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How one poker hand cost Joe Hachem a World Series of Poker Circuit Championship

by Nolan Dalla
Photos courtesy of Image Masters Photography and World Series of Poker

One single poker hand can change a life. One poker hand can create a new star out of someone previously unknown. One poker hand can validate a deeply personal decision made years earlier, against the well-intended advice of parents and peers. One poker hand can be riveting to behold, and even more extraordinary to analyze.

The poker hand of all poker hands took place precisely at 4:20 pm PST on Tuesday, November 22nd in Las Vegas. The loser of the hand was destined to walk away shell shocked in frustration as the fifth-place finisher. The winner of the hand was to ultimately soar to victory in the World Series of Poker Circuit championship held at Ballys-Paris — an event which will be nationally televised later by ESPN. The hand essentially cost one player $352,000. It was — the hand of the year.

2005 World Series of Poker champ and member of Team PokerStars Joe Hachem arrived at the final table with a decisive chip lead. Four hours later, only five players remained. Hachem retained the lead with 360,000 in chips. His closest rival was a 29-year-old Vietnamese native named Thang ‘Kido’ Pham.

What happened was a bombshell or an abomination, depending upon one’s perspective. The hand clearly demonstrates that poker tournaments can be either won or lost within seconds. It all started when Joe Hachem was dealt pocket Kings. After J.C. Tran made an initial 18,000 raise, Kido Pham re-raised another 50,000. Hachem must have thought he was in final table heaven.

The fateful hand starts off with Kido Pham re-raising 50,000 before the flop.

Pondering his move, Hachem re-raised again up to 150,000. Tran immediately folded and Pham moved over the top with an all-in re-raise, for 157,000 more. Hachem later admitted that he feared his opponent having pocket Aces. But there was no way to lay down the big hand. Hachem called and Tran knew immediately he had made the wrong move at the wrong time. Pham sheepishly showed J-10, a huge underdog to Hachem’s powerhouse K-K. With 650,000 in the pot at stake (about half of the chips in play), it was to be the turning point of the final table.

The cards are revealed and Hachem realizes he is a huge favorite

“I didn’t want to play a big pot,” Hachem said later. “But I made the right read and was the leader by a mile.”

Hachem is all smiles. Hachem’s K-K is an 84 to 16 percent favorite over Pham’s J-10. Hachem realizes that if he wins this hand, he will enjoy a huge edge to win the tournament.

When three cards fell on the flop, the second floor of the Ballys Casino was rocked to its foundation. It took a few seconds for Hachem’s eyes to focus on the horror he was about to confront. Wham! Wham! Wham! J-J-2 (trip Jacks) twisted Pham from a big dog into a huge favorite and put the pocket Kings into a meat grinder. In an instant that will certainly haunt Hachem for some time, the Australian’s dreams of winning his second WSOP title were demolished.

Agony turns to ecstasy–Pham sees Jacks come on the flop

The flop shows J-J-2

Hachem failed to catch one of two remaining Kings and was left with just 40,000 in chips. The damage has clearly been done. Hachem looked like he had been hit in the stomach with a sledgehammer.

Ecstasy turns to agony–Hachem can’t believe what he has just seen

Pham consoles Hachem on the bad beat

Hachem sits back down at the table ready to play another hand

But poker champions never go out without a fight. Hachem managed to win one more pot and doubled-up to nearly 100,000 before finally running out of steam. He was dealt K-8 in the small blind and moved all-in hoping to steal a round of blinds and antes. Unfortunately, Lee Watkinson was sitting in the big blind with pocket Nines. He called the raise. A Nine on the flop effectively ended any hope of Hachem making a dramatic comeback. The reigning world poker champion walked away to a standing ovation from the crowd. Perhaps more importantly, he proved the $7.5 million win back in July was no fluke. With this impressive performance, Joe Hachem demonstrated he is a serious contender in any event he enters.

“I came here wanting to avoid making any mistakes,” Hachem said in a post-tournament interview. “The fact is — I didn’t make a mistake. I’m proud of the way I played in this tournament, although it is very painful not to win.”

When asked which emotion is more powerful in poker — joy or despair, Hachem was candid. “Despair is more powerful,” Hachem admitted. “It’s great to win, but it takes some time to get over losing. But that’s poker — you have to get over the tough beats.”

“That’s poker”

Kido Pham went on to win the tournament and nearly half a million dollars. When asked about the hand against Hachem, Pham was brutally sincere. “I played the hand very badly,” Pham admitted. “That was very lucky. I had already committed half of my chips, so I tried to steal the pot… I caught a lot of cards today.”

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