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Terrence Chan: MMA Keeps Poker 'Ego In Check'

Former High-Stakes Pro Recovers From Last MMA Fight At The WSOP

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Though he spends much more time these days training in the gym than he does playing poker, former online high-stakes poker regular Terrence Chan decided to take a short break from his life in MMA to compete at the 2015 World Series of Poker. Chan is still chasing his first bracelet.

With 30 cashes lifetime at the WSOP, Chan is among the leaders in cashes without a bracelet. His success on the felt has allowed him to pursue MMA seriously and take a shot at one day making it into the UFC. Chan last fought on May 30 in Vancouver, Canada, and he won a decision.

Card Player had the chance to speak to the 34-year-old during a break in Sunday’s $1,500 extended play no-limit hold’em event. In the early afternoon, Chan was still alive with around 400 left from a starting field of 1,914.

Brian Pempus: How is your MMA game going these days?

Terrence Chan: My MMA game is going pretty well. I’m still really excited to train. Obviously while I am here [in Las Vegas] my focus is more on poker and trying to win tournaments. I still like MMA and keep working hard on it.

BP: Does this WSOP overlap with a break in your training that you were planning?

TC: Yeah, it worked out because I just fought on May 30, the first weekend of the WSOP. I was able to recover from getting banged up. I am pretty healthy now, so I’ll be able to train on my off days, or on days when I don’t play too much poker.

BP: Can you talk a bit about how fitness can help you at the poker table?

TC: I think it’s very clear that if you are physically fit, and you have all your nutrition and your sleep down, you are going to be able to play longer hours and perform better cognitively. There’s a strong body of evidence that is able to correlate cognitive function and physical fitness. At the same time, you don’t want to [work out] super hard on the days you play poker. Both activities take a lot out of you; you only have so much energy….The key is to modulate how much intensity you are going to put in on a day you play poker, based on how much you plan on playing. If you have a short day, you can hit the gym pretty hard. If you are on day 3 and you are the chip leader, you don’t want to be too aggressive at it. You probably want to take it down a notch in the gym.

BP: Do you think the average skill level of amateur players at the WSOP has plateaued or do you think every year people are still getting incrementally better?

TC: People are definitely getting better every summer. It’s clear; it happens in every game, and it happens faster in poker because there is money on the line. People will continue to get better. There’s still ebb and flow, though. I would say a lot of the large no-limit fields have made a comeback, whereas the average difficulty of the mixed game fields is probably tougher. There seems to be more fresh blood in no-limit, maybe that’s because online poker hasn’t been a big factor in the US in the last several years. So maybe people’s no-limit games aren’t quite as strong, but I don’t really want to generalize based on a limited sample size.

BP: Can you talk about a parallel between MMA and poker in terms of recovering from a setback?

TC: There is definitely a big mental toughness aspect. The difference is that in poker it is easy to delude yourself by thinking you played great but just got unlucky. Some people do the opposite, though; they play fine and think they were terrible. In MMA, it’s a little more clear where you stand—if you are getting tapped out, if you are getting beat up really bad in practice. It is developing the mental toughness. I think it is really important, in every aspect of life, to go through the trials of being the second-best guy, or just not as good as your peers, rather than always being the big fish in the small pond. I think that’s what MMA…I’m usually the smallest guy in the gym, I’m only 140 pounds. I am not a super athlete, so it’s very humbling. I had a lot of years of winning at really high-stakes poker and people telling me I was great. So, I think this has been really healthy in a lot of ways. I think this keeps my ego in check in poker and recognize that I always have something to learn.

BP: How was your fight in late May?

TC: It was great. I won a decision. It was a really tough fight, the guy had a really big heart. I had him in some bad positions, but he wouldn’t give up. We both hit each other a bunch. It was a good challenge for me. I’m glad I was able to win and have a tough fight.

BP: What does your future look like in MMA? How high are you looking to go?

TC: As high as possible, but I don’t want to say it’s a failure if I don’t make the UFC. Conversely, I don’t want to say I’m a success if I fight one time in the UFC. People dream about winning a WSOP bracelet, but it’s not the end goal, it’s part of the process…I think if you don’t have your eyes on [the UFC] you probably shouldn’t be competing in MMA. It’s not a sport great for dabbling in. Poker is better for that; you can stay at whatever stakes you are comfortable with. With MMA, if you don’t take it seriously there are bad consequences.

For more coverage from the summer series, visit the 2015 WSOP landing page, complete with a full schedule, news, player interviews and event recaps.