A Canada-based National Hockey League team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup in 17 years.
Maybe the World Series of Poker was payback.
Jonathan Duhamel, a 23-year-old resident of Boucherville, Quebec, won the tournament’s premier event, the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em World Championship on Monday night at the Rio, besting a field of 7,319 players.
Duhamel, an avid fan of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, earned more than $8.9 million for winning the title in the 41st version of the World Series of Poker. Before Monday, Duhamel’s entire career earnings at the tournament was $43,000.
"It’s life-changing, that’s for sure," said Duhamel, who had worked a series of odd jobs and had dropped out of college in his second year before embarking on a career in poker. "I’m just now going to try and be the best ambassador for poker I can be."
Runner-up John Racener, 24, of Port Richey, Fla., made a valiant run but could not overcome Duhamel’s massive lead in chips. Racener’s second-place finish earned him more than $5.5 million.
Racener entered the heads-up round of the final table trailing Duhamel by a 6-to-1-chip margin, 188.95 million to 38.75 million. Heads-up play lasted a little more than an hour and covered 43 hands of poker.
A boisterous crowd of friends and family, many of whom wore bright-red Montreal Canadiens jerseys and T-shirts, backed Duhamel.
Duhamel is the first champion since Jamie Gold in 2006 to win after coming into the final table of nine with the chip lead.
Duhamel became the second non-American citizen in the past three years to win the Main Event, following Peter Eastgate of Denmark’s victory in 2008. Duhamel is third non-American to win since 2005, when Australia’s Joe Hecham won the event.
Ten hands into heads-up play, Duhamel had increased his chip lead to an 11-to-1 margin.
Duhamel put Racener all in, but Racener’s pocket queens held up as Duhamel was holding a king-four. The second king never showed up on the flop, turn or river, and Racener doubled up to 36 million in chips.
Duhamel said his game changed a bit at the time because he had been nervous about a double up.
"He had a double up one time and didn’t want to make any more mistakes," Duhamel said. "John is a very good player, so anything could have happened."
But Duhamel slowly whittled away at Racener’s chip stack. Racener had just under 15 million in chips when he matched Duhamel’s all-in call with a king-eight on the 43rd hand. Duhamel’s ace-jack held suit, and he was the world poker champion.
"When you only have about 15 million in chips, king-eight looks pretty good," Racener said. "I knew I needed another double up, and that’s what I tried."
When Duhamel accesses what won him the title, he can go back to four hands, three of which took place Saturday night and Sunday morning.
In July, on the final day of qualifying for the final table, Duhamel won a 42 million-chip pot from Matt Affleck of Mill Valley, Wash., earning a straight on the river card when it appeared Affleck’s pocket aces had him dead.
At the time, Duhamel was in second place, and by securing all of Affleck’s chips, he moved atop the leader board and didn’t relinquish the position. He began the final table of nine with almost 66 million in chips, almost 20 million more than second place.
But by the 150th hand Saturday, Duhamel was in trouble.
With five players left and down to his last 27 million in chips, Duhamel called an all-in re-raise from Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi while holding an ace-9. His tournament life was at stake when Mizrachi turned over pocket 3s. The flop and turn gave Duhamel three 9s and crippled Mizrachi’s chip stack.
"I think that was the turning point," Duhamel said. "Without that flip, I’m out of the tournament."
Duhamel eliminated Mizrachi 35 hands later. Duhamel slow-bet Mizrachi before the flop while holding pocket aces. He put his opponent all-in when Mizrachi drew what turned out to be a pair of queens. Two cards later, Mizrachi was out and Duhamel was back in the chip lead.
But the hand the poker world was still discussing Monday was the 213th, when his pocket queens held on in a 95 million-chip pot against third-place finisher Joseph Cheong when the field was three-handed. The surprising all-in call virtually ended Cheong’s tournament and left Duhamel with the 6-to-1 chip advantage he entered with Monday night.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871.2010 World Series of Poker Main Event Championship