LAS VEGAS -- Australian Joseph Hachem prevailed
in his first World Series of Poker Saturday, 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 showdown at the
end, Hachem eliminated Steven Dannenmann 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 of chips for 11½ hours through the night, waiting for the right moment and avoiding confrontations
that could cost him a chance at the 36th annual no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event title.
"I never gave up," he said.
The 39-year-old gambler from Melbourne 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 final
round of seemingly interminable poker, Hachem pounced, bringing the tournament to a decisive end about an hour after sunrise.
The final play unfolded slowly as Dannenmann raised
before the flop -- three community cards -- was turned over. Hachem called and the dealer revealed a six-five-four flop. Hachem
checked, Dannenmann bet another $700,000 and then Hachem raised to $1.7 million.
The turn, or fourth card, was an ace and Hachem
threw another $2 million into the pot. Dannenmann raised 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, giving him a seven-high straight. Dannenmann showed an ace-three, and needed a seven on the river -- the
last card -- to match Hachem's straight. It didn't happen.
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 from Severn, Md., 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 initial 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 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 Dannenmann had $16.3 million.
Soon the two would make gambling history when they
ended play at 6:44 a.m. -- 13 hours and 56 minutes after the final round began. The table was 18 minutes longer than the previous
mark, established in 1983.
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?"