Exclusive Poker Portal Asia Interview
When the announcement came that Joe Hachem had departed PokerStars, everyone was wondering what his next move would be. Perhaps he would join his mate Shane Warne at 888 Poker? Or jump on the PartyPoker bike with Tony G? Maybe he just wanted to take some time off to relax…
Well, as it turns out, it was neither of those moves and we can’t be happier. Why? Because poker in Asia is getting a new driving force behind it in the form of the 2005 WSOP Main Event champion, the man who almost single-handedly kicked off the poker boom in his home country of Australia.
On January 22, 2012, Hachem announced a new working relationship with the Manila-based AsianLogic and part of his duties will be a starting role as an ambassador for the Asian Poker Tour (APT). Hachem confirmed to us that he’ll most likely be joining the tables at APT Philippines in April and APT Macau in July.
While his other roles at AsianLogic are yet to be made entirely clear, we can expect the poker scene in our region to have even more of the world’s attention on it as a result of Hachem’s involvement with the gaming company. It can only be a good thing for the growth of poker here, which is still in its early stages of development. Hachem is a great spokesman for the game, always passionate and professional.
We caught up with the Melbourne local on the phone this week for an exclusive interview about his time at the Aussie Millions, what his new partnership with AsianLogic means, and how a certain appendage of his isn’t as dear to him as winning a long sought after major poker title in his home country.
How have you been? What are you doing at the moment?
I’m in Melbourne, I’m at home, getting ready to go into Crown.
I heard you busted out of the Aussie Millions Main Event…
It seems like they find a new way each year to bust me out of this Main Event. The poker gods know how important it is for me so they create new ways every year. But I’m getting suspicious that something is amiss.
What happened this time around?
This time the most incredible thing happened that has ever happened to me. We’re in the second last level with the blinds 300/600 and a weak player limps and the button calls. I raise and the weak player calls and the button folds. Flop comes eight, eight, six with two clubs. I’m riffling my chips and he checks out of turn. The dealer says, ‘Sir, you can’t check out of turn. Action is on you, Joe.’
I bet out 5000 and now he wants to min raise 10,000. He has gone from checking to min-raising! The floor is called over and they say he is not allowed to raise and he can either call or fold. He calls. So I’ve got King-Seven off. I’ve got nothing here, right. The turn card comes a king now so I check and he just shoves all in… I tried to find the fold but I just couldn’t do it. I ended up calling and he had Ace-Eight.
Ouch, that sounds like a very unfortunate hand to go out on.
Like I said, they find new ways every year.
But it’s a pretty exciting time for you now, you’ve recently announced your departure from PokerStars and now your new partnership with AsianLogic that will see you start off as an ambassador for the APT. What exactly will that entail?
Basically, it is to help secure and grow poker in the region, in Australasia, and help the Asian Poker Tour grow. And, for me, obviously because I have been around for a little bit now, it’s great to be able to work with partners who are exciting and innovative like the APT. The APT prides itself on quality rather than quantity so we’re going to try and expand on that moving forward throughout the year on the agendas that we are planning.
So were PokerStars working you too hard?
I think it was just a combination of timing and our relationship coming to an end. Whilst it was a lot of fun and I had a lot of good times in the early days, it was just time to move on.
I’m guessing then that you will play in the APT Philippines and APT Macau events this year?
Have you played much in Asia before?
Obviously, over the last few years, with PokerStars I’ve played most of the Asian countries. But now going back and playing with APT will be slightly different I think.
What’s been your preferred destination over here to play?
I really like Cebu. And I always find Macau an interesting place. It has extremes. You never know what to expect there, to be honest.
Does this also mean we will be seeing you at the nosebleed cash games in Macau in the future?
That’s on the agenda. I may show my face in those rooms if I can play. One of my goals is to learn Mandarin. If I’m going to be there in the region I’d like to be able to communicate. Just out of respect.
So do you know any at the moment or will it be straight off the bat?
I’ll be learning straight off the bat. ‘Ni hao’ is probably all I know right now.
