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01 September 2006

Bahamas, Battleships and Bluffs

 It would be easy for Joe Hachem to bemoan his lot in life – thrust into the spotlight, seemingly endless travel, constant demands for his time, constant intrusions on his space and barely enough time to concentrate on the cards in front of him – when he does actually get to sit down and play a hand or two?

“Are you kidding? I still feel like the luckiest man on the planet, I’ve been blessed with this opportunity,” Hachem said as he enjoyed some rare time with family and friends in Melbourne recently.

It’s hard to believe that Hachem’s reign as the World Series of Poker champion is almost over (even he, in his wildest dreams, considers that it’s a long shot it will continue beyond August this year).

Almost nine months has passed since Hachem was hoisted upon the shoulders of his brother Tony and cousin Billy Sukkar after stunning the world and winning the $US7.5 million first prize.

Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of airports, poker rooms, autograph hunters and a side of life the former chiropractor never thought he’d experience.

“Just take the last couple of months – I started in the Bahamas, then flew to Melbourne for the Aussie Millions,” he said.

“Then it was off to the EPT Scandanavian Open, Spain and Belgium, the US, back to Monte Carlo for the EPT Grand Final, then Christchurch for the NZ Poker Championships and now home – at last!”

You’d think that playing poker would have been furthest thing from Hachem’s mind as he dispenses his duties as poker’s number one ambassador. Wrong.

“Actually, I think my play has become more consistent over the past few months. Sure, as the world champion you feel like a marked man every time you sit down, but I’ve just treated that as an extra challenge every time I play,” Hachem said.

"But anonymity is gone and you're recognised everywhere. Everybody wants to take you on. Everybody wants to say they beat the World Series champion.

“I’m still as competitive as ever. If you're not competitive and you're playing for fun, then good luck to you. Call it selfish if you want but I want to win every time I sit down to play. It's my competitive nature - I'm competitive as hell.”

Although Hachem hasn’t broken through for that ‘big’ follow-up results, his tournament record over the past nine months stands up to even the closest scrutiny.

He finished fifth at the 2005 WSOP Tournament Circuit event at Paris/Bally's in Las Vegas and a solid seventh in a Bellagio Friday/Saturday No Limit Hold 'Em Tournament.

Fresh from the 2006 Pokerstars.com Caribbean Adventure, Hachem dashed home to line-up in his ‘home’ event, the 2006 Aussie Millions. Hachem was well placed heading into the middle stages on the third day of the five-day event – his stack of 180,000 was above the average.

But his nemesis proved to be Mark Vos, a young Sydney player making his first major tournament appearance.

The tide started to turn against Hachem in a hand where Vos moved all in for around 25,000, with Hachem immediately calling the bet. Vos showed 4 5 and Hachem A Q, but the board paired Vos’s 5.

Hachem regained some of the ground but soon found himself in another pot with Vos, this one worth more than 100,000. Vos flipped Q Q to Hachem’s 10 2, and with no help on the board, Hachem’s stack was down to about 60,000.

The end came for the world champion before another round had been completed.

Holding Ac Ks, Hachem pushed all of his remaining chips into the pot, only to be called by Cruz Baca. Hachem stunned the crowd by declaring that Baca was holding A Q or Kh Qd, with Baca turning over K Q.

A huge favourite to win the pot, Hachem was dumbfounded to watch four diamonds hit the felt, giving Baca a diamond flush.
He finished in 57th position in a field of 418, just 11 places short of the payout structure.

“That’s how the cards fall sometimes,” Hachem said. “In reality, I wouldn’t have played anything differently.”

It was a similar story for Hachem in the EPT Grand Final (see Aussies Abroad, page 60) where he was an immediate target for a young online qualifier.

However, the world champion has been consistently solid in side action, winning huge sit’n’gos in Copenhagen and Monte Carlo, while improving his reputation as a player to be feared in cash games.

He was also at the heart of the action when PokerStars’ continued its highly popular Battleship series in Monaco (played live on PokerStars.com but with contestants also playing face-to-face, laptop-to-laptop in 'Battleship' style).

The past nine months have not been without their fair share of ‘Hollywood’ moments for Hachem.

“I reckon the first time I noticed it was the first time someone came up to me and asked for an autograph. But not just anyone, it was when someone looked genuinely shy about coming up to meet me. That gave me a real buzz,” he said.

“And just after I won the World Series of Poker, some guy wanted me to meet him in the middle of the Las Vegas desert to get my autograph. I said 'mate, you can come and see me here, but I'm not going out there'. I don't know if he turned up or not.”

On the flip side, Hachem has also ‘starred’ in plenty of pics after losing a hand to a fellow competitor.

“There’s been a few times that guys have come up and asked to have their photo taken with me and the cards they used to win a hand from me. And yeah, there was once that I went around and asked to have a photo taken with one of those guys after I’d won a hand from him!”

Hachem hasn’t been quick to attach his name to the long list of endorsement deals that have been thrown his way.

His alignment with PokerStars remains the highest profile, and for Hachem, the most comfortable.

"Joining Team PokerStars was a natural decision for me," Hachem said. "PokerStars.com is the site where I really picked up on the intricacies of tournament poker.

“The wide selection of tournaments and games is so great that I become a skilled player within a relatively short time-frame.

"To join the previous two world champions Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer is an honour. Greg, in particular, was great to me during and after the World Series last year." 


Since winning the World Series of Poker, one thing has always come first for Joe Hachem; his family. And despite rumours to the contrary, the Hachem family has again settled in Melbourne after more than six months on the road.

"The travelling has been incredible but I'm so glad to be home. Australia's the best," he said.

"I've been travelling with my wife and four children but I've missed my mother, my brother and my cousins.

“But I think the kids will miss it – they’ve had a ball over the past few months. It’s been great to share what we’ve done with my family.”
And the man who helped propel the growth of poker in Australia to unprecedented heights is looking forward to watching poker continue to boom here in the coming months and years.

“If nothing else, that’s a great legacy to leave as world champion. It’s fantastic to come home and see everyone playing poker and talking about poker. These are exciting times for poker here, and I look forward to remaining a part of it.”

• To help ensure the WSOP crown stays on Aussie soil, PokerStars is running a series WSOP satellites at times to suit Australian players.
PokerStars has announced that there will be $16 super satellites every night at 8.30pm AEST. Winners of this event will receive entry into the $320 main qualifier at 4pm AEST on Sundays. Alternatively, players can buy in directly to the $320 qualifier.

The winners of this qualifer will gain their $10,000 entry into the WSOP main event plus $2000 for flights and accommodation. Every qualifier is guaranteed to have at least one WSOP package in the prize pool.

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