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01 December 2006

World champ hungers to add home title to CV

 Joe Hachem will jet in from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure just in time to take his seat in the 2007 Aussie Millions main event: a tournament he’s desperate to win.

Having travelled the world competing in the world’s major poker tournaments, I’m proud to say that the Aussie Millions Poker Championship at Crown is as good as, if not better than, any other on the international poker calendar.

It’s obvious from the comments of my peers that this sentiment is shared by the international poker community; from the impressive tournament structures and prize pools on offer to the friendliness of the Crown staff and the exciting atmosphere of the complex in January, they all agree that the Aussie Millions is an event not to be missed.
It’s always great to come home and watch how poker continues to grow in popularity, but the crowds at the recent Crown Freerolls for seats in the 2007 Aussie Millions event stunned me.

To see hundreds of people queueing up for their chance to win a free seat to the 2007 main event again proved to me that poker is going places in Australia. I had a great night and plenty of laughs with my table in the evening event, and it was especially gratifying to speak with so many players who were making their first visit to the Crown poker room after only playing their local pub. One player even made it all the way through without rebuying, meaning he’s in with a chance to win the first prize without posting a single cent – not bad!

The growth of poker in Australia is reflected in the growth of the Crown poker room over the past couple of years, which has gone from a small operation of 14 tables to become of the world’s largest casino poker rooms with more than 50 tables.

At the same time, the growth of the Aussie Millions has reflected that trend. In 2003, we had 122 participants. It was predominantly a local event and we struggled to get top players to come out to Australia from overseas.
In 2006, the Aussie Millions made its mark as a tournament of international focus. This year we expect more than 600 players – maybe as high as 800 – to pay their $10,000 buy-in with the first prize getting up in the range of $2 million. There’ll also be more than 50 of the world’s best professional players and up to 400 overseas visitors.
Back in 1998 when the first Australasian poker championship was held (as it was known then), the prize pool was about $75,000. We thought, ‘hey this isn’t too bad’!

The event is growing at such a rate that within the next two years (and perhaps as soon as this year’s event), the Aussie Millions main event will be the biggest $10,000 buy-in event outside of the World Series of Poker.
One thing to remember is that while the six-day main event is the feature of the Aussie Millions, the tournament caters for all skills levels and budgets of players with a total of 2000 players expected to sign up for at least one event over the 14 days.

It’s also a great opportunity for us to showcase my hometown Melbourne, and as was the case last year, the international players quickly spread the word about summertime in this part of the world.

My good mate Antonio Esfandiari said in Bluff after last year’s event that he thought that the Aussie Millions at Crown in January is the best-run tournament in the world. I also believe this to be the case.

I’ve been playing for so long that I sometimes forget how long I’ve been playing. I’ve seen the room grow and shrink and grow, and I’m really proud that Crown has taken the lead to guide Australian poker out of the wilderness. We were quite a few years behind and now we’ve almost caught up. It’s really seeping into the Australian consciousness as a game or sport like any other, where you don’t have to play for high stakes.
Once upon a time our Australasian Championship was held in August and the main event was a $1600 buy-in event and basically aside from three or four people, no-one would put up the $1600; they’d have to win a seat via a satellite before they would play.

Look at the mindset today, $1600 is no longer a barrier and hundreds of players will actually play their way into this $10,000 main event without the benefit of a satellite because the prize money has grown so much.
And I hope I’m not getting the ‘Ivan Lendl’ syndrome, as this is one tournament that I’d really like to win, now more than ever, and I hope that I don’t keep jinxing myself because I want to win it so badly.

However, with so many pros in town and the wave of young online players having their first taste of a big-time poker tournament, it’s not going to be easy.

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