2005 WSOP Champion Joe Hachem Continues to Cash
The World Poker Champ Fishes for Sharks
Everyone knows Joe Hachem these days and they think that because he's so nice, he's easy. But the opposite is true. After winning the World Series of Poker main event last year, Hachem's popularity skyrocketed, giving him international fame and making him a walking target for every donkey that can afford a $10,000 buy-in, yet he's handled the adversity with ease and class.
After achieving main event success last year, Hachem traveled the world playing in tournaments and cash games while serving as an ambassador for the game. Now, with three WSOP final table appearances in two years, he has proven that he is more than a fly-by-night player who just got lucky. Hachem is doing so well, in fact, that very little seems to phase him. If you kept an eye out during the earlier WSOP events, you could catch Hachem dominating high-limit cash games after he got done with the day's tournament play. Seemingly unshakable, Hachem shows no signs of wear and tear and is a major threat to the field for the main event.
Card Player caught up with Hachem after he made yet another WSOP final table and asked this man from down under what life has been like since he took home WSOP gold.
Michael Friedman: Three final tables in two years is pretty consistent. What does it take to win consistently?
Joe Hachem: One thing I've learned to accept is that my style is my style. Someone else's style is their style and it may work for them, but not for me. I have a slow steady flow of chips as opposed to a quick rush as the tournament progresses. I think the number one thing I focus on is that because the fields are so large, people just blow themselves up. I don't have to be the one that's helping them blow up. They all do it anyway.
Within the first hour, we'll lose over 100 people when the pots are still 25-25. It's ridiculous, but that's the truth of the large fields. A lot of these guys go in thinking they're going to double up or triple up within the first round. Usually someone does double up or triple up, but it's usually not the ones looking to do it.
MF: Did you ever imagine having to beat a field of over 8,000 people to repeat?
JH: Let me give you an analogy. When we had two children and went to three children, it was craziness. It was madness. When our fourth child came along, there was no difference. Once you've tackled a field of 5,000, it's really irrelevant after that. At this stage, that's the most you're going to face in one go. It won't make a difference if it becomes 16,000. The principles are the same.
MF: How hard is it to win in these large fields?
JH: So hard. Unlike a smaller tournament, you're in a minefield all day long. Even at the final table, you're in a minefield. People are under so much pressure that they are playing erratically. You would think by the time you hit the final table, the people who have made it would be playing a good game. Most of the time they're not; they're just playing all over the place. They're not really sure what to do and don't have final table experience. For some people, they've made it there because they got lucky. It's incredibly hard to survive the minefields for three, five, or seven days.
MF: Is it better to be consistent or lucky in a large field?
JH: Consistent, definitely. That will get you there much more often. People talk about rather being lucky than good and that sort of stuff, but for me personally, I have this phobia about having the best hand going into the pot. Obviously, it doesn't always work out my way. If I run queens into aces, bad luck that's not. But I feel sick when I run into a 10-8 versus my kings. Admittedly, we all have to make moves like that at some stage, but I just rather wait and try to pick my spots rather than gamble. There are times when one has to gamble, but personally, I feel much more comfortable knowing I have the best hand possible.
MF: You've been doing a lot of traveling to various tournaments since you won last year. What have you picked up along the way?
JH: I've learned that I don't have to let my ego get in the way of my play. Plenty of guys take shots at me, but they usually self-destruct anyway. Even though I was able to lay down big hands before I won, I'm more able to lay them down now if it's a marginal situation for me. At the start of my reign as champion, I was head-butting with people all the time. People just wanted to make a play against me. I would then battle with them. Now I figure, why should I bother with them? They're going to blow themselves up anyway. Someone will take them out and then I'll get the chips off of them. That's been my saving grace. For the first few months I was like, "I'm not going to be pushed around," and took it a bit personal, but now I've grown out of that.
MF: How hard is it having a big bulls-eye on your back?
JH: In the cash games, it's great. I've never made so much money in the cash games in all my life. In a tournament, it's harder because you know you can bust out at any time, but I've adapted to that now. I always try to make sure I've got the best of it.
Here's an example of how people play against me. In the pot-limit hold'em event, I limp-call a raise with a pair of fours with two additional callers. The flop came queen high with a four. I checked and the guy on the button fires at the pot and I just call. Everyone else folds. Turn card comes a deuce, which is irrelevant. I lead $850 into the pot and have $1,050 left. The guy looks at me and says, "I put you all-in."
I say okay and think, "Well, it's bad luck if he's got a set of eights. He turns over ace-jack with no pair or no draw. What was he thinking? What am I going to fold there? That's some of the silly stuff I face."
MF: I've heard rumors you were killing the cash games. Is that true?
JH: Before I concentrated on tournaments, I primarily made my profits through cash games. I've been fortunate enough to learn that I can switch gears from cash games to tournament play. Not a lot of people can do that. Usually, good tournament players tend to be weak in cash games because they keep the same style. Because I started the other way around, I can shift comfortably. Plus, people want to check-raise me and put me all in. It's strange how people will move in on me with middle pair. Once, twice, you would figure they would realize that nine times out of 10 I have the best hand. I won't fold easily in a cash game. I get paid off a lot.
I suppose in a tournament people have this image of me as a tight-aggressive player. In the cash games, I'm a loose-aggressive player. Sometimes people see me turn over ridiculous hands and make ridiculous plays, but that's all part of my plan for setting up the bigger pots. It's been working so far.
MF: Which do you enjoy more, the cash games or the tournaments?
JH: Definitely the cash games. You are just so much more in control.
MF: Do you feel that the skills you've developed in the cash games give you insight into the tournament mentality?
JH: I really believe that any successful cash game player that can play at a high limit can become a successful tournament player. You need that level of confidence to succeed in tournaments. There is that fine line between courage and stupidity and that applies to poker as well.
MF: What do you think it's going to take to repeat?
JH: A miracle. Seriously, I'm entering the main event as probably the most relaxed guy out there. When I first got back to Vegas and got to the Rio, it felt like I was coming home. With my success so far, I feel like I'm just freerolling. For the main event, I'm just going to relax and play my game.
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