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Champs Say Aussie Poker Still Growing
When Joe Hachem first walked in to the basement of the Crown Casino in Melbourne a decade ago, there were just a few poker tables in the corner of a room filled with slot machines.
"Look around now, it's all poker," the 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event champ told PokerListings as he surveyed what is now Melbourne's largest poker room.
"Poker has come a long way in Australia. The game has grown a lot and while it may have plateaued a bit, I think it's still growing."
While the event is now ten times its original size, the numbers fell for the 2011 Aussie Millions main event - down from 746 entrants a year ago to 721 this year.
But with major events being held simultaneously by the World Series of Poker Circuit, World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour, the dip is more likely a reflection of all the competition than the state of the industry Down Under.
"Poker is not exactly mainstream in Australia yet," said 2010 Aussie Millions champion Tyron Krost. "But anytime you get more than 700 players for a $10,000 tournament, I think you have to say it's a pretty big deal."
And it's not just the Aussie Millions - which started back in July 1998 with a $1,000 tournament drawing just 74 players - that has grown by leaps and bounds.
The second season of the regional PokerStars.net Australia New Zealand Poker Tour just wrapped up in Sydney last month with growth in the number of events, players and prize pools across the board.
Plus, the pub poker scene in Australia has seen massive growth, with hundreds of venues opening up across the country, particularly in Sydney, where Rebuy Sit & Go's have helped snatch a peice of the cash game market and traditional tournament numbers continue to rise.
Top players like Hachem, Billy "The Croc" Argyros, Tony G, Mel Judah and 2009 WSOP Player of the Year Jeff Lisandro have always represented Australia well on the global scene.
But now, young guns from a post-boom online poker background like Jonathan "xMONSTERxDONGx" Karamalikis and James "Andy McLEOD" Obst are beginning to make a name for themselves as well.
Obviously Hachem's 2005 WSOP win helped create the first poker boom in Oz, but the champ says wins by Australians Stewart Scott and Krost in the past two Aussie Millions main events has certainly helped keep the ball rolling.
"Having two Aussie win it has been huge," Hachem said. "It' gives Aussies the hope that they can do it too and that's obviously what helps grow the game. We're a competitive bunch."
So as the 2011 Aussie Millions inches closer towards crowning another champion of the Southern Hemisphere's biggest poker event, Hachem can't help but think the future looks bright Down Under.
"Aussies love poker," he said. "I don't see any reason why it can't keep growing."