the guy’s spare bedroom,” said Chan. “He’s a hard nosed kind of guy, tough to work for, but he is no way an unethical guy. There were so many situations that came up where PokerStars could have easily taken the amoral route and nobody would have ever known about it, but he insisted that we always do the right thing, even if it cost the company money. Keep in mind, I don’t know what’s happened with the company in the last eight years, but I’d find it hard to believe that PokerStars and Scheinberg haven’t continued with that player-first mentality.”

Getting Into The Grind

Chan loved his job at PokerStars, but wanted to try and play poker full time, earning his paycheck on the virtual felt. Chan spent his first few years playing a mixture of games online. He started with sit-n-go’s and then switched over to no-limit cash games. After a small downswing, he moved over to heads-up limit hold’em.

“I was an online grinder for years, just moving from game to game, wherever I could find the biggest edge. Over the years, the game would change and I would change with it. If one format got too difficult to beat, I found a more profitable one. I’ve always been proud of my ability to adapt.”

Though Chan was a bit of a nomad, living in Costa Rica, Hong Kong and his native Vancouver, he always spent his summers in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. In 2006, he got his first taste of live tournament success, finishing eighth in a $2,500 no-limit hold’em tournament for $74,175.

The next year, he returned to the Rio and finished runner-up to Hoyt Corkins in the $2,500 six-handed

no-limit hold’em tournament, earning $287,345. After five WSOP cashes in 2008 and a final table appearance at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Chan turned some heads with a couple of major online tournament wins playing under the name “Unassigned.”

At the 2009, PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP), Chan managed to win two limit hold’em events on the same day, the $500 event for $51,300 and the $5,000 event for $134,887. Later that year, he took down the $1,000 limit hold’em World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) event for another $83,030.

Becoming A Fighter

After two final table appearances at the 2010 WSOP, Chan took up an interest in mixed martial arts. At first he competed in about a dozen amateur grappling tournaments, but before long, he jumped head first into full fight training, learning from professionals in Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Thailand and China.

“I had done some jiu jitsu, a little muay thai, but mixed martial arts were a completely different animal,” admitted Chan. “The biggest adjustment for me was the beatings. Taking a punch wasn’t really a problem. You just keep your chin down and your hands up. But you can really get beaten up when you are on the ground, whether it’s being smothered, choked, arm locked or just flat out pounded.”

Chan made his debut at Battlefield Fight League in Vancouver in September of 2011, defeating his opponent with a second round technical knock out. Then, in early March of 2012 at the Road Fighting Championships in Suncheon, Korea, Chan won a decision over his opponent to go to 2-0.

Later that month, Chan was invited to his first professional fight at the Legend Fighting Championships in Hong Kong. Though his opponent was a veteran of over 20 fights, failed to make weight and had a five-inch height advantage, Chan was able to submit him with an arm bar in the second round.

Back To Poker

Though riding an emotional high from his professional MMA debut, Chan turned his attention back to the WSOP. Though he had only played sparingly during his fight training, Chan knew that he wouldn’t be rusty and credited his mental break from the game for his success at this year’s series.

“These other poker players get sick and burned out on poker,” he said. “They basically live at the casino, and getting fried after a while. It’s so important to have some other interest in your life, even if it’s just to give you that mental break. When you come back to the game, you’ll be that much sharper.”

Chan had one of the most successful summers of his career this year, cashing an incredible 10 times and earning himself another final table appearance in the $2,500 six-handed limit hold’em event. He finished off his grind with a deep run in the WSOP main event, where he finished 410th for $28,530.

“I feel like I put myself in position to have a great summer, which is all you can really ask for. I had a good number of cashes and a lot of deep runs, so overall I’d say it was a success.”

Moving Forward

Though he suffered a concussion during a grappling tournament in Las Vegas, Chan remains committed to resuming his training and getting more professional fights. Though there’s not a ton of money to be made in MMA, Chan is happy that poker has provided enough for him to focus on his newfound passion in life.

“At the WSOP, I’m a full-time poker player. When I’m training, I squeeze in some poker here and there when I have the time. MMA doesn’t pay the bills, but I’ve saved up enough that it’s not problem to take a few months off at time so I can focus on my training.”

Chan is now 31-years-old and knows his window of opportunity in the sport is closing fast.

“I just want to see what I can do,” he said. “I’m doing it for myself. In five years, who knows what I’ll be doing. I’d like to say that I’ll still be involved in poker or MMA, because both have given me so much, but who knows for sure. No matter what happens, I’m just happy that I can honestly say I’ll have no regrets. I’ll never look back and wonder, what if?” ♠