The first of a raft of reports from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas beginning with an interview with Jeff Hakim. Topics of conversation include the recent changes by PokerStars and how difficult it is to keep up with the very best talent in the game.
Jeff Hakim has been around forever; not an easy feat in this day and age. I find him milling around the poker room with his girlfriend and another couple. His missus is happy for me to kidnap him. And so he becomes the first of many people who are going to hear my tales of travel woes this week.
I should have landed here on Saturday.
I got here on Monday.
But I wasn’t the only person who took a long time to get here.
“We came all the way from Lebanon so a very long trip. Had to go via Rome and connect in Miami, so it was 26 hours of travel,” Hakim tells me.
That’s a long trip. This event must be special for you?
“The 2007 PCA was my first big live tournament ever. I remember winning the package. It was one of the highlights of my poker career. This was 11-years ago now, I was 20-years old, so fresh into poker, and looking forward to the trip so much.
“It does hold a special place in my heart. Since I moved back to Lebanon, I haven’t been back as much. I think this is my sixth PCA, overall. Unfortunately, I haven’t done well poker wise here so I would like to improve upon that.”
You’ve been grinding the live circuit longer than I’ve been writing about it. I always see you at the deep end of things, but you’ve yet to cross the finishing line. Why is that do you think?
“I’ve spent the last six months trying to work on both my mental and poker game. For the past few years, I had cut down on live tournaments and felt my game had fallen behind a bit. In this day and age in poker, you have to do your best to keep your game and mind sharp.
“Before that, let’s be honest, the game was black and white 11-years ago. If you had a solid game, you could capitalise on people’s mistakes. It’s not like that, today. You have to study the game to understand what people are thinking. The average recreational player is so much better. It makes you improve your game and mental state of mind to make sure you’re balanced and happy.”
The top players in the game seem to have moved the needle to a place never before prodded. It’s not like Fedor Holz picked up Super System and became the King of the World. Do you grow inspired by what these players are doing, today?
“They have studied the game harder and better than anyone else. They are incredibly smart people. They process everything in the right way. They have the right routine. Fedor works on the mind. He has his Primed Mind App. They apply a lot of hard work and dedication to what they do. They realise what it takes, and they have worked at it and done it. The technical aspect of the game, the instincts they develop, the confidence – something that I have personally always lacked a bit and needed to work on. They just have all the pieces of the puzzle, and it works.”
“Very briefly. I have done a tiny bit with my coach for a couple of sessions but not on my own. But that’s what poker is these days, doing the simulations and spitting out the perfect way to play a hand and then dictating that. An outstanding player, this day and age, they have done their homework. They’ll know what the solver is telling their opponent to do and if they have a game plan for that, then they’re lethal. That’s what the best players are doing.”
In that same conversation with Nitsche, he downplayed the importance of improving your mental game. What’s your thoughts on that?
“Dominik has been around a long time. It’s second nature to him. It’s helped that he has so much experience. Your experience plays a big factor in your mental game. You have had a long time to figure things out. Dominik might not have had a struggle with the mental game, but I’ve been around as long as him, and I’ve had mental game struggles. Whether it be confidence, focus issues, stuff like that, it’s natural. You can always improve to have the mental game you want.”
How have you managed to stick around so long? The game has gotten tougher, and it’s not cheap to fly to places like this and stay for a week with all the costs.
“My bread and butter was online poker. Everything changed for the worse in 2011. Online poker is not nearly as lucrative as it used to be. You have to find other means of success in poker. Maybe some live stops, some cash games. You have to mix it up. It was a big dream of mine to come out to one of these things and win one, and I have yet to do that, so the motivation is still there.
“Throughout the years to maintain the lifestyle you have to figure out what’s best for you inside and outside of poker. Get into some investments outside of the game. The goal was always to branch out from poker, be smart with your money and look for your spots. Tons of players have done this; crypto is a good example of that. You have to secure yourself in case poker goes bad, and we’ve seen that it can.”
What’re your thoughts on the changes PokerStars have recently made with the Championship, EPT, etc.?
“The EPT is the tour that’s closest to my heart because I grinded that tour more than any other. I’m glad it’s back, but they need more stops. Right now it’s only Sochi and Monaco, and of course Barcelona and Prague next year, but there are tons of places they could use – Vienna, maybe Amsterdam. Hopefully, we will get more places.
“The $25k next year, I feel like they’re doing their best to make it a big success, but at the end of the day it’s one tournament. The festival will be the biggest ever because of the $25k, but maybe they shouldn’t put all of their eggs in one basket. There are plenty of stops till then, try and give players some more of what they love?
“Once you put out the guarantees, people show up, and partypoker have proven that. The Main Events are re-entry, but the guaranteeing factor means you know what you’re playing for. A million for first, great, I will be there. I don’t think PokerStars does a good enough job promoting the grandeur.
What is it like for you as a player to witness the partypoker v PokerStars value clash at the moment?
“Competition is good. partypoker has made some very positive changes, and it’s due. They are giving what the players want. I have attended several of their live events. I have enjoyed them. The only thing I am not so sure I love is the whole Million thing, starting with a million chips, and those types of gimmicks.”