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The (2005) Champ is Here! Joseph Hachem Tells It Like It Is
Although he no longer has a chance of reclaiming his title, Joseph Hachem is still the World Series of Poker (WSOP) champion for three more days. Hachem lasted longer than most other pros in this year's Main Event and cashed in 238th place with a little more than $42,000. But just before that fateful day, I found myself in the PokerStars.com lounge and managed to steal a few precious moments away from Hachem before the popular poker star was whisked off to do more photo shoots, introductions, and interviews. Here's what he had to say.
How are you feeling today?
I have to be really happy today. Greg Raymer and I are one of a few champions that made it past day one, so I feel very privileged to play.
Do you change your playing strategy for the Main Event? How do you adjust to these big fields?
All the fields we've had at the World Series have been large fields. The Main Event you can play slow; you've got two hours on each level and people are so nervous and unsure. They kind of don't want to get involved, or they've had a brain malfunction. My perspective is to do what I do best - stay out of their way until I can take advantage of it.
How tough is it now to get through the Main Event with all these so-called amateurs and satellite entrants?
The World Series of Poker is an establishment in itself, we all understand that. And what's happened this year has taken poker to an entirely new level. The large fields are great. It's just a matter of playing your best poker and concentrating on being the best player at the table. It really doesn't matter what's going on around you.
Do you feel extra pressure to repeat your victory? Has it felt like you've had a big bulls eye on your chest for the past year?
Absolutely. It took me six months to be comfortable in my own skin as World Series of Poker champion and to adapt my play. Trying to repeat any victory is hard. But if I can get through Day 1 with chips, then I can play some poker and make it through the tournament. And that's where my focus always is from the start of Day 1: getting through with some chips.
Describe what it was like to win last year's WSOP championship title and how you've dealt with it since.
I was numb when I won because I was just over the moon. It was like a dream come true. I was living the dream that every poker player wants to live. And I think I've dealt with it fairly well for the past 12 months. I took it as a responsibility, and I dealt with it in that way.
How did you go back to playing regular poker after winning the 2005 WSOP? Did people treat you differently and what did you do about it?
People definitely treat you different at the table. A lot of it is adoration, some of it is contempt. People can be like, "Who are you that you won the World Series?" "I want to bust you here." "You're not a real poker player." You get 5% of that stuff. But most of it is, "It's an honor to meet you," "Great playing," all that kind of stuff. The negative stuff, I just bust them anyway so it doesn't matter. You learn to deal with it.
What is it that makes the WSOP the gold standard of poker out of all the other tournaments?
The World Series is an institution, full stop. Every poker player goes to bed every night, I believe, dreaming about winning the World Series. And it will always be that way.
As both a reigning champion and international ambassador for poker, what changes have you seen in poker around the world?
Good question. I went back to Australia on July 2nd last year, and there was one official card room at the casino in Melbourne. When I came back, we held a Super-Satellite for the 2006 WSOP. We had 465 entries in that tournament. We hadn't had a tournament with more than 200 people in it ever before. And as we speak there are eight cardrooms open throughout Australia. The trend is very similar in Europe. The governments are coming on to regulate legal poker rooms and allow poker to exist in casinos, and I believe they are going to start televising the WSOP in Europe soon, so you can obviously see what that says about poker.
Thanks, Joe. Good luck next year.