My Second Best WSOP Dinner of the Year
Continuing the countdown from the previous article (READ HERE).
The best thing about Joe Hachem’s “Ten-Year Victory Anniversary Party,” held on the night of July 5, 2015, wasn’t the food — which was exquisite. It wasn’t the company — which was unforgettable. It wasn’t even the wine and cocktails — which were bountiful and best of all, free. No, the best thing about the evening was the host — Joe Hachem.
Most of us involved in the poker game know Hachem as the 2005 world poker champion, which was won amidst a thundering chorus of chants, most notably “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.” Remember, it was Hachem and his vocal entourage of Aussies who unwittingly changed tournament poker forever into the highly interactive spectator sport that it’s become today, with audiences shoehorned around the final table not just cheering like it’s a football game but at times even bantering back and forth with the players. Before the night Hachem won what turned out to be the last WSOP gold bracelet ever handed out at the old Binion’s Horseshoe, championship tables were hedged within a far-more subdued atmosphere, similar to what one expects of a gentlemanly chess match, with occasional outbreaks of the requisite golf clap.
But now I’m getting away from myself. Back to the party.
Hachem became Australia’s first-ever world poker champion. But his real accomplishment, I think, was keeping it all together and maintaining a healthy dose of proper perspective. Hachem’s family — his wife and four amazing kids, and a brother I’ve come to love as my own named Tony — always came first no matter what, and he included them wherever and when he could as he emerged not just as a popular and beloved poker player, but a celebrity traveling all over the world.
“Class act” is a phrase that gets tossed around a bit too loosely, but I think it really applies to Hachem. That’s the best way I can think of to describe him.
I should have warned you there would be a detour. Assuming you’re still reading this, you are about to take one. But it’s fun. So, stick with me.
Before I continue with a recount of the memorable evening spent with both Joe Hachem and his incredible guest list at a private by-invitation-only celebration and remembrance, here’s another dinner that belongs in the “Honorable Mention” category. I probably should rank it higher than that, but it’s too late now.
Because of my work, I rarely get the chance to celebrate when someone that I know wins. It’s just the nature of my job. I estimate there have been about 650 gold bracelets handed out since I’ve served as WSOP Media Director, which is a little more than half of all the events played in the 46-year-history of the annual event. In that time span, I’ve gone out with the winner perhaps half a dozen times, if that many. The main reason for not attending is — when the tournament ends, I still have work to do. Moreover, there’s usually not a lot of energy left by 2 or 3 in the morning. So, I skip more than 99 percent of the victory parties, even those I occasionally get invited to.
That said, when the Milan maestro, Max Pescatori won his second gold bracelet of this past summer, this was one party I wasn’t going to miss. Not for any reason.
Now, to appreciate the scene I’m about to describe, you have to picture Pescatori’s jovial rail, which is exclusively Italian-born. Two of my closest friends within this bunch, Flaminio Malaguti and Fabio Coppola both live in Las Vegas. But they are both from Italy. So, between Max, Flaminio, Fabio, and about ten others whose names I don’t remember, I know this night is going to be one incredible (and expensive) party.
So, where exactly does one go to celebrate a $300,000 win and a WSOP gold bracelet….at 2:30 am?
Not an Italian restaurant, unfortunately since they’re all closed. Instead, the gang picks out the busiest place in Chinatown, which is a popular Vietnamese restaurant on Spring Mountain that stays open all night.
Now, you have to picture this wild scene, which before the party entered had been a nice quiet but active Vietnamese restaurant nearing 3 am, which because the food is good, is actually filled with perhaps 30 to 40 people. Fortunately, there’s a spot in the middle of the dining room and about three tables are hurriedly shoved together and Team Italia, led by Max Pescatori, sits down.
I’m the only gringo in the group, and even though I still have a working language of the sister language to Italian which is Romanian, and I can count the numbers and order a few things in Italian, my skills in this language suck. That doesn’t stop the entire table from talking in Italian VERY LOUDLY the entire time. Good thing that gestures are easy to understand.
