Story transcripts

Diamond Joe

Sunday, July 8, 2007
Diamond Joe Hachem
Reporter: Peter Overton
Producer: Hugh Nailon

Just try to get your head around this. An ordinary bloke - a father of four from Melbourne - who wins $15 million playing cards. Ten million in one game alone.

That's Joe Hachem. Diamond Joe. And he's not the only one who's hooked.

Since his big win, there's been a poker revolution, down at the club, on television, on the net and in ordinary suburban homes right round the country.

Everyone, from kids to grannies, has caught the bug, hoping to make big money.

You can too, if you follow the champ's advice. Even Peter Overton did OK for himself, when he met Joe in Vegas for the biggest poker game on earth.

Transcript

PETER OVERTON: Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, where, every year, 40 million punters roll into town with a dream of making it rich. I'm here with an Australian bloke who's already done it, big-time.

JOE HACHEM: This town's been good to me, that's why I love it.

PETER OVERTON: 'Good?' I can think of better words than that!

JOE HACHEM: It's been great.

PETER OVERTON: And 'Diamond' Joe Hachem, the world champion of poker, is coming back for more, this week trying to win his second crown.

JOE HACHEM: Every time I come back it's like the king returning to his castle.

PETER OVERTON: Two years ago, on his very first trip to Vegas, Joe paid $10,000 to enter a tournament and walked away world champion, $10 million richer. But the odds of Joe doing it again are a daunting 7,000:1 — that's how many people he's up against. Take me to the poker table. How intense is it?

JOE HACHEM: It's very intense and I think you have to emotionally handle it. There are people who are praying, crying, you know, weeping in the corner. I've seen everything.

PETER OVERTON: Joe's world crown was certainly no fluke. Since then, he's gone on to win another $5 million. He's now a poker superstar. Movie star Matt Damon is a huge fan. I believe you play a bit of poker with Joe?

MATT DAMON: You didn't tell 'em what happened, did you?

JOE HACHEM: Nope. I just said we had some fun. I didn't tell them how you beat me.

MATT DAMON: Good. I mean, I just want to spare you the embarrassment, Joe.

PETER OVERTON: What do you think of Joe, the bloke from the suburbs of Melbourne, now world champion?

MATT DAMON: Poker can bring out the worst in people, but when you see somebody who's just winning with grace and class and dignity, it's nice.

JOE HACHEM: This is great, isn't it, all these people here? Wait until all my mates in Preston see me on TV.

PETER OVERTON: Home in Melbourne's northern suburbs is certainly a long way from Vegas and, here, 'Diamond' Joe Hachem is just average Joe.

JEANIE HACHEM: He's just Joe to me. He's my husband, I don't see anything else. And women jump up on him and believe …

JOE HACHEM: No, no, no, let's not talk about …

JEANIE HACHEM: I look at them and I think they're all jumping up and down and they're going crazy for Joe for his autograph and photos and that, and I look at them and I think, 'Are these people serious?'

JOE HACHEM: It's only Joe.

JEANIE HACHEM: It's only Joe! It's not Brad Pitt! Sorry, honey.

PETER OVERTON: Joe and Jeanie met when they were teenagers. They've been married 18 years and have four kids and, despite their instant wealth, not too much has changed around here. Now, tell me about the barbecue. I honestly thought it might be bigger and grander and gold-plated even.

JOE HACHEM: Look, there's two wheels missing.

PETER OVERTON: Yes.

JOE HACHEM: And I don't have the heart to throw it out 'cause it's been so good to me for the last 10 years.

PETER OVERTON: Nearly $20 million in the bank, doesn't that change a person's outlook?

JEANIE HACHEM: No, it hasn't.

PETER OVERTON: Adulation and fame?

JEANIE HACHEM: None of it. None of it at all.

PETER OVERTON: You're happy with the barbecue on a Sunday and a nice bottle of red?

JOE HACHEM: The barbecue, the bottle of red, a nice Scotch. You know, that's — you know, simple.

JEANIE HACHEM: That's real. That's what's real.

PETER OVERTON: A few years back, Joe was just another bloke in the suburbs struggling to pay off the house. He worked as a chiropractor, then a mortgage broker, but his passion was poker and he had what it takes — an incredible memory and a sharp brain that can instantly calculate his odds.

JOE HACHEM: I think my discipline, my control, helps me, my ability to make good decisions at the right time. The skill is what you bring to the table — your poker face, your demeanour, the way that you control the pots, the way you choose which hands to play and which hands to fold. So you make the best decisions based on the information you have and the rest is up to the poker gods.

PETER OVERTON: And, for Joe, this is where it all began — playing for fun with his mates in the lounge room, a weekly ritual for the past 15 years. So, you've won millions playing poker, why bother turning up mid-week for a game where you put $10 in the pot?

JOE HACHEM: Nights like this aren't about winning money, it's about spending time with your mates. They know Joe Hachem, pre 'Joe Hachem', so I can just be myself and relax and enjoy myself.

PETER OVERTON: Joe's mates not only helped sharpen his poker skills, they were with him in Vegas when he had the big win — a win they're still over the moon about.

JOE HACHEM: It's like witnessing the first step on the moon. For us, that's what it's like.

PETER OVERTON: Landing on the moon?

JOE HACHEM: Yep.

PETER OVERTON: Bet you Neil Armstrong wishes he got $10 million for walking on the moon!

JOE HACHEM: I don't know where that frigging came from, 'landing on the moon'!

PETER OVERTON: The idea to go to Vegas was first hatched around this table, but Joe almost never made it. He had to beg permission from Jeanie.

