Yan Chen: A Simple Man

This is an “I Knew Him When” story.

When Yan Chen won event #14 at the 2010 World Series of Poker − a prestigious Deuce to Seven No-Limit Lowball title − it blew his cover. Before that, only the top players in the world knew that Yan was one of the top players in the world.

I used to play poker every day with Yan back in 1999, at Lucky Chances casino in Colma, California. Yan made daily trips to the WMCA. To work out? To stay in shape in order to play great poker? Not quite. Yan slept in what he called “Hotel Camry.” When he woke up, he’d drive his hotel over to the YMCA. He’d go in, pay $15 for day usage, take a shower, and then drive straight to Lucky Chances and play poker for a long time.

My buddy Alex (who stars in some of the stories in my new book) played everyday at Lucky Chances back then too. During a recent visit, Alex and I had a good time recalling our favorite Yan story…

The three of us were playing in a 10-handed $20-40 limit hold’em game. All three of us were on the pure and infinite grind. We had unlimited time, and effectively unlimited money in that we all had healthy bankrolls, and the games were very soft. Tomorrow, and likely for many tomorrows after that, we would remain comfortably in action.

This is a glorious way to live for a poker player. We three had achieved the highest condition. We were sitting there, at the table, on some nameless shapeless day, doing what we do. And on that day, Yan, with his light-you-up smile, in total peace and contentment, out of nowhere, spoke these words to no one, and to everyone:

“I am a simple man. I wake up. I shower. I play poker.”

I was planning to end this blog post right there, with that line. I just had one little bit of info I wanted to add, for flavoring, and that was it, done. So I texted Yan to get it. I asked my question, and along with Yan’s answer came The Rest of the Story. Here is the entire text exchange I had with Yan. All of Yan’s words are bolded.

ME: Your story is shaping up! I need to know… Where did you like to park at Lucky Chances to sleep?

YAN: Lol. Usually at the casino level. When security told me to move I’d usually move to the lower level. I’ll tell you what, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it may sound. When it rained I slept super well at Hotel Camry.

On my second trip, I put a comforter in the car to flatten the back seats, and I brought my pillow. Other than that I couldn’t stretch my legs, it was pretty close to a bed.

Also on the second trip, I bought a membership at 24 Hour Fitness where I’d shower. It’s only 2 miles from Lucky Chances.

To directly answer your question, my fav spot to park and sleep was that far corner away from the street. I can’t believe I just said that. Lol

ME: Your blog post just doubled in length!

YAN: Haha. There’s something you might have forgot. I started playing there in Sept 1999. You and I were often in the same game but never said much to each other, other than a thing or two when we were both outside smoking. There wasn’t hostility but we were both working and I guess we were aware at least subconsciously we were competitors.

Somehow that day you offered me a beer. I said no. But after a while I said what the heck. After one beer I started chatting. So you said, “Tell me about yourself.”

It might be strange to people in other professions that we were at the same table for almost two months and hadn’t exchanged anything more than “hi.” Or “Did you call or raise?”

No animosity, no exchanges at all.

After I said the thing about me being a simple man, you immediately said, “I love that. Would you join Alex and me for Thanksgiving?” I guess we are both weird people.

Or simple men.

ME: Awesome

YAN: By the way, this all happened in late 1999. My favorite story about you happened in January 2000, when you introduced me to online poker and I got hooked. 🙂 I remember every single detail but I’m at my kid’s soccer practice.

ME: If you decide to send it to me, use email!


  • Keith Posted February 15, 2012 8:57 am

    Was lowball still being played around Colma in ’99?

  • Tommy Angelo Posted February 15, 2012 9:16 am

    “Was lowball still being played around Colma in ’99?”

    If across the bay counts as “around Colma, then yes. There was a $20 limit lowball game at The Oaks.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × 5 =