With the 41st World Series of Poker beginning Friday, it is truly amazing that it has been five years since a debonair Australian landed in Las Vegas as an amateur poker player and returned to Melbourne a living legend.
Outlasting a field of 5,619 players (which was the largest main event field to that point), Joe Hachem captured the 2005 WSOP main event, earning one of the biggest prizes in poker history: $7.5 million. After Hachem's famous winning hand versus Steve Dannemann, in which Hachem held 7c-3s and flopped a straight, ESPN's Norman Chad etched the moment in our minds forever by stating, "Hachem turned 7-3 off-suit into $7.5 million."
What does the former champion think about his place in poker history and what he's accomplished? Quite simply, Hachem was amazed how time had flown.
"Recently, I thought to myself, 'Wow, five years!' Maybe I should throw a party," said Hachem. "Where has five years gone? It's crazy. Five years has gone by in a blink of an eye."
Even half a decade removed from his victory, Hachem is still beloved by millions of poker fans around the world. He can walk the halls of the Rio and get stopped all the time, but Hachem is more than willing to do what is necessary for the poker fans and community.
"I don't know why [I was accepted]," he offered. "I guess I have tried to represent poker as well as I can and I didn't disappear after winning the World Series. I have had pretty good results as I have made three deep runs in the last five years [in the WSOP main event]. People keep seeing me on TV, the reruns and being an ambassador for PokerStars."
Hachem has been an international ambassador from the moment he won and many argue that he single-handedly created the poker explosion in his home country of Australia. Since his victory, Hachem has become synonymous with the game. I've stated previously that I feel Hachem is the last true worldwide ambassador among the last five WSOP main event champions (note: Joe Cada has done a fantastic job so far, but his reign is not complete). With his smooth rapport with the masses, Hachem makes it look effortless and has been a true fan favorite for the past five years.
"You know from the minute I won, I took the responsibility very seriously of being an ambassador. And I have just tried to live up to it the whole time," Hachem said. "In the first year, it was a duty and now it is a job. And it is a job that I love to do. I love poker and I love representing the game. I make it look simple because I love it. It's never too hard to stop for the fans, whether to sign an autograph or take a picture."
As for his game, Hachem's record speaks for itself. His impressive résumé includes his WSOP main event bracelet, two additional deep runs in the main event over the past four years, a second-place finish in the $2,500 short-handed no-limit hold 'em bracelet event in 2006 and a World Poker Tour victory at the Doyle Brunson North American Poker Classic. He's proved that he could make it through all types of fields, but Hachem had some specific advice as to how to survive the WSOP main event.
"WSOP is a deep-stack event where you get blind levels that are two hours. Take your time," he said. "[There's] no need to outplay everyone on Day 1. You can't win the tournament on Day 1. Just bide your time, and collect your chips when you have hands. Overall, play strong, not weak."
Easier said than done. Although he has had tremendous success on the felt, Hachem, along with the rest of the poker community, has had to readjust his game since the skill level of the average poker player has improved.
"I think the game has changed enormously," he said. "There are so many more top-notch players who are technically so good. There is still a lot of easy money in tournaments but there are so many more great players. The young online players who enter the game now are so technically superior. They can also join an online teaching site and read countless forums. They are learning so much about the game and it has taken poker to so many more levels."
For Hachem, changing his own game has been of the utmost importance, but not only in no-limit hold 'em. Being the WSOP champion, Hachem's tournament appearances have been under a microscope. I asked him in 2007 if he was planning on playing the $50,000 HORSE event, but he argued that he wasn't prepared for the mixed games. Now, that tune has changed, and we can expect to see Hachem in a variety of tournaments this summer.
Of all the mixed games, Hachem feels that 2-7 triple draw lowball is his strongest, and stud high is his weakest. However, he believes that you must study each game's unique aspects.
"I made a conscious decision in 2008 to learn the HORSE games," he said. "I just wanted to diversify. So in EPT London [last year], I won the eight-game championship. Once you have the fundamentals and understand what the basics of a game are, then how good of a poker player you are can come through."
In this year's WSOP, Hachem says he will be playing more events than he has the past few years, with hopes of capturing a second bracelet.
"This year, I will arrive into the first week and play quite a lot of events," said Hachem. "I'm a firm believer that poker is a game of numbers. If you don't play enough, the numbers won't stack up. I want to play 15 to 20 tournaments this year. Hopefully, I'll only need to play three or four because I win all of them."
And what does he expect lies in his future?
"Honestly, my single goal unequivocally is to be the No. 1 money earner of all time," he said.
Best of luck, Joe. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!
Bernard Lee is the official spokesperson of Foxwoods Resort and Casino. Lee is the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal, weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and radio host of "The Bernard Lee Poker Show."