John Locher / AP
Sunday, July 6, 2014 | 2 a.m.
When Joe Hachem took his seat on the first day at the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2005, the Australian professional immediately had buyer’s remorse.
Before he played one hand, Hachem questioned why he entered the tournament and assumed his $10,000 entry fee was wasted.
He shared that uneasy feeling Saturday with players in this year’s Main Event at the Rio before giving the ceremonial “shuffle up and deal” command to begin play in the Texas Hold ‘em tournament.
“I still remember when I walked into (the poker room),” Hachem said. “I sat down and looked around. There were 2,000 players. My first instinct was to go back and cash out my (entry) ticket.”
Not only did Hachem remain in the tournament, he won it to pocket a then-record $7.5 million and instantly become one of poker’s biggest stars.
His cheering section passionately chanted “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” after Hachem would win a pot during the final table, bringing a distinct international flair to the poker room.
The Main Event victory of Chris Moneymaker, an average Joe, in 2003 is credited for the poker boom. But you can easily argue Hachem’s win had a similar impact, helping attract players from all corners of the globe to Las Vegas each summer to create a true world competition.
“(Hachem) wrapped himself in an Australian flag and said, ‘Thank you, America.’ Right there, you knew poker had a global future,” said Ty Stewart, the World Series of Poker executive director.
Last year, the World Series of Poker — more than 60 tournaments over six weeks — drew players from 107 countries, including 83 international players for the Main Event. Eighty-three nations have been represented in the Main Event the past three years. Officials didn’t start counting international players until 2009.
WSOP in 2007 capitalized on its rising popularity outside of the U.S. by adding the World Series of Poker Europe. A few years later, the World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific was added. The next WSOP on foreign soil is on Hachem’s home turf Oct. 2-18 at the Crown Melbourne in Australia. It’s a 10-event series.
Hachem called helping host a World Series of Poker one of his most significant accomplishments. As he showed Saturday during the start of the Main Event, he’s fully embraced the role of ambassador.
“(Hachem) is truly one of the classiest men in poker,” Stewart said.
Saturday was the first of three starting days for the Main Event, which is expected to surpass the 6,352 entries from 2013. On Monday, tournament officials expect about 4,000 players to register, following a trend of past years when there’s a push on the last day. The winner is guaranteed $10 million.
“The reality is the only person I had to beat was myself,” Hachem said. “It’s the same as you guys. Play your game and enjoy the day.”