07/18/2005 12:00AM

Aussie sleeper wins no-limit snoozefest


Joseph Hachem of Australia captured the first prize of $7.5 million by winning the Main Event at the World Series of Poker at Binion's.


The final table of the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold'em Champion-ship Event, which determines the world champion, started shortly before 4:50 p.m. on Friday and didn't end until just after 6:40 a.m. Saturday. Play was interrupted only by a 90-minute dinner break around 8:30 p.m. Friday and several 5- to 15-minute breaks for players to use the bathroom or get a smoke, or for ESPN to either tape interviews with players after they were eliminated or to change the tapes in its cameras.

Many concessions were made for television, but it's hard to say this was a made-for-TV event. Anyone whose only exposure to poker tournaments are from TV would be very bored by the real thing.

When watching poker tournaments on TV, most hands seem to be exciting with big betting, but at this WSOP final table, the majority of hands didn't make it to the flop. Players folded time after time when another player raised, and most hands that made it to the flop ended there when someone raised.

The biggest stretch of ennui began shortly after the dinner break, around 10:20 p.m., when the field was narrowed to five players - Hachem, Tex Barch, Steve Dannenmann, Andrew Black, and Aaron Kanter - and those five played for the next 3 1/2 hours before Black was eliminated around 2 a.m.

Of course, with nearly 15 hours of playing time, ESPN shouldn't have too much trouble editing down to two hours when the final table finally airs Nov. 15. It will be hard, though, to convey the patience needed by the players (and the media and spectators) as the hours wore on.

But it was certainly worth Hachem's time, as well as the other players at the final table, who were all guaranteed at least $1 million in prize money from the record field of 5,619. Hachem, 39, is a former chiropractor who gave up his medical career three years ago to play poker full time. He showed the most patience of all as he played the majority of the night with the shortest stack at the table, waiting for the right opportunities. It wasn't until 3:30 a.m. that he really got into contention, bringing cheers from his countrymen, who chanted, "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oy, oy, oy."

The final showdown came down to Hachem and Dannenmann, with Hachem clinching the championship on the sixth hand of heads-up play, when Hachem flopped a seven-high straight. Dannenmann only had a pair of aces and said afterward that he kind of wanted to get the tournament over with because he was so tired. He still collected $4.5 million for second.

Some worthy favorites

Sometimes this sports betting thing is easier than we make it out to be. Sometimes the favorite is far and away the best and it's futile to bet against them. Cases in point:

* Tiger Woods romped to a five-stroke victory in the British Open. In retrospect, his odds of 3-1 at the Las Vegas Hilton seem generous, since he held the lead over the last 63 holes on his way to his 10th career major, eight behind Jack Nicklaus's record of 18. It was also Woods's second major of the year - he also won the Masters - and he was second in the U.S. Open last month. Jeff Sherman, sports book supervisor and golf oddsmaker at the Hilton, has lowered Woods to the 5-2 favorite to win the final major of the year, the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on Aug. 11-14. Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are distant second choices at 10-1, and Phil Mickelson is 12-1.

* Lance Armstrong continues to dominate the Tour de France. Before the start of the race, you could have had Armstrong (who has won six Tours de France in a row) at even-money or 6-5, another no brainer. The three-week race goes through Sunday, so it's not over, but only an accident looks like it could stop Armstrong now.

* Tony Stewart went into Sunday's New England 300 in Loudon, N.H., having won two of the last three Nextel Cup races. So, what kind of odds could you have gotten on the hottest driver on the circuit? A very juicy 10-1 at Station Casinos. Stewart won again for those who have been riding him.

* Well, at least one "obvious" choice failed over the weekend. Bernard Hopkins had defended his middleweight title 20 straight times over the last 12 years. On Saturday night at the MGM Grand, he was a -150 favorite over Jermain Taylor, a relatively unknown but undefeated fighter who has been called the heir apparent to Hopkins middleweight titles. Well, Taylor obviously didn't want to wait for Hopkins to retire and he came after the champ and earned a split decision. This continued a trend with so many recent boxing matches being won by the underdog. Taylor's considerable talents were part of the reason the odds were so low, but another reason was that oddsmakers are adjusting to getting beat up by all the underdog boxing bettors. This time, the books didn't make out so bad, because the short price on Hopkins attracted some larger wagers to balance the action.

Making most of 'last chance'

The Gold Coast Summer Classic, held last Thursday through Saturday, had a "Last Chance Get Even Pool" for contestants Saturday. The reason for the pool is to give those who are hopelessly out of the running after the first two days a chance to still cash on the final day.

Edward Herman of Brooklyn made the most of that opportunity by piling up 20,410 points Saturday based on the format of making 15 mythical $200 win and place bets. Not only did he earn $8,000 for having the day's top score, but his three-day total of 33,230 points was good enough to win the main tournament.

Herman topped the field of 560 entries and earned the first prize of $89,600 for total earnings of $97,700. Not bad for someone who was in 51st place going into the final day of a tournament that pays the top 50.

Robert Bertolucci of San Mateo, Calif., finished second with 31,346 points and earned $33,600, and Bertolucci's brother, Mark, finished third with 31,246 points to keep another $15,680 in the family.

In addition to prize money, the top 10 finishers earned berths in the Horseplayer World Series in January. The rest of the top 10 were Doris Smith, Ken Massa, Gerald Pagels, Linda Post, Rick Herron (former Coast tournament director), Steve Pollack and Steve Kozarich. Since Massa has already qualified, that spot goes to 11th-place finisher Bill Hogarth.

* With Del Mar opening Wednesday, the Coast Casinos - which also include the Orleans, Barbary Coast, and Suncoast - are changing their weekly handicapping contests. The Wednesday contest has been discontinued, but the $10 buy-in contest will continue on the first five races from Del Mar and a progressive jackpot for anyone going 5 for 5. With carryovers from the Hollywood contest, the Thursday jackpot should exceed $20,000 this week.