Joe Hachem: A look at how he got through the bad times and how the WPT eclipsed his WSOP victory

The man from Down Under tells us about how he copes with poker adversity and his search for validation

The Worst Of Times

Every poker player who has been playing for a long time has had many horrible times. I think that what makes you a stronger person is how you get through the bad times. I guess the worst period for me was the 2006 World Series. After winning the WSOP main event in 2005 I was so desperate to get another bracelet. But I lost a bracelet to a two-outer on the river, a bracelet to a three-outer on the river, and another bracelet to a five-outer on the river. And then in the main event I lost my chance on day 4 when my Aces got cracked to a two-outer.

By the end of that I was just devastated. But in saying that, there were so many times in my poker career where I’ve been devastated, been gutted, but that’s the game. But I think time heals everything. I just give myself a few days in the sun to get a perspective on life and can sum it up that hey, that’s poker, and just get on with it and get ready for the next tournament. It usually takes time but you’ve got to be strong enough to not let it affect how you’re thinking the whole time. You’ve just got to put it to one side and start again. And that takes time, I don’t care who you are. You can’t go from that and then the next day think you’re going to perform at your peak. You need a few days off to compose yourself.

Down Time

Whenever I bust out of any major event I go straight to my room, lock myself up for about four or five hours, come back down and then I?m human again and I can be spoken to. It shouldn’t affect your life away from poker because if you’re not separating the two then you don?t belong in the game. What happens at the table stays at the table. You walk away. I go home. My kids and my wife might see me all upset but they just leave me alone for a couple of hours and then I realise that ‘hey, it’s nothing to do with them. Its done. It’s over. I can’t do anything about it. Let’s get on with it.’ And after the huge disappointment of the 2006 WSOP, I went on to win the WPT Five-Diamond at the Bellagio.

The Best Of Times

I initially thought that winning the World Series would be the pinnacle of my career. And it is hard to top that. But after the WSOP in 2005 I was searching for validation so much. So, really the WPT eclipsed the World Series. Not because of prestige but because it cemented me and cemented my stature in the poker world. This guy has come along and no one knew who the frigging hell he was. And he comes back the following year and he’s got unlucky several times to win three more bracelets. And then he tops it all off with a WPT title. I’m one of only four people in the world who have done that. That was a really strong moment. It wasn’t just the WPT, it was the Five-Diamond Bellagio $15k with a 600-odd field of mainly pros. To take it down was so sweet, it meant so much to me. From the middle of day 4, I wasn’t going to let anybody else win.

Biding Time

I was eventually heads-up with an American player named Jim Hanna. Daniel Negreanu was on the final table too and really quickly he went into a monster chip lead. I was third in chips. I made a couple of good plays but then I tilted off some chips because I started playing badly. We got to three-handed and Daniel just tangled with Jim Hanna every time and tried to bluff him, and Hanna just had the hand every time. I kind of just stepped out of the way, I had a good chip stack at that stage and I thought I’d just let them fight it out. I wasn’t going to enter a pot unless I had a real hand because I had plenty of chips and they looked like they were going to war. I just thought I’d take them on, whoever comes out. You are always happy to go heads-up with the weaker player so I wasn’t so upset when Jim Hanna came through. I ended up knocking out Daniel, so it worked out in my favour.

Changing Gears

On a WPT final table you have to change your end game, you go from playing a long-winded tournament to a short-handed sit&go. For the first few levels, you have a little bit of time and the final table doesn’t usually last more than four hours. I think when we went into heads-up Jim had a slight chip lead. And I just changed gears totally. I became really hyper-aggressive and forced him to play in a way that he wasn’t planning on playing. And things fell my way and I won.

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