WSOP Main Event: Getting to know Joe
by Ali Lightman
You know that gut-wrenching heart-sinking disbelief that washes over you after a bad beat?
That's what I felt standing ten feet away from Joe Hachem this evening when the reigning World Champion was eliminated from the Main Event.
His Aces got cracked. It's happened to us all. It hurts. His pain was evident as he left the table with cameras in his face and walked into his brother Tony's arms.
He finished in the top three percent of the field, outlasting more than 8500 contenders. With two WSOP final tables already under his belt in 2006 his ability to win future major tournaments is in no doubt.
The post-mortem discussion must be happening between poker fans around the world, and Joe can tell himself the same: he got all of his money in when he was in front, in fact he was a 77% favorite to win against JJ and AQ.
It should have put him back in the running after being short-stacked for most of the past two days.
But the flop gave the pocket Jacks a set and sent Joe to the rail in 238th place.
He'd been the last WSOP Champion left.
As news of his defeat was broadcast around the tournament floor, players still battling for their place in the history books got to their feet and applauded an exceptional poker ambassador.
Although I know him personally, something stopped the journalist in me from approaching to ask the ghastly door-knock question: "How do you feel?"
The something is an affection and respect for him which has grown since I first met Joe and his wife Jeannie back home in Australia.
We've spent several evenings together here in Las Vegas, and Joe has impressed me with the graciousness he shows to everyone who stops him for a photo, an autograph or a yarn.
He has a maturity that many of his opponents in the Main Event have yet to find.
Maybe it comes from being a father. Jeannie and Joe's four children are aged from fifteen down to ten, and are always their number one priority.
The two littlest are here.
Joe's life is not about poker, it's about those kids and, like WSOP Champion Greg Raymer before him, he brings those solid values into the poker world.
He was my assignment on Team Blog. He knew it was my first outing into poker writing, and was kind to give me a couple of minutes before he was besieged by the rest of the media at every break.
The only times I missed him playing a hand in the first two days, I was en route to or from the press room, or writing, and he'd fill me in during a whispered conversation by his seat.
So I witnessed some magic moments. He was funny, engaging and on the rare occasions when he sparked up, a little scary.
My favourite moment has to be Joe's concern for William Deadwyler, a 21 year old Economics major from George Washington University.
William had won a satellite to the Main Event on PokerStars just a month ago.
The random drawing of tables meant William had to play his Day 1, on Monday, sitting across the felt from the World Champion at the TV feature table, with all the additional pressure that involves.
William had a bad case of nerves, so bad he hadn't been able to eat.
Joe was under a little pressure himself. Even so, during play, he left the feature table and went shopping for twenty minutes. He returned with a sandwich for William.
"The kid said he was hungry," Joe told me. "I wanted some gum, and I can't eat if others are hungry."
My second favorite was watching him bust out a player with his magic hand, 73, which won him the WSOP title last year. (His 73o made him a straight.)
Not only seeing it, but running into the vanquished Steve Dannenman in the hall minutes later and being able to tell him about it.
"No way!" laughed Steve, "Did he really?".
Joe ended Day 1 with $86 500 after taking down a huge pot in the final hand of the night. It wasn't close to the chip leaders, but he was comfortable.
His sense of humour was evident from the start of Day 2. There were a few short stacks around the table and Joe announced to them that he had a plan.
"One of you has to volunteer to bust out, ok? Then we'll just keep re-filling the empty seat and let them dump all their chips on us and we'll make it through the night."
There was an all-in showdown between the blinds in the very next hand, which led to one of them being eliminated.
"There you go," said Joe, "that's the power of suggestion."
Despite his positive attitude Day 2 wasn't good for Joe. He was cold-decked and grinding it out.
"It's misery," he told before heading into his dinner that evening with $59,000. "I've only had one hand."
After the long break he came back revived and fired into action, taking down three large pots to put his stack back up to $111,000.
Day 3 dawned and it started off well for Joe, who added $40,000 to his stack in the opening Level.
"That was all without seeing a showdown," he said, "this is a good table."
He slowly built his stack up, then lost a couple of pots, but when the money bubble burst he had $153,000 and seemed relaxed.
At least he was until after dinner when he clashed with PokerStars qualifier Vaughn Sandman, seated on his left.
Vaughn was the table chip leader, and in the small blind. Joe was on the button.
A player had bet from late position and Joe re-raised, up to $22,500.
Vaughn went all in.
"Everyone's got a hand this time have they?" asked Joe. And looking at Vaughn, "Nobody lays this hand down mate, nobody."
Joe paced away from the table, returned, and mucked his hand face up showing AK, not wanting to risk his tournament life on a coin flip.
Instead of discreetly passing in his winning hand to the dealer Vaughn flipped AQ.
Joe was not happy.
"You might have lost your mind mate, but I haven't."
Joe was clearly frustrated at what it cost him, both actually and potentially.
Later, after he'd moved tables in the last hour of play Joe told me, "The really sad thing is with play like that he's going to dump all his chips off on somebody, and it won't be me."
(Vaughn busted today. He pushed all in with 33 and was eliminated in 264th place by another PokerStars qualifier, Rick Mombourquette, from Canada, who had AQ and spiked a river Queen. Vaughn went home with $38,759.)
Joe wanted to move to a big stack table and got his wish a little more than an hour before play wrapped for the day.
He had one of the chip leaders, William Thorson, on his left. Ted Forrest was sitting opposite and during the last rounds of the day Joe took down a huge pot from Ted, around $80,000. William decimated Ted's stack a little later, and Ted finally busted out in 408th place.
Joe approached Day 4 with a change in attitude after going home stressed in the wee hours this morning. He had seven hours of sleep and a long chat with Jeannie.
He told me that he had no chip target in mind for today, unlike many players. He was going to play hands on their merits and build up his stack.
"I'm playing relaxed today. I'll make the best decisions I can. Whatever happens, happens."
He busted out two players but they were short-stacked, so it wasn't enough to make him dangerous. Joe hit the average of $304,000 at 4:45pm.
By this time reporting restrictions were even more stringent, and we were allowed onto the floor for only five minute intervals and then ushered away.
Most of us were missing most of the action.
I don't know how it was that I was allowed back on Joe watch during the crucial hand this evening.
I heard him call "all-in" and was then shoved rudely out of my place by a TV crew, shouting and pushing, "Move! Move!"
Their cameras rolling, the whole floor buzzing that the Champion was all in, we watched the cards fall.
You'll see it on TV. I'll never forget it. And I am not ashamed to admit that when I got in my cab at the Rio tonight I shed a few tears.