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01 December 2008

The missing piece of the puzzle

Having achieved success on poker’s biggest stage, the Aussie Millions is now firmly in the sights of 2005 WSOP main event winner and Crown ambassador Joe Hachem. He spoke with Stephen Doig ahead of this year’s Aussie Millions.

Name: Joe Hachem
Lives: Melbourne, Australia
Career highlights: Winner 2005 WSOP main event; winner 2006 WPT Five-Diamond Classic; winner 2007 APPT Tournament of Champions

Joe Hachem is one of the most respected, and feared, players in tournament poker. Since winning the 2005 WSOP main event, Hachem has built a reputation as one of poker’s esteemed ambassadors off the felt. At the table, he has compiled a daunting record that features nine WSOP cashes, an APPT final table and a WPT title. Joe showed his win was no one-off when he captured the prestigious WPT Five-Diamond Classic title in 2006. Last year, he reached the final table of the APPT Macau: Asian Poker Open final table (finishing eighth) before taking out the inaugural APPT Tournament of Champions in Sydney. In April 2008, Joe fell just short of the final table of the PokerStars EPT Monte Carlo Grand Final, taking away over $150,000 for finishing in 11th place.

Bluff Australasia: When was the first time that you played at Crown?

Joe Hachem: I think it was in ’97. There may have two hold’em tables and a couple of seven-card stud tables. The first time I played hold’em at Crown was in ’98. We used to play Manila all the time, not hold’em. We used to play in private clubs, and when the casino opened I thought it was a great opportunity to get away from those clubs because you never knew what was actually going on in there – if you know what I mean. But when I actually walked into the casino to play I found there were many of the same faces I was playing in the private clubs now playing at the casino!

My first memory of playing hold’em I actually sat down at a table with John Madaffari and drove him crazy because I was playing so badly, giving him beat after beat after beat. But then the people who actually first influenced my game at Crown were people like Tony G, and I still remember seeing Dusan there in the old days. I remember watching Sam Korman win a tournament early on. They were the people really that stand out.

BA: When was the first time you played the Aussie Millions?

JH: When the main event was a $5000 buy-in. I think it was 2003. Peter Costa from England won it. I remember exactly what happened to me – I was having a really lousy week and scrounged up $5k to buy into the main event. So I played for 10 hours straight, just holding my own, not being able to do anything, and then I get moved to a table and the very first hand I was dealt was A-Q. I raised and some mad Irish dude went all-in and it came back to me and I called him. I had him just covered and he had A-7. He ended up flopping trip 7s.

The very next hand I’m in the big blind and Toby Atroshenko moves all in on me and I call him with a pair of 7s, and he shows AQ and it comes blank blank blank AA! So I’m out in two hands after working hard for the 10 hours. I got up quietly from the table, walked out to my car in the garage downstairs and closed the door, and screamed my lungs out until I was hoarse! I remember driving back home that night – you could have lit cigars off either ear lobe, I was so furious. But the good news was that I left the poker room with grace and dignity and didn’t say a word in the poker room. But if anyone had been in the car with me I’m not sure what would have happened!

BA: Obviously the Aussie Millions means a great deal to you.

JH: Winning the Aussie Millions by far is the number one thing on my list of things to achieve. Nothing can be more important than winning your home national championship, especially when it’s held at your home casino. The odds, just mathematically, are in our favour and we haven’t been able to do it. I keep trying – I’ve got this theory that every year a handful of Aussies make the final table but none of them can win it – they’re holding off because when I make the final table I’m going to win it, I promise you!

We’re assured another world-class field this year. I know Jonno and the guys at Crown have done an excellent job of satelliting players. It will be interesting to see how many overseas participants come out to Australia. All things considered, even with the economic climate, the Aussie Millions is such a strong event on a worldwide level. The brand is certainly strong internationally.

BA: Who are some of the Aussies impressing you at the moment?

JH: I’d say Julian Powell and Van Marcus are the two standouts by far. Closely behind them are my brother Tony and my cousin Ray Sukkar from Sydney. Ray has had a good year and he’s destined to win – he won the Joe Hachem Deep Stack feature event last February and he performed well at the PokerNews Cup. Tony has some good form, and his game is maturing. I think what Tony now needs to stop the rushes of blood and blowing himself up in the latter stages of the tournament, because he’s doing really well. But Julian has got to be close to winning a tournament, I like his form, I like the way he plays, and Van is just coming off that win in Manila – they’re the two standouts for me.

They’re tough players but I kind of prefer it that way. Maybe because I have such a good sense of where they are – I don’t want to use the word predictable – but at least they make sense with what they’re trying to do in a hand as opposed to someone who does really erratic things and is hard to read. And they also respect the game for the game, it’s not just a Thursday night home game and let’s just go all-in, these guys are playing high-level poker that I really respect and appreciate.

BA: What things do you like about Crown and the Crown poker room?

JH: Crown as a complex and a casino is the number one in the world. I don’t think there is any other place quite like it. It offers everything; you can go bowling, you can play poker, play high stakes, you have the VIP room, there’s a decent movie theatre and the restaurants are incredible.

As far as the poker experience goes, there are 60 world-class poker tables, the room is run so professionally, every foreman knows the rules and there’s no second guessing. Jonno Pittock runs that room with the help of his crew so well. The Aussie Millions is in the top three tournaments in the world – end of story – and everyone that has played in the Aussie Millions thinks the same. The comment I keep getting back from the internationals that come over here is that the service is second to none, they get treated like gold – you should be treated like gold when you’re travelling 10,000 miles to participate in a poker tournament. Being on the banks of the Yarra and lending itself to views of the city adds to the experience. But let’s not forget the high quality rooms either when you stay at Crown – I’ve stayed all over the world and the rooms at Crown measure up to anywhere I’ve stayed.

BA: So what’s in store for 2009?

JH: My list of hopeful achievements is so long and so unrealistic (laughing), I just want to win every tournament! I’ll start with winning the Aussie Millions and the World Series again! You know what I’m like, I set the bar pretty high for myself, no matter what tournament it is – when I sit down I want to win, end of story. It’s therefore hard to give you a list of goals because you could name any plausible goal and it’ll be on my list.

After the Aussie Millions, I’ll probably head to the LA Poker Classic in February, in March back to the USA for the NBC Heads-up, and then the Bay 101 Shooting Star, then April I’m going to Italy and Monte Carlo, and then it’s almost time for the WSOP – the first half of the year is already filled!

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