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World Series of Poker decided in record 14th hour

LAS VEGAS -- Australian Joseph Hachem prevailed in his first
World Series of Poker Saturday, winning $7.5 million and snatching
the game's greatest crown in the longest final table in the
tournament's history.

Only six hands into the two-man showdown at the end, Hachem
eliminated Steven Dannenmann of Severn, Md., when he flopped a
seven-high straight.

When it was clear Hachem had won, his fans in the room erupted
into "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!" Hachem immediately
embraced Dannenmann, wrapped himself in an Australian flag and
shouted: "Thank you, America."

Hachem's victory was astonishing because he had been nursing a
short stack of chips for 11½ hours through the night, waiting for
the right moment and avoiding confrontations that could cost him a
chance at the 36th annual no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event title.

"I never gave up," he said.

The 39-year-old gambler from Melbourne moved with his family
from his native Lebanon in 1972 and gave up a 13-year chiropractic
career three years ago to play poker for a living.

Nearly 14 hours into the final round of seemingly interminable
poker, Hachem pounced, bringing the tournament to a decisive end
about an hour after sunrise.

The final play unfolded slowly as Dannenmann raised before the
flop -- three community cards -- was turned over. Hachem called and
the dealer revealed a six-five-four flop. Hachem checked,
Dannenmann bet another $700,000 and then Hachem raised to $1.7
million.

The turn, or fourth card, was an ace and Hachem threw another $2
million into the pot. Dannenmann raised to $5 million and Hachem
went "all-in" with more than $30 million, moving into a
high-stakes gear that can either save or break a gambler.

Dannenmann called instantly and then Hachem produced a seven and
three, giving him a seven-high straight. Dannenmann showed an
ace-three, and needed a seven on the river -- the last card -- to
match Hachem's straight. It didn't happen.

Dannenmann said his top priority was to have a good time. He
even carried around a small sheet of paper with a list of things he
should remember. Two of them were "have fun" and "nothing to
lose."

Toward the end of the round, Dannenmann, a 38-year-old
accountant and mortgage banker from Severn, Md., said he just
wanted to finish the match.

"I got tired," he said. "I was bored of it. I was trying to
make moves."

With the bundles of cash, Hachem also won the coveted white gold
and diamond bracelet. It's the last time the event will be held at
Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel, where cowboy Benny Binion started
the World Series in 1970.

Like Chris Moneymaker in 2003 and Greg Raymer last year, Hachem
won in his initial World Series, likely changing his life forever.

"A million dollars changes my life, let alone $7.5 million,"
he said. "It changes everything. I can look after my family, my
mum, my kids."

The final group of nine emerged from a field of 5,619 gamblers.
They had survived eight days of mind-numbing poker, overcoming
unlucky cards and Darth Vaderesque stares at the Rio hotel-casino
and Binion's.

When the first cards were dealt Friday, each player was capable
of winning if he was willing to make some of the toughest calls of
his life.

After Tex Barch was eliminated in a monster three-way pot,
Hachem and Dannenmann found themselves heads up. Hachem was in
command of $39.9 million and Dannenmann had $16.3 million.

Soon the two would make gambling history when they ended play at
6:44 a.m. -- 13 hours and 56 minutes after the final round began.
The table was 18 minutes longer than the previous mark, established
in 1983.

To get to that point, the pair had to outlast seven other men --
none of whom wanted to go quietly.

Everyone who began the day at the table was guaranteed at least
$1 million.

Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, a well-known professional player who
came in sixth in 2001 and 87th last year, had been considered a
favorite but was the first to go. He had no regrets.

"I played the six best days of poker in my life," Matusow
said. "I'm going to bed happy."

Penn law student Brad Kondracki finished eighth and Daniel
Bergsdorf, a Swedish truck driver, was seventh. Scott Lazar was
sixth, Irishman Andrew Black took fifth and Aaron Kanter wrapped up
fourth, followed by Barch.

About 13 hours into the round, officials dumped the first-place
prize in thick stacks of hundreds on a table near the players,
causing shouts of "Oh, my God!" For the first time in the
tournament, the remaining gamblers saw their elusive goal -- guarded
by security men with shotguns.

When Hachem finally confronted the mountain of cash, he asked:
"Is this all mine?"

Yes.