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Joe Hachem -- No Ordinary Joe

Joe Hachem — From Champion To Ambassador

by Rebecca McAdam |  Published: Apr 01, 2012

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Joe Hachem lifted the Australian flag and joyfully shouted, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” He had become the latest poker multi-millionaire and the first Australian to win the World Series of Poker main event.

That was 2005. Almost seven years later and he’s still making headlines as he is once again about to start on a new and exciting journey. In the time since his main-event win, the Lebanese-Australian pro has been all around the world, added titles and trophies to his poker repertoire, accumulated more than $11.6 million in lifetime winnings, represented one of the world’s biggest poker sites; all while staying true to his role of dedicated husband and father of four.

Hachem’s decision to leave PokerStars was a massive surprise to the poker world. As one of Team PokerStars Pro’s most prominent members, Hachem was a strong presence at many EPTs, and very popular among poker media and fans. However, the on-going distance between him and his family, mixed with a longing to be more involved in the business side of the industry, have led the champ in a new direction; he has partnered up with AsianLogic and is now the new ambassador for the Asian Poker Tour.

When I caught up with Hachem there was so much to discuss — how life had changed, his time as a PokerStars pro, memories and regrets, making the decision to move on, his new role, his family, and indeed, plans for the future. It is easy to see why he was picked to be the ambassador for the APT, with his honest and down-to-earth responses, and overall genuine frankness, he tells his own story better than anyone could, and this is what he had to say.

Looking Back

Rebecca McAdam: There have been a lot of changes for you lately but before we go into that would you like to tell me your highlights of the past few years being a PokerStars pro, travelling and playing in Europe?

Joe Hachem: Sure. I’ve had one heck of a ride. From 2005 onwards it has been a blast, I’ve had some really good times, I got to visit some really interesting places, meet some wonderful people, play some poker along the way, and got some good results. I couldn’t ask for much more considering that I’ve never been shy to admit that my number one priority is my family, and as much as I love the game of poker, it’s not my life, my life is at home with my family. Basically by the end of it I just got to a point where I had to say to myself — it’s been a nice ride with PokerStars but maybe it’s time to try something different and slow down the pace a little bit. Even though I say that, compared to some of these other guys, I don’t even travel anywhere near as much as they do, but obviously they’ve got different priorities and different commitments to me. Overall, I feel great about the change.

RM: It might be easier for perhaps a younger, online player who really doesn’t have many attachments to be able to go off and travel, but it must have been difficult to try and find the balance to stay in touch with home, considering home is often so far away?

JH: Absolutely! Because home is so far away it made it sometimes unbearable. It really did. But we balanced as much as we could and stayed strong and we got through it. I had an absolutely great time and here I am nearly seven years on and still going.

A Leap Into The Limelight

RM: Obviously your journey, we as onlookers saw, started with your WSOP main event win, but is that where it truly began for you? Is that when your life totally changed?

JH: I think the months leading up to the World Series in ’05, that first part of ’05, I was basically on the biggest heater of my life. I had won something like $160k online playing limits like $2-$4, $5-$10 and putting in 10/15 hours a week, I dominated all the tournaments at Crown [casino] and was just running really hot, felt confident, and was playing well. I couldn’t ask for a better springboard into the World Series to be honest. Then I get to Vegas and my heater continues! In the first tournament I played (I played one before the main event), a $1,000 re-buy, and made the final table for $26k, I won another $50k playing cash, so I was flush with confidence by the time the main event came around. But obviously winning the main event was a big change for sure, without a doubt.

RM: Did you have any expectations about what happened? Did you ever imagine that your life would be what it turned out to be?

JH: No, not at all. Even after I won, I didn’t quite understand how much my life was going to change and it took a good two years for me to even be comfortable in my own skin as to what’s transpired, how my life has changed, and how it would never be back to normal again — What it is now, is what normal is, as normal as normal can get for me.
RM: Have you any regrets or anything you would have done differently?

JH: You know what? I’m very satisfied with my journey. I’ve tried to make good decisions along the way, I think that’s kept me out of trouble. I didn’t go off the rails; I didn’t blow any money, I didn’t try play in the biggest games or get involved with hookers and strip clubs and drugs and all that sort of stuff. I’m pretty happy, everything went really well, and I worked really hard. People ask me how proud are you of your achievement at the World Series? And the reality is I’m actually prouder of how I dealt with everything afterwards because that’s where people seem to stuff up; they’re fortunate enough to run good at the right time like I did, win the biggest event in the world, and then just piss it all away. You see it all the time, you’ve been on tour with us, you see them come and go; one day they’re a superstar and the next day they’re scratching to make a buy-in.

RM: Also peoples’ personalities can change a lot and they can get carried away with themselves after a big win.

JH: For sure. A lot of players start believing the bullshit that people tell them because no one says no to you and everyone wants to try and please you, and if you don’t keep your feet on the ground, before you know it you’ll actually really think that you are this big shot, which you’re not, you’re just another person at the end of the day.

