WSOP 2011: Stalking Joe Hachem in the break
Being a famous poker player has its advantages. There's the money, of course, and the perks that go with it are not to be sneezed at. Then there's the attention. You are no longer your own man; you're public property. Joe Hachem is one such man. Winner of the WSOP in 2005, he bagged $7.5 million and his life changed in every way. Now he is rich, but also much in demand.
With all that in mind, I decided to stalk him on the last break to find out just what it's like to be a champ. I kept my distance so as to blend in with the crowd.
This is my undercover report...
4.26pm: It's break time. The tournament staff announce that there is a color up of the green chips, so players may get a little more than the regulation 20 minutes. Hachem is not even out of his seat in the Pavilion room before a reporter asks for an interview. "Walk with me in the break," he says. They set off, media rep trying to write notes as they went.
4.28pm: They did not get 20 yards before the first fan butted in. "Can I have a pic, Joe?" he asked. Hachem stopped, put his arm around the athletic young American, and smiled as a woman snapped away on a digital camera. Off again and out into the rotunda area, when a middle-man with a drink in his hand hurries past me. "Joe, please, a pic." "One second," says Hachem as he continues with the interview. Now the photo is taken, and then the man trades places with his buddy and takes a shot for him. "You're a great player. Thanks."
4.31pm: Hachem's brother, Tony, joins him and listens as the interview continues as they walk up the hallway away from the main convention center.
4.33pm: Approaching Starbucks, and the interview is over. Maybe Hachem is heading in there? But he keeps on going; past the Sao Paulo buffet, too. I'm beginning to worry that the Australian is going for an extra-long walk. I'm not used to such exercise.
4.35pm: They keep on going. Folk turn their heads and mutter: "That's Joe Hachem." Mike Kosowski, the winner of the PokerStars Million Dollar Challenges passes in the other direction. The pair exchange pleasantries.
4.36pm: Now it's clear where the Hachems are headed - the restroom. Thinking this would be quieter in the break than the main restroom near the Pavilion, they were out of luck; the queue is 15-people long. Hachem joins at the back. Now my journalistic instinct is not to lose a man, but there was no way I was following him in there.
4.40pm: Hachem and his brother emerge and head slowly back down the hallway. Joe is seemingly scouring messages on his phone and walking at about one mile an hour. I have to do the same, about ten paces behind, and presumably look a little silly for doing so.
4.43pm: An unexpected turn of events. Outside the business center the two of them make a right, and stand outside for a few minutes, presumably not wanting to get back to the tournament too early. David Bowie's Church on Time blares out over the speakers. I hope Hachem makes it back to the tournament on time.
4.46pm: The Hachems head back to the Pavilion, stopping for two more sets of fans' photos, but when they get there the clock shows the break is extended. They walk out of the Pavilion again into the main hallway, squeezing through gawping crowds and into the Poker Kitchen.
4.51pm: Pizza and cold drinks selected, they had for the till. Tony pays. The break is going on longer than I thought, and so is this piece. Lucky you.
5.01pm: Food finished, they head out to the hallway once more. I'm standing nearby, and my cover is nearly blown when Tony heads towards me to pick up a free copy of a magazine that has Joe's face on the cover. I hide behind a tall plant.
5.02pm: Now it's time to head back to the tables. Time, too, for one more fan to get a picture.
5.04pm: Hachem makes it to his seat with three seconds left on the clock. He has 37,000 chips.
Only now do I reveal myself.
"Hey, buddy. How are you doing? I have not seen you in a while," he says, extending his hand. No, Joe, but I have not been far away.
* * * *
PEREFCTLY-TIMED VIDEO OF THE HOUR
It's those Hachem boys...
T-SHIRT SLOGAN OF THE HOUR
"Don't gamble with your soul."
HARD NOT TO OVERHEAR PHONE CALL OF THE BREAK
"See what I mean Tony! You're gonna put yourself in bad spots!!!"
NAVIGATIONAL ERROR OF THE HOUR
Player returning to the Pavilion Room, exiting the Black section on his way to the White section: "I'll get to my seat a lot quicker if I go to the right section..."
QUOTE OF THE HOUR
"The air con is blowing directly above my chair. Who do I ask about changing seats?"