Rahme wins WSOPA title

2012-02-29 09:49

Johannesburg - Since the early 19th century, poker has widely been regarded as an American affair.

In his memoir, “Life on the Mississippi, American writer Mark Twain recounts the game, which was also popular among Union and Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. Tales from the American Old West describe poker games being played in saloons, resulting in the occasional gun fight, while the popularity of the modern-day game is attributed to American pioneers such as Nick the Greek, Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim.

Today, poker belongs to the world. Even before Joe Hachem’s 2005 WSOP Main Event win, poker was hugely popular in Australia. Televised poker elevated the game’s profile in the UK in the late 1990’s while players such as Thor Hansen and Gus Hansen helped spur a boom across Scandinavia in the early 2000’s. Poker became huge in Brazil in the mid 2000’s and is currently gaining popularity in other Latin American countries.

When Raymond Rahme made it to the final table of the 2007 World Series of Poker Main Event, many regarded a South African making it to poker’s biggest stage as a mere novelty. Little did they know that Rahme was a product of a well-running, albeit small machine known as the All-African Poker tour.

Since 2007, the tour, based in Swaziland, has been the catalyst behind the growth of poker in South Africa. And as with other sectors of the country’s economy, poker there is heading in the right direction.

South African players such as Rahme, Warren Zackey, Jarred Solomon and Darren Kramer have each well represented the skill and dedication of the South African poker community while other well-known South African pros, such as Eric Hershler and Mark Vos, who are more closely associated with their current home countries, provide further testament that South Africa has a rightful place on the international poker scene.

The second annual World Series of Poker Africa has not only provided a venue for players in South Africa and its fellow African countries to compete in a world-class tournament, it has served as a vehicle for them to show the world that poker here is as legitimate as it is in Copenhagen, Melbourne, or even Las Vegas. 

Just days after hosting the largest live poker tournament in Africa’s history, the Emerald opened its doors for the start of its WSOP Africa Main Event.

The winner of the 2012 WSOPA Main Event was Joe-Boy Rahme, a former restaurateur turned poker pro from Sandton. For his win, he was awarded a hefty first-place prize, worth $158 595 (R1.2 million)

Rahme is a local poker celebrity in Johannesburg, and is well liked by many among the tight knit group of players here. When the final card was dealt in the Main Event, nearly the entire tournament area in the Emerald Resort and Casino erupted in cheer with a number of players walking over to their Joe-Boy to extend handshakes, hugs and even kisses.

Yes, South Africans are very passionate about their poker.

“This feels great; I’ve been working toward a WSOP championship for 25 years. This is fabulous,” said Rahme after the win.

The final table featured winners in two earlier events this series, Event#1 winner, Gregory Ronaldson and Event #2 winner, Jason Straus, further testament to the fact that players are truly developing their game in South Africa and not just leaving fate to the cards.

“Poker has really grown over the last five years, we’re sending more and more players to Vegas for the annual WSOP each year and they are having great results. We play mostly in home games, but casinos are starting to recognize us and more games are becoming available.”

The $3 300 buy-in event drew 218 entries, generating a total prize pool of $634 380 of which 24 players would take home their share. 

Final table (under finishing position, player, home town, earnings)

1. Joe-Boy Rahme, Sandton, $158,595
2. Ivan Pakkiri, Polokwane, $98,012
3. Jason Straus, Johannesburg, $71,368
4. James Parker, Johannesburg, $52,780
5. Gregory Ronaldson, Johannesburg, $39,649
6. Marc Joseph, Krugersdorp, $30,196
7. Brad Flynn, Cape Town, $23,409
8. Matt Mulhall, Cape Town, $18,397
9. Brian Bouwer, Jeffrey's Bay, $14,654

How the final table played out:

9th Place
With nearly half of the chips in play in the possession of Parker and Ronaldson, early eliminations came down fast and hard, with Brian Bouwer the first casualty of the afternoon.  The short stack, he got his chips in the middle in the best position that he could find, but it was not good enough. Bouwer is a 29-year-old entrepreneur and married father of three from Jeffrey’s Bay. Bouwer is a well-respected local pro with numerous local tournament wins. For his performance in this year’s WSOP Africa Main Event, he earned $14 654.

8th Place
Matt Mullhall, a 22-year-old college student and recreational poker player from Cape Town, was the eighth place finisher in this event. Hopefully, he will apply most of his $18 397 eighth place prize money toward his educational endeavors… and perhaps set a bit aside to play more poker.

7th Place
24-year-old student and poker pro Brad Flynn of Cape Town was eliminated in seventh place. Flynn, who states that his poker ambition is to be as good as fellow South African pro, Darren Kramer is definitely making progress toward that goal after his three-day effort in the WSOP Africa Main Event. He pocketed $23 409 for seventh.

6th Place
Marc Joseph made his final table exit in sixth place. The 29-year-old from Krugersdorp proved himself well in the three day WSOP Africa Main Event, taking home $30 196 for his efforts.

5th Place
2012 has been a phenomenal year for Gregory Ronaldson. The 28-year-old pro made waves in the 2012 Aussie Millions after taking down the heads up championship. A few days ago, he overcame the largest live poker tournament field in history here at the Emerald with a win in WSOP Africa Event #1. With both a hefty stack and the most experience among his final tablemates, he was by far the odds on favorite to win the Main Event, but fell short of that expectation, finishing in fifth place. Ronaldson was forced to settle for a $39 649 payday, but is almost certain to make poker headlines again in the near future.

4th Place
Fourth place went to James Parker. The final table chip leader, Parker saw his chips distributed around the felt before he was ultimately eliminated. Parker is from Johannesburg and works as a sales and marketing director for a company that distributes pacemakers and defibrillators. The amateur once cashed in the 2012 WSOP and plays both tournaments and cash games. His fourth place finish tonight in the Main Event earned him $52 780.

3rd Place
Jason Straus took a disappointing beat from Rahme after a pre-flop all-in where his A-J failed to stay ahead of Rahme’s A-6. Straus, the winner of Event #2 at this year’s WSOP Africa was unable to regain any traction and was forced to settle for third place, worth $71 368.

Heads up was between Rahme and Ivan Pakkiri. Play between the final two did not last very long as Pakkiri was soon all-in with Q-T vs. Rahme’s pocket jacks. Rahme’s jacks held through the river to give him the win.

For his runner-up finish, Pakkiri, a self-employed married father of two from Polokwane collected $98 012. Pakkari’s ambition is to one day play in the WSOP in Vegas, but with work, he says he would be happy with just having more time to play at all.

Rahme, the 2012 WSOP Africa Main Event champion was awarded $158 595, the coveted WSOP Circuit Gold ring. In addition, Emerald Resort and Casino CEO Martin Rice presented Rahme with the WSOP Africa Main Event cup, a stunning crystal trophy to commemorate his victory.

Rahme is wildly optimistic about the future of poker in South Africa and of his countrymen’s potential on the world stage.

He himself is not sure whether or not he will be able to compete in this year’s annual World Series of Poker, which will take place May 27 - July 9 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, but says that his win tonight in the WSOP Africa Main Event is definitely one step toward that goal.