Family First

RM: What were the lows for you, or was it simply being away from your family?

JH: Poker is one big rollercoaster ride and I’ve had some pretty… when I say low points… like when I’ve missed out on bracelets or trophies that I could touch, that I could almost taste, I was that close, and got unlucky or made a mistake. There were only a couple of times where it got hard with the family because I managed mostly to only be away two weeks at a time and that made a big difference. Certainly there were some lonely times there where I would have loved my family to be with me, but all-in-all if I had to weigh everything up, there’s nothing that I can really complain about.

RM: I was surprised to hear that your eldest is nearly 21 and your youngest is 16. How do your children view your life as a poker player?

JH: They see me more as a businessman than a poker player. They know that I play poker but they see that I approach poker and everything that is associated with my win and what happened to me as a business, so they don’t look at it as our Dad is just a poker player. I’ve tried to portray that to them because I want them to understand if all I want to do is just play poker it’s a tough life, it’s hard to really make a lot of money if that’s all I’m doing.

RM: Do they play poker at all? Are they interested?

JH: Yeah, the boys love playing, I don’t let them play too much because I want them to focus on their studies for now. I’ve always said to my kids that I would not be the hypocrite Dad that says you do this and don’t do what I do — I went to uni, I finished my degree, I had a career, I had a life, and I’m making sure that they do the same thing and if they still choose to play when they get older then that’s certainly they’re decision but whilst they’re young and they’re under my care I’ll be guiding them to make sure they have that back-up plan.

Time To Say Goodbye

RM: Was it hard for you to make the decision to leave PokerStars or was it a natural progression?

JH: I think initially I probably started thinking about it 12 months ago and it was pretty hard, but by the time it came around, it was time, it just felt right. It’s funny, as soon as I actually had the courage to make the decision I felt a relief. It was the correct decision… it was the right time.

RM: How did the role of ambassador for the APT come about?

JH: I’ve had a steady relationship with Tom Hall, who’s the CEO of the APT for a couple of years now and he had always said to me “if at any time you decide that things aren’t working out with PokerStars or you want to move on or be closer to home, let me know and if they’re something that we’re doing we’d love to have you involved” and that’s exactly what happened. And because we already had a relationship established I didn’t have to go through the process of him wooing me or me wooing him, it was just a matter of we both like each other, we’ve known each other for a few years, and it was a natural progression to be honest.

RM: What does the role involve?

JH: Basically I’m the ambassador for the APT and we have plans to roll out some projects both in Asia and Australia over the next 12 months, which I can’t really talk specifically about at this stage. Obviously it involves poker (both online and live) and gaming. What I liked about this position is I’m more than just a dancing monkey, I’m actually part of the company, helping it make decisions.

RM: So what’s attracting you is you get to play but you also get to be involved in the business side of things?

JH: Absolutely. I’m way over that part of my life where all I think about is playing poker. I’m at that stage of my life where I’d like to be part of something, help something grow and be established. I’ve always said that one of my missions is to be an ambassador for poker all around the world and help it to grow, and this fits right in. Asia and Australia have still fairly good markets and hopefully we’ll make a difference and bring some more people into our beautiful game.

New Land To Conquer

RM: Will we see you in Europe anymore, or indeed at the WSOP?

JH: Sure. So here’s the beauty of my new relationship — they said to me, “Joe, we understand you want to stay home more often, so how many times do you want to travel?” I said, “Look, if I do four big trips a year, once every quarter, I’ll be happy.” And they said, “Yeah, ok, you can do that, and as long as you can throw in a couple of trips to Asia, we’ll be happy.” So basically I get to play a couple of WPTs, the WSOP, EPT London (which I love), the WSOP Europe, and of course a couple of the APT events.

RM: Obviously we have largely seen you at PokerStars events so we’ll be seeing you at a wider range of events now; you could even come over for the Irish Open!

JH: You never know! I’ve been trying to do that for years now. I’ve made a promise that I will get there eventually so maybe this could be the year. If not this year, next year. But definitely at least with my schedule freeing up so much I could do that, and comfortably.

RM: It’s way more freedom for you then.

JH: For sure. I’m not under the whip — “You’ve got to be here in two weeks, you’ve got to be here next week, and here…” — it’s a lot more relaxed, which is good. Don’t get me wrong it was a great rush initially with travelling all the time, but that gets tiring very quickly, as you yourself know.

RM: Will you get to see Tony [Hachem] much with this new direction you’ve taken?

JH: Oh yeah, he’s my brother, we’re always together, and he’s going to try to make an effort to come out to the tournaments I’m going to as well. We’ll travel together when we can, which makes it fun.

RM: You’re probably very busy now with this new role. How are you going to balance work and play? What are your immediate plans?

JH: Basically we’re kicking things off slowly; my first trip will be to the LAPC, and then Bay 101 — both WPT events. Then I’ll come home for about five weeks and then off to Manila for the APT. Then come back home for a couple of months and then Vegas for the World Series. ♠