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State of the Felt: Joe Hachem

Hachem Discusses the Growth of Australian Poker and His Place in that Growth


Joe HachemIn State of the Felt, Card Player will periodically bring you insights and opinions from some of the most influential players, tournament and poker organization directors, and other people who influence the poker industry. This is a place where the broad trends and forces that continue to shape the game will have space to live and breathe in open discussion. First up is the 2005 world champion, Australian Joe Hachem. Card Player caught up with Hachem at the Crown Casino during the Aussie Millions main event in Melbourne, Australia. He spoke about the growth of Australian poker since his big win in 2005 and what factors have led his countrymen to embrace the game.

Ryan Lucchesi: How big an influence do you think your win at the World Series of Poker main event had on the growth of Australian poker?

Joe Hachem: The reality is that my win was the same as the [Chris] Moneymaker win in the states. Just explosion, not even growth, just absolute explosion; we’re kind of where the U.S. was two years ago. It’s amazing every time I come back, it’s great.

RL: How much has this poker room at Crown Casino changed in that time?

JH: I left when there were 17 tables, and we have over 60 tables today, with four main events throughout the year, so it’s pretty cool. This little poker room that is so far at the bottom of the world, that people for a long time avoided coming to because it was so far away, but the secret is that once they do come, they go and tell their friends and they want to come back, because it is such a good event.

RL: How much has the growth of poker here been affected by the love of sport embraced by the Australian people?

Australians love this sport and, as a whole, we’re very, very competitive. For a country of not that many people, look how well we compete at the Olympics against some of the biggest countries in the world. We’re a very competitive country. People love poker because it brings out their competitive spirit.

How does poker rank against Australian pasttimes like Aussie-rules football or cricket? How does that compare to where poker ranks in the U.S. when compared to the NFL or Major League Baseball?

The biggest difference is that in the U.S. poker is part of the culture. For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched shows on TV where they have their Thursday-night poker game together. It’s part of the culture. Poker in Australia is still developing, and although there was a lot of poker played before, it’s now becoming more and more socially acceptable. It’s easier to say, hey, we’re having a poker game at our place tonight, and people don’t get the wrong idea that they’re going to lose their shirts. You come over, have a poker game, get a pizza, a few beers, and play for 20 bucks.

Along those same lines that you referenced in the two-year gap in poker growth between here and the U.S., would you also agree that the cultural shift is two years behind in breaking the conception of the dark, back-room poker game here in Australia?

JH: Absolutely. I think we’re nearly there, but it still takes time. I think the more that we try to align poker with sport and the more that we stress poker tournaments, the further we get from the gambling connotation, which we don’t want.

Has the growth of poker really taken place in the casinos or more in the amateur leagues and pub poker leagues that have sprung up all over the continent?

Joe HachemJH:
It’s really across the board. We have two huge pub leagues that run throughout Australia, the APL (Australian Poker League) and the NPL (National Poker League). Restaurants and homes all have home games every week. When I left in 2005 for the World Series, there was one cardroom only in Australia, now there are nine to 10 that are in casinos.

What is the standard table image for an Australian poker player compared to an American poker player?

The Australian player is much less sophisticated at the moment, same as in Europe. The average American player is definitely better than the average Australian player. But our top-level players are as good as anywhere in the world. That’s kind of the same anywhere. You go to Europe, and the best players are the best players; they’re world class. The Aussie Millions, because a lot of guys satellite in from their local casinos and their pub poker, [has] a lot of weak players. It’s their first big event, that’s why it gives the pros much more equity to play in this tournament. It’s kind of like the World Series, there’s so much equity. It kind of softens the blow when you do take a bad beat, because you think, well, I do have positive equity in the game.

RL: What do you see for the future of Australian poker, and what will your role as the premiere Australian ambassador of poker be in the future?

My hope is that I can see poker grow in Australia to a level where it is an accepted sport. Where that back-room aura is just gone, where people understand they can come and play poker and it’s not about losing their shirt, it’s about competing and being social at the same time. You can play and try to win millions of dollars, or you can play with your friends and play for a pizza. I’d love to see the day where we also have a professional tour. They’re launching the ANZPT (Australia New Zealand Poker Tour) this year, but I’m talking more along the lines of having the top professionals on tour together, and then there are some tours where people can qualify into the top tour. So hopefully, we’ll see.