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Kenny Hallaert is a regular at the World Series of Poker and on the European Poker Tour but he doesn't call himself a poker pro. He has a day job as a tournament director in Belgium. Hallaert has tournament results dating back more than a decade and has cashed in the WSOP Main Event before but this is far and away his biggest score. Hallaert is already guaranteed $1 million but will return to Las Vegas at the end of October to compete for the title of world champion and the $8 million first-place prize. Hallaert has played the Main Event every year since 2008 and says it's the one tournament each year he never misses. Hallaert started playing poker in 2004 when he saw a banner ad for an online poker site. He said he'd always been into card games and thought poker sounded interesting. At the time he was working in a factory as an electrician. Since there wasn't much of a poker community in Belgium at the time he connected with Dutch poker players and started playing more and more. In 2005 live poker was legalized in Belgium and Hallaert started playing tournaments regularly. In 2007 he was offered a job by one of the casinos to help market poker to Dutch players and he's been working and playing in the poker world ever since. Hallaert will bring all that experience to this final table. Check out the video interview with Kenny Hallaert and follow his progress in the 2016 WSOP Main Event on PokerListings.com.
Matt Showell: Congratulations.
Kenny Hallaert: Thank you. It's an amazing feeling.
Matt Showell: This was a lot of long days leading up to this. Focusing on yesterday. The atmosphere in there was crazy. How did it feel to be there at the table?
Kenny Hallaert: Amazing experience to be there. I never put any pressure on myself. I just played the tournament day by day, hand by hand. It all went pretty smooth. It was a very smooth ride. Only like one small bump in the road on Day 5 when I got a little short but I recovered from it. But the experience itself. It's so unique. When you start playing poker and you look at Youtube videos of the World Series of Poker. Once in my life I wanted to be there. I want to be at that stage. I want to play that tournament.
Playing it back in 2008 for the first time was already an amazing experience and I played it every year since and if there's one tournament every year that I don't want to miss, it's the Main Event. If they said I could only play one tournament each year it would be the World Series of Poker Main Event. No doubt about that. It's such a great tournament, great structure, great atmosphere.
Matt Showell: And a pretty good tournament to run good in.
Kenny Hallaert: Yeah if there's one tournament you want to run good in, it's obviously that tournament. I'm very happy that I made it this far. It was quite a unique feeling sitting there at the feature table with cameras all around. The feeling itself is amazing but I never got any extra stress from it or pressure. I just try to concentrate on the game. Try to make my decisions as optimal as possible and it worked out so far.
Matt Showell: I know you've been playing poker for a long time and you have some experience. Can we go back to the beginning? How did you first get into poker and what was the poker community like in Belgium? What steps did you take to eventually see that you could play this professionally and now many years later at the final table of the biggest event in the world.
Kenny Hallaert: Actually I don't consider myself as a professional poker player. I still consider myself a recreational player. But I started playing back in 2004 where I first started to know the game. I saw a banner online for poker and was always a little bit into card games and thought poker might be a fun game. In Belgium it was not popular at all. I was one of the first players that was actively playing poker. It was popular already a bit in Holland. That's why I have a big group of friends that are from Holland. Back in the days I could not contact lots of Belgian players because there weren't any. So I got a little bit into the Dutch community as well. Learned the game in 2004. Studied a bit on the game in 2005 and started to have a real big passion for the game.I had a job already at that time. I was working in a factory as an electrician. At the end of 2005 poker got legalized in Belgium. Casinos could offer it. It was legalized in November and in December there was already a tournament. It was because they could only run one tournament per year. So the Casino Namur said, "Let's not waste any time. Let's organize this tournament at least." I played that one and actually cashed it. It's not on my Hendon Mob unfortunately. The results are gone but that was actually my first cash in a live tournament. Casino Namur was the only room at that time that was actually offering poker, and the Casino of Spa as well, they were part of the same group. So I went there regularly to play on the weekends, played some cash games, and some small evening tournaments. By the end of 2007 I actually got a job offer from the casino. Namur is in a French part of Belgium and they wanted to have someone to promote the poker room for the Dutch-speaking market, basically the non-French-speaking market, Since I visited their room regularly and they knew I had some connections with poker players, they offered me the job. I took the job and throughout the years the job transformed from marketing into organizing tournaments and eventually becoming a tournament director which at this point is still my job.
Matt Showell: Very cool. So you have a lot of experience seeing poker as well as playing it.
Kenny Hallaert: Yeah and I really love doing the job because it's inside poker. It's inside the game I have a big passion for. So basically I could change my hobby into my profession and at the same time I could play some poker. So for me it's the perfect combination.
Matt Showell: Now that you've made this final table I'm sure you're going to get lots of attention in Belgium and everywhere. I think if you win this tournament you'll become the number one all time money winner over Davidi Kitai.
Kenny Hallaert: Yeah Davidi Kitai is quite ahead of me. Davidi is one hell of a guy and one hell of a good poker player. I really like his style, a friend of mine as well. It would be cool if I could pass him on the Belgian money list.
Matt Showell: Do you think you're going to get some attention in your home country?
Kenny Hallaert: Actually I was already did an interview this night that was broadcasted on national television this evening. It's already night now back in Europe. So there was already some attention. Some newspapers sent me an email.
Matt Showell: What about in November? Will we see a bit Belgian and Dutch rail for you?
Kenny Hallaert: Yes there are some friends who have confirmed they definitely want to come and rail me. Everyone is more than welcome to give me some support. I still have to go through all my messages and stuff. Sorry to the people I haven't replied to yet. I needed some sleep and there were too many messages. I want to get back to everyone eventually and I will do that. I really like the support so far. Definitely some friends of mine will be here to support me and make the result as good as possible. Obviously the goal is to win the tournament but I definitely won't be disappointed. I'm really happy to be here. Normally this will be a once in a lifetime experience so just happy to be here and whatever I can win extra in November is fine but if I finish ninth, probably had to be. Still a great experience.
Matt Showell: Good luck and thank you so much Kenny.