Tournament director Kenny Hallaert wants to make something clear. Poker is not a job to him. Instead, it is a passion. The fact that the November Niner honoured commitments to work as a tournament director at two tournaments following the conclusion of this year’s World Series of Poker shows that it is his passion for poker which is the driving force behind a lot of what he does.
But with the additional label of being a November Niner, did that add anything extra to his work?
“No, not at all! I did two tournaments: one in Copenhagen and one in Belgium. They both went very smoothly. Being a November Niner had no influence on me as a tournament official.
“I always try to have a high degree of professionalism when I’m organising a tournament. I was always going to work these tournaments and make sure that the players have a good experience playing in it.”
Hallaert has been managing the Belgium Poker Challenge for several years. His first job in poker involved marketing, but he has since moved into tournament directing and hasn’t looked back since.
The success of the BPC and Hallaert’s involvement in it has come in a golden era for Belgian poker, an era which Hallaert says he is honoured to be part of:
“With Belgium being such a small country, it’s quite amazing all of the performances that we’ve been making around the world over the last few years.”
“We have Pierre Neuville of course, but then also Davidi Kitai and Michael Gathy who have both won three bracelets. Potentially the greatest online cash game player in the world is Belgian – OtB_RedBaron.”
Hallaert was on the rail last year to see his friend Pierre Neuville make the November Nine and he said that he had talked with him and others about the experience as well as the do’s and don’t of preparing for the biggest final table of his life.
“I have that experience of knowing how things work and what to expect, which I suppose is an advantage.”
“I obviously didn’t sit at the final table but I’ve been there for the last two years with Pierre [Neuville] and Jorryt van Hoof. And I’m in contact with Michiel Brummelhuis too”
“Regardless, all of these results were good for the popularity of poker. The results of all Belgian players are really very good for the popularity of the Belgian poker scene.
Having played poker for around 12 years, Hallaert says that making the final table of the Main Event stands out from all the success he has enjoyed in the past.
“It’s a tournament that takes place only once a year and it’s not exactly a final table you can make purely from skill. I had my run good at good moments. This is a little bit of a reward for all the work that I’ve put in throughout those 12 years.”
Despite this, Hallaert says he has never considered quitting being a tournament director in favour of pursuing a full-time professional career.
“I never wanted to be a 100% professional player. It brings a lot of pressure because you have to make results. Having a job next to playing was a perfect combination for me.
However, he admits that the outcome of the final table could have an influence on his future.
“I haven’t thought about what happens after the final table, because my future will obviously depend on the result a lot.”
“Things will change after the main event. Especially because right now my focus is still on the tournament. I mean I’m still playing in a tournament, but there just happens to be a very long break in between of course”
In between working and preparing for the Main Event final table, Hallaert also found time to jump onto the online tables and take down the Partypoker $500k Online Grand Prix for $63,891. ‘FCBSpacey’ as he is known online said that it gave him a well-timed boost of confidence in his preparations.
“It felt really good. There were over 4,000 runners and for me personally it helped because you know that it is possible for you to win big tournaments. Also, I was happy because personally it had been a while since I had a big score online.”
“$64K isn’t a lot if you compare it to the $1,000,000 I had won from the Main Event, but for an online tournament it’s still quite big, so I was very happy with it.”
“It motivated me to continue to work hard with my work towards the final table of the Main Event itself.”
And with just under two weeks to go until the final table gets underway, Hallaert says he is still feeling very comfortable.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all right now, and there’s no stress going on. I’m sure there will be a little bit of nervousness when I arrive in Vegas and maybe a couple of days before that.”
“There’s a lot of money on the line and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity”
He laughs, perhaps remembering Mark Newhouse’s legendary back-to-back final tables in 2013 and 2014.
“Well, it normally is a once in a lifetime experience! I definitely don’t want to finish ninth! I would rather finish once for $2M than finish ninth twice”
“It’s a unique opportunity and I’m trying to prepare myself so that I’m in a good condition at the start of the event.”
“It’s poker and anything can happen and I’m starting to realise that myself. If you flop set under set first hand, there’s nothing you can do about it. I might win it but I might as well be out after ten minutes!”