The tables were round, and there of them, which is appropriate for the occasion since this starts to play out like a three-ringed circus. So much food is ordered (the host just won 300 fucking Grand) that the table can’t hold all the plates that are brought out. There’s enough food to feed an army, even an Italian one, and even more of a rarity — a victorious one. So, everyone at the table is talking, no make that YELLING at the top of their lungs, and the plates and clicking and clanging, and one of the older Italians in the group with a silver beard who must have come out of Central Casting as the token herder out of some Sicilian village stands up and makes some toast that sounds like he’s reading something written by Verdi. Of course, the toast, one of a few, lasts longer than a Vatican prayer and seems longer because I only understand about every 20th word or so. While the endless speech is being given, at the opposite end of the table is a 6 foot, 4 inch blonde muscular Italian woman who is inexplicably part of our group, who is built like a brick shithouse, and is wearing YELLOW HOT PANTS with her ass cheeks hanging out of her britches like the hindquarters of a thoroughbred Every time she gets up, it appears those yellow shorts are about two inches of thread from popping wide open. Naturally, the anticipation of this wardrobe hazard has every straight male in the restaurant into a frenzy and asking for another pot of hot tea. It’s not the prawns that trigger mass salivating. Oh, and the woman is standing up, gesticulating wildly with her arms, and speaking Italian non-stop. Just what you expect to see when you walk into a Vietnamese restaurant two hours before the sun comes up.
Like I said, a fucking circus.
The funniest thing about this madness is that with a dozen Italians all talking at the same time, each one assumes he (or she) has to talk LOUDER so the other person will be able to hear what’s said. This just elevates the noise decibel level echoing off the tile floors to something in the range of standing next to a jet engine at takeoff.
Fabio, Flaminio, Max, and I go back and forth and tell lots of stories, and somehow MORE food gets brought out, along with three cold bottles of Grey Goose Vodka, which are served chilled on ice. Glasses somehow vaporize out of thin air, causing me to temporarily believe in magic, and before you know it, we’re slamming down shots of vodka drinking to something said in Italian while the Amazon woman gets up yet again and has everyone in the place puzzled as to what the fuck is happening here at 3 am and a party is going on, with the host dressed like Max Pescatori dresses, spending money like it’s his last meal.
More speeches. More vodka. More toasts. The only disappointment of the night was, those yellow shorts never did pop open.
Otherwise, this dinner makes the Top Five.
* * * * *
Back to Joe Hachem’s party, it’s hard to believe he won the world title ten years ago because it seems like yesterday. I remember it all. Everything. I’m sure Joe remembers too, which is why he wanted to bring everyone together for one special night, joined by the recollection not just of a victory, but a time when lifelong friendships were formed, and some lives in that room even changed, all because Joe won (otherwise, I might be writing about the Steve Dannenman victory party).
I was seated, perhaps by accident, maybe luckily by design, at the same table with Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Dan and Sharon Goldman (and Bre Goldman, who is Dan’s daughter), and Joe Hachem who frequently stopped by. Working with the trio of Moneymaker, Raymer, and Hachem as I did at PokerStars.com from 2004-2006 was certainly one of the high points of my professional career, and then to have Dan and Sharon, both executives with PokerStars also there, was frankly a bit overwhelming to me. It was like putting the band back together for just one night. We’d done so much together, traveled so many places, and this group was just amazing to work with. I didn’t expect that I’d have a chance to see them all in one setting at the same time again, and this night was it. So, for me, having these people with me who were each instrumental in my poker career was beyond special.
The dinner took place at Echo and Rig, located at Tivoli Village in Summerlin, which is near the SunCoast Casino. Hachem arranged for the entire party and dinner to take place on the second-floor balcony, which overlooks a large courtyard. I have written a highly-favorable review of ECHO AND RIG HERE, when it first opened up if you care to read it.
* * * * *
Earlier, I mentioned Joe Hachem is what made this evening so memorable, and now I’d like to close the story by telling you why.
After we enjoyed several courses (including racks of lamb!), fine wines, cocktails, and an assortment of other delicacies, Joe stepped into the center of the room and asked for everyone’s attention. I think most of us expected a nice “thanks for coming” moment, followed by light applause, and maybe a few photos.
But Joe Hachem doesn’t do the expected. He surpasses it, at least on this celebratory occasion.
Hachem stood up on a chair on the balcony of that second-floor and looked out over the sea of guests he’s invited, perhaps numbering as many as 50 to 60 people who were closest to him — his close-knit family, friends from all over the world, poker players there to pay respects, and co-workers and colleagues. Then, he began one-by-one reciting each person’s name and saying something special to each one of us as to why we were there and what made us special. There were no notes. There was no script. This was off-the-cuff and from the heart. Each and every one of us was made to understand what we meant to Joe, ending with his family — wife Jeanie, and four children, now grown, one now even engaged. At this point, the emotion of the evening finally caught up with Joe, and he needed some time to compose himself. I was amazed that he made it that far. Of course, the pause and silence only heightened our appreciation for the moment and reminded us how lucky we were to be there, to be invited, and made to feel like such an important part of the life of someone who we love and respect.
I can’t recall any dinner or party ever like this one. I considered myself privileged to be a part of it.
COMING NEXT: “My Best Dinner of the 2015 World Series of Poker”
Postscript: A final confession — I sure hope Max Pescatori wins more gold bracelets.