PokerStars' Jonathan Duhamel center stage as November 9 reunite
Bringing the World Series of Poker November 9 back to the Rio in Las Vegas each year takes millions of dollars and gratuitous amounts of media coverage. But bringing them to Foxwoods to compete in a $15,000 freeroll requires a lot of old-fashioned elbow grease and quality marketing from Bernard Lee.
Last week Lee became the first person to reunite the November 9 after the WSOP Main Event final table. Starring in the tournament was Team PokerStars Pro and WSOP champ Jonathan Duhamel. One might suspect that bringing nine people together would be easy, but in that case, one would be wrong.
"It was the equivalent of planning a birthday party for nine of the most high-profile people in the industry," Lee said. And evidence of this nonuple birthday party was all over Lee's hotel room. A color-coded batch of flight itineraries decorated his door, player and media contact information littered his desk, and his Blackberry suffered a barrage of texts, e-mails and calls, making it buzz violently all over his nightstand. But this was only the tip of the bureaucratic iceberg that was needed to bring the November 9 to Foxwoods. "I started this process six months ago," Lee said.
But the makings of a man capable of putting together such an event began years ago. After receiving his B.A. and M.A. in Biology from Harvard, Lee earned his MBA at Babson College. From there, he went on to a successful career in marketing medical products around the globe. While this may seem enough for one lifetime, Lee encountered something in 2005 that would change his life. That something was a PokerStars qualifier seat to the 2005 WSOP Main Event. The cost? 1000 FPPs.
Lee's charismatic demeanor and 13th-place finish, worth a cool $400,000, skyrocketed him into poker stardom. It was an event that he won't soon forget. "It was a surreal experience," he explained, "I just couldn't believe that day after day after day I was still in it." But even if he does forget it, his journey was documented by numerous media outlets, including Lee himself. An eight-part, first-person account of Lee's experience, later christened the "Dogger 9 archive," was published on the PokerStars Blog. "It was such a cathartic experience," said Lee. "And 27 pages single-spaced later, I was finished."
His memoir starts out simple but strong: "It turned out to be the week of my life," writes Lee. He then goes on to provide one of the most in depth and personal accounts of a World Series run ever written. In it, he documents his mental exhaustion mixed with the awe of slowly making his way deeper and deeper into the world's most prestigious poker tournament. "My strategy was simple: get through each day. I remember leaving the hotel room, (looking back) into it and saying 'Just come back still being in this thing," said Lee. "It never dawned on me that I had a shot at winning it."
And when it came to the actual tournament, Lee had a solid tactic. Never risk your tournament life with the worst hand. "I never went in the underdog in a situation for my entire (tournament) life," said Lee. On Day 6, Lee even laid down Queens and Kings pre-flop when he knew he was beat. He chronicles the inner-workings of these tremendous laydowns in Part 6 of the Dogger 9 archives. Lee continued his philosophy of getting it in with the best but, unfortunately, it didn't always work out.
In his final hand, Lee went all in against Aaron Kanter on a [k] flop. Kanter called and showed [q], an underdog to Lee's king. The turn was a jack, but the river was a brutal, unforgiving six. "To win a tournament some people say, 'Oh, you have to be lucky, you have to hit that one outer,'" said Lee. "I actually look at it another way. You have to avoid getting unlucky." But unlucky he got, and Dogger 9's WSOP saga came to an end. But as one door closed, another opened.
Many people took note of Lee's written account. After the WSOP, Lee was contacted by the Boston Herald and they asked the Boston local if he was interested in writing a poker column for them. He was. ESPN also took note of the Dogger 9 stories on the PokerStars Blog and asked Lee if he was interested in writing for them. He was. And the offers kept on coming. "PokerNews Daily only chose a few writers when they first started. They asked Mike Sexton, Annie Duke, myself," said Lee. "I was very, very honored that they included me in that short list."
Then, in 2007, Lee premiered 'The Bernard Lee Poker Show', a show where he invites poker professionals to discuss poker strategy and news. He also signs off with the motto that led him deep into the 2005 WSOP: May you always go in with the best cards, and may you never get unlucky. 'The Bernard Lee Poker Show' has also had all 27 members of the November 9. This "access and ability to talk and be friends with them" Lee says, is what helped him bring them to Foxwoods.
"The beauty is that they're all good guys," said Lee. "And it's fun when you have such good guys. You got the headline of this whole thing, Michael Mizrachi... he's a gentleman; he's sincere. He's had his ups and his down and he really appreciates it. You got Jonathan Duhamel, a champ who feels like he's the luckiest guy in the world. You got John Racener who's been my friend for a while. I had him on my radio in 2007 and I announced to the world that this kid was going to do something one day. You got two quiet kids, Joseph Cheong and John Dolan, online kids who are just really nice guys. Filippo Candio who's just a ball of fire. Cuong "Soi" Nguyen, who I think he and I get along pretty well because we're somewhat similar ages, both Asian backgrounds, both working guys. You got Matthew Jarvis and Jason Senti who both have their personality come out on the table. Jarvis with his sunglasses and Senti loves to talk. They're fun."
And they were all brought back to compete against each other one more time. In addition to the November 9, there were 18 Foxwoods qualifiers and 3 guest players, consisting of Bernard Lee, Lon McEachern and Kasey Thompson. The friendly event was filled with prop bets, jokes and poker talk.
Team PokerStars Pro Jonathan Duhamel couldn't repeat his legendary run and finished 5th. Duhamel got it all-in with A♣J♣ against Ben Hopkins 5♠5♣. The flop, J♥A♥4♦, fell heavily in Duhamel's favor. It appeared that his WSOP run good had yet to run out. That is, until a 5♦ hit on the river giving Hopkins the set. Although his 5th-place finish won him $1,000, he lost something else: a prop bet against Matthew Jarvis. Since Jarvis finished 2nd , thus outlasting Duhamel, the Team PokerStars Pro will now have to wear a Vancouver Canucks jersey for three events during this year's WSOP. A steep price for a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan like Duhamel.
But the player who took the $5,000 first prize and outlasted all November 9 players was an amateur by the name of Ben Hopkins. He ended the tournament when his A♦Q♣ held up against Jarvis' K♦J♦.
And how about Bernard Lee? He showed the November 9 that he was more than just their host. "They didn't see me as a player necessarily, because they see me as this Foxwoods spokesperson," Lee said. "But hopefully making the final table and finishing sixth among these guys gets me a little respect for them." And if that doesn't garner their respect, then Lee's $1.7 million in live tournament earnings and three World Poker Final titles might.
With all this under Lee's belt, one can only wonder what's next for him. "Is there anything after this? Isn't this everything," laughed Lee. "But I always have stuff up my sleeve." When it comes to poker, Lee hopes to win what every poker players desires most, a World Series of Poker bracelet, but when it comes to media, Lee loves every second of his job. "I love our ESPN Inside Deal show," said Lee. "I absolutely love being the Foxwoods spokesperson. I get to do a lot of things in the world of poker that I really enjoy."
* Alex Villegas is studying journalism at the University of Connecticut