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Tuesday, September 15, 2009
A battle of poker superstars

By Andrew Feldman
ESPN.com

There was a buzz in the Amazon Room on Day 3 of the 2009 World Series of Poker. You could've associated that buzz with the fact that the entire field was finally in one room, or from that point on there wouldn't be a break until the final table was reached. However, to really find the reason why, all you had to do was look at the feature table. In a battle of poker superstars, 2005 WSOP main event champion Joseph Hachem and 2009 WSOP Player of the Year Jeffrey Lisandro were locked up with hopes of one of them making history once again. Lucky for poker fans, we get to watch this battle on ESPN Tuesday night from 8-10 p.m.

Joseph Hachem & Jeff Lisandro
Which Australian, Joseph Hachem or Jeffrey Lisandro, will get the best of their matchup on Day 3?

Hachem began the Australian poker boom after his victory in 2005 and joked that if another Australian won the main event, "It would mean what we already know: Australians are the best damn poker players on the planet." While there's still a long way to go, with these two heavyweights making it into Day 3 with solid chip counts, it could become a reality.

Lisandro's journey to poker stardom is still in progress. Although none of his victories were broadcast on TV, his title of underrated evaporated this summer in Las Vegas. It was on Day 3 that Lisandro clinched the WSOP Player of the Year title over Ville Wahlbeck. Lisandro's three bracelets in 2009 came in seven card stud, razz and seven card stud high-low split. Quite simply, he was the man of the year and everyone knew it. Lisandro will get honored for his achievement in November and has earned the ovation he will receive.

"Amazing, amazing, amazing!" said Hachem of Lisandro's accomplishments. "Jeff is the epitome of a professional player and he deserves all the success he has achieved."

The success Lisandro claims comes from a little something unexpected, but extra from his tablemates.

"I think there's a little advantage if your opponent fears you a little bit or respects you," said Lisandro. "I'm a man you don't want to mess with."

How could you not respect/fear a player who had already won four career WSOP bracelets, three coming in 2009? That question must have been running through the thoughts of his opponents every day during the main event.

For Hachem, the respect (and fear) has been place since 2005. The chant "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!" follows him wherever he goes around the Rio and, as one of the more entertaining characters the game offers, many swarm to watch the champ in action. It is commonplace for fans to stand three or four people deep surrounding Hachem's table. Luckily for Hachem and his fans, his journey at the WSOP typically has a stop at the feature table, a place he feels at home (and where there's more room to watch).

"I love the feature table," said Hachem. "Everyone wants to be on TV, and they are afraid to do anything silly so they don't get ridiculed. I try and take advantage of that."

Take advantage he does. Hachem, along with many other champs, finds that the feature table is the place where amateurs falter since they aren't prepared for the spotlight. The amateurs also come into the final table knowing the skilled (or unskilled) reputation of their well-known opponents and adjust their games accordingly -- something that the veterans can use against them.

So what happens when the feature table adds another dynamic element in a second well-known pro? Not only does TV get a little more interesting, but the challenge to keep moving forward in the main event becomes a little more difficult. Primarily, though, all players must realize that staying on task is most important.

"It was down to business as usual," said Hachem of the addition of Lisandro to the feature table. "We are both there for only one thing: accumulate chips and win!"

History between the two also plays a major part in the battle, and with that in mind, figuring out their game plans on Day 3 is even tougher.

"I have played with Jeff many times and I think I know his game as well as he knows mine," said Hachem.

As the field shrinks, Lisandro is hoping for another deep run at the main event, but getting past Hachem and the other remaining pros in the field (Hellmuth, Eastgate, Ivey, Sebok) won't be easy. The good thing for Lisandro is that his most recent trip to Las Vegas has put him in a great place mentally.

"When you're in the zone, you're throwing in chips with real confidence," said Lisandro. "You're reading your opponents. Anytime you bluff, they fold. Every time you have a big hand, they're calling."

Will Hachem fall into the trap? Tune in Tuesday night at 8 p.m. to see two of the game's best battle it out on Day 3 of the 2009 World Series of Poker.

Andrew Feldman is the ESPN.com poker editor and author of the poker blog. You can find Andrew on the Inside Deal and on the Poker Edge podcast in the Podcenter.