JOE HACHEM: So I built up a lot of courage and I called her into my office one day and I said, 'Honey, I need to speak to you'. I said, 'Look, the boys are going to Vegas. I'm not going to be able to take the family but I really want to go. What do you think?' And she said …

JEANIE HACHEM: 'Get a life! You're not going anywhere. If I can't go, you can't go!'

JOE HACHEM: And she walked straight out of the office.

PETER OVERTON: So it's clear you're not going to Vegas. Jeanie, what happened?

JEANIE HACHEM: We went off to Queensland with the family, and he was just sitting there and I could see it in his eyes. He was just, 'Honey, please let me go'. He didn't say anything, but I just I read his eyes and I thought, 'Nuh'. And I go, 'Honey, you know what? Why don't you go with the boys?' He ran back to the hotel — he didn't waste a minute — called up his friends and said, 'Book my ticket now!'

PETER OVERTON: And, so, to Vegas. For eight intense days, Joe worked his way through the field of nearly 6000 players. Then, just before dawn, on the final morning after playing all night, it came down to just one card. And when you saw them wheel out that $10 million with those armed security guards …

JEANIE HACHEM: That was beautiful. That was pretty sweet.

JOE HACHEM: What was that line that you told me yesterday, about the bank?

JEANIE HACHEM: The bank doesn't own us any more.

JOE HACHEM: Actually, one of the highlights of my life is walking into the bank with a cheque for my mortgage and saying, 'Thank you very much', and seeing the look on the teller's face.

PETER OVERTON: What a moment.

JEANIE HACHEM: It was.

JOE HACHEM: A special moment.

PETER OVERTON: Only in a place like Vegas could someone win $10 million playing cards, and the most remarkable thing about this is, theoretically, anyone can do it. If you think you know your way around a poker table, and you have a spare 10 grand for the entry fee, then you've got yourself a seat at the biggest poker game on the planet. So, Angie, you reckon you could give all these people a go if you were in here?

ANGIE ITALIANO: Yeah, why not? I'm as good as any of them.

PETER OVERTON: Joe Hachem isn't the only Australian trying his hand in Vegas this year. Angie Italiano's also from Melbourne. You must get excited just coming into this room?

ANGIE ITALIANO: It's great. The victory, you know, you can feel it, and I'm gonna win!

PETER OVERTON: The 55-year-old mother of two is one of 150 Aussies competing. Angie started playing poker only four years ago to help save her marriage.

ANGIE ITALIANO: My husband was playing a lot of poker, and I was getting rather upset with him because he was never home.

PETER OVERTON: So, it was divorce or poker?

ANGIE ITALIANO: Yeah. We used to argue a lot but now — but we've got something in common now, so it's all good.

PETER OVERTON: In four years, what have you made?

ANGIE ITALIANO: Plenty of money. Enough. Enough. Over — probably over $100,000.

MIKE SEXTON: Poker was something that most people thought took place in the back of a smoke-filled pool hall, for example. And guys were single and gamblers and degenerates, and this type of atmosphere. Now what you're seeing is it's become a billion-dollar industry.

PETER OVERTON: Mike Sexton won millions playing poker. Now he's making even more promoting it. Mike led the poker revolution, turning the game into a prime-time sporting event.

MIKE SEXTON: The World Poker Tour is reality TV at its finest. It's real people that have put up real money that are really playing for millions of dollars.

PETER OVERTON: This is a game of cards. You don't think of it as a major sporting event.

MIKE SEXTON: The secret, of course, is the WPT cam, that little camera, where the people get to watch the players make decisions about their hands. Without that, there would be no show.

PETER OVERTON: Then there's the online boom. It alone turns over $4 billion a year. And, of course, there's Hollywood.

MIKE SEXTON: And it was great for our game because, in America, the public likes to follow what everyone perceives as chic and cool in Hollywood.

PETER OVERTON: Poker is sexy.

MIKE SEXTON: Poker is sexy. As you saw in the latest James Bond flick, you know, poker was the game rather than baccarat that's been the game on James Bond films over the past. So it shows you how popular poker's getting.

PETER OVERTON: Money, glamour, deal me in. But, to get a piece of the action, I've got a few things to learn from the master. It's clear I'm not a natural. But, like the song says, you've got to know when to hold them and when to fold them … and don't ever let your face betray you.

JOE HACHEM: Being a poker player is like being a spy — you don't want to give away the right information. You want to give away incorrect information.

PETER OVERTON: Give us your poker face if you get a pair of aces.

JOE HACHEM: My poker face is the same, whether I get a pair of aces, or a seven and a three. I put my bet out and simply rest, focus on a point at the table, keep my breathing under control, and not give up any information.

PETER OVERTON: We play a hand, the rookie and the champ. I've got a nine and a seven. Joe's got a pair of jacks. But, on the flop, two more sevens for me, three of a kind.

JOE HACHEM: Oh, my God! You just whooped the world champ, sir. You bluffed me into believing you didn't have anything.

PETER OVERTON: Look at that! I just beat the world champion.

JOE HACHEM: I'll just give you my bracelet right now.

PETER OVERTON: I feel fantastic. How do you feel?

JOE HACHEM: Well done. Good.

PETER OVERTON: But, this week in Vegas, 'Diamond' Joe Hachem won't be such a pushover. He's far too determined to prove he can do it all again.

JOE HACHEM: People argue they want the money, but the money isn't what made me happy. Being the world champion, one of only 32 players to have ever have achieved this, that's what made me happy because that's down in history. I busted my backside for it. I had so much passion for it. That's why I chased the dream and came out here in the first place.

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