Published January 13, 2015
Australian Joseph Hachem (search) prevailed in a colossal dual Saturday at the World Series of Poker's main event, winning $7.5 million and snatching the game's greatest crown in the longest final table in the tournament's history.
Only six hands into the two-man battle at the end, Hachem eliminated Steven Dannenmann (search) of Severn, Md., when he flopped a seven-high straight.
When it was clear Hachem had won, his fans in the room erupted into "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!" Hachem immediately embraced Dannenmann, wrapped himself in an Australian flag and shouted: "Thank you, America."
Hachem's victory was astonishing because he had been nursing a short stack for 11 1/2 hours, saving his chips for the right moment and avoiding confrontations that could cost him a chance at the 36th annual no-limit Texas Hold 'em (search) title.
"I never gave up," he said.
The 39-year-old Australian moved with his family from his native Lebanon in 1972 and gave up a 13-year chiropractic career three years ago to play poker for a living.
Nearly 14 hours into the round of plodding and seemingly interminable poker, Hachem pounced, bringing the battle to a decisive end about an hour after sunrise.
The final play unfolded slowly as Dannenmann raised before the flop with Hachem calling. The dealer revealed a six-five-four flop and Hachem checked. Dannenmann bet another $700,000 and then Hachem raised to $1.7 million.
The turn card was an ace and Hachem threw another $2 million into the pot. Dannenmann took his time raising to $5 million and Hachem went all-in with more than $30 million, moving into a high-stakes gear that can either save or break a gambler.
Dannenmann called instantly and then Hachem produced a seven and three against Dannenmann's ace-three. Dannenmann couldn't catch a seven on the river to tie the pot.
Dannenmann said his top priority was to have a good time. He even carried around a small sheet of paper with a list of things he should remember. Two of them were "have fun" and "nothing to lose."
Toward the end of the round, Dannenmann, a 38-year-old accountant and mortgage banker, said he just wanted to finish the match.
"I got tired," he said. "I was bored of it. I was trying to make moves."
With the bundles of cash, Hachem also won the coveted white gold and diamond bracelet. It's the last time the event will be held at Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel, where cowboy Benny Binion started the World Series in 1970.
Like Chris Moneymaker in 2003 and Greg Raymer last year, Hachem won in his first World Series, likely changing his life forever.
"A million dollars changes my life, let alone $7.5 million," he said. "It changes everything. I can look after my family, my mum, my kids."
The final group of nine emerged from a field of 5,619 gamblers. They had survived eight days of mind-numbing poker, overcoming unlucky cards, bad beats and Darth Vaderesque stares at the Rio hotel-casino and Binion's.
When the first cards were dealt Friday, each player was capable of winning if he was willing to make some of the toughest calls of his life.
After Tex Barch was eliminated in a monster three-way pot, Hachem and Dannenmann found themselves heads up. Hachem was in command of $39.9 million and Dannenman had $16.3 million.
To get to that point, the pair had to outlast seven other men -- none of whom wanted to go quietly.
Everyone who began the day at the table was guaranteed at least $1 million.
Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, a well-known professional player who came in sixth in 2001 and 87th last year, had been considered a favorite but was the first to go. He had no regrets.
"I played the six best days of poker in my life," Matusow said. "I'm going to bed happy."
Penn law student Brad Kondracki finished eighth and Daniel Bergsdorf, a Swedish truck driver, was seventh. Scott Lazar was sixth, Irishman Andrew Black took fifth and Aaron Kanter wrapped up fourth, followed by Barch.
About 13 hours into the round, officials dumped the first-place prize in thick stacks of hundreds on a table near the players, causing shouts of "Oh, my God!" For the first time in the tournament, the remaining gamblers saw their elusive goal -- guarded by security men with shotguns.
When Hachem finally confronted the mountain of cash, he asked: "Is this all mine?"