I’m sure your new business partner Tom Hall, who has been known to sit down on a few high-stakes games in Macau, might try and rope you into one or two nosebleeds…
For sure. I think it’s just going to be so interesting working with Tom. Interesting and entertaining because he’s just such a character.
Have you known him for a long time?
We’ve known each other for about two years now. I think the first time I met him I busted him out of the APT Macau High Roller. And then, obviously, he’s quite good friends JC Tran and Nam Le with them representing the APT – we have dinner, a cigar and a drink and I’ve known them to be really cool guys. They always spoke very highly of him so any number of players would naturally love to work with AsianLogic and the APT. It’s so much easier when you already know the people you are working for.
You’ve mentioned that you think that Asia has the potential to be a huge growth area for poker – what has led you to this belief?
It’s the only untapped poker market at the moment. I think as awareness grows in that part of the world and it opens up, then why not be on the ground and working at the grass roots level to grow poker from the outset. As we’ve seen all around the world, once people are aware of the game, they fall in love with it. Why should it be any different in Asia? And that awareness is growing daily.
You’ve also just had a boost to your bankroll courtesy of the $100k Aussie Millions event. Were you happy with the 3rd result?
Um, yeah, I guess. I’ll explain this further. I went into the final table as the chip leader basically. And I slowly trickled away to the short stack. I was then nursing the short stack on the bubble for three and a half hours. So going into the day I was looking at winning. Then, when it was on the bubble, I was a favourite to bubble. And once the bubble burst I got some chips to be second in the chip count and I was looking at winning again. So I had this roller-coaster ride.
But in this field of such tough players – because there were no soft players at all, zero, in this whole field – I was very pleased with my effort and what a great way to start off the New Year. I said to Tom [Hall] it must be the lucky Chinese New Year connection now.
This was said to be your biggest cash ever in Australia. You’ve obviously had a lot of success around the world, but why do you think it has been so tough at home?
I just get tortured here [laughs]. I just get tortured. It’s like when Ivan Lendl wanted to win Wimbledon so badly for so many years and he said he’d trade all of his French Opens for one Wimbledon. I wouldn’t change my World Series or Bellagio Five Diamond for it but I would certainly take off, probably, a pinky.
You’d chop off your own pinky finger?
Yeah, I’d do a pinky. That’d be easy. You know, it’s in my home town in Australia at my home town casino… I think it’s a combination of I put too much pressure on myself over here. I mean I’ve had disastrous situations come up, even in the $100k event, I was one card away and my opponent had to catch runner-runner flush to beat me in that hand. When I busted it came down to the river and he needed a spade and if he didn’t get it I would win that pot and then I’m playing heads up for the championship with the Russian – and I would fancy myself against the Russian every day of the week. But that’s life, it’s all good.
What’s left for you then at this Aussie Millions? Are you going to enter the $250k Challenge?
I don’t think I’ll play the $250k Challenge but I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing Omaha tomorrow, the short-handed the day after and the $25k – it’s like a mini high roller event – I think I’ll definitely play that. And that’ll be it till I head to LA for the LAPC [LA Poker Classic].
I notice you also play a lot in the Epic Poker League. With so much said in the media about its financial viability, do you think it will be able to sustain itself as a tournament?
I’m not sure, man. I’d love to say yes. I’d like to see it succeed but I just don’t know. There’s a lot that needs to happen for it to work well. I’m supporting it and I think all the pros really like the concept. But it’s going to be tough. I think it needs to be around for a few years before people actually give it the respect it needs. And it will need some lucky breaks too. I think they are getting a lucky break with online gaming changing in the United States this year. We’re all looking forward to that and that will give it a good chance to succeed.
So you think the online poker situation will be improved in the US this year?
Yeah, I think it’s a favourite to improve this year. I think the first legal online poker room in the United States will be around 2013.
With Melbourne being your home town, what’s one or two things visiting poker players must do or try while they are there?
Go to the Australian Open tennis, for sure. There are so many things, let me just think. Go and have a night at Club 23 at Crown Casino – the hottest place in Melbourne.
Nice plug, I love it.
[Laughs] Well, you opened the door!
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