WSOP November Nine: Duhamel leads from the front in quest for $9 million

wsop2010_thn.jpgIt's not easy being a chip leader. Ever since the World Series Main Event revised its format to give us the November Nine, the chip leader at the end of the summer section has never won the bracelet. Even before that it was far from a foregone conclusion that pre-final table dominance equated to post final table jubilation. If you show me Jamie Gold, I'll raise you Phillip Hilm. It's tough at the top for sure.

That said, there's not a poker player alive who wouldn't want to be Jonathan Duhamel right now. He sat on a monstrous chip lead as July faded into August, September and November. And after 11 hours of play on Saturday, he emerged with a lead even more emphatic.

It was far from a smooth path through Saturday's phase of play, but when Duhamel returns to the stage of the Penn and Teller Theater in Las Vegas tonight, he will sit behind 188,950,000 chips. His final adversary, John Racener, has 30,750,000, meaning Duhamel has more then 85 percent of the chips in play. It is the biggest heads-up advantage since 2006, and Duhamel is the overwhelming favourite for glory.


Heads up chip-leader Jonathan Duhamel

But the young PokerStars player from Quebec, Canada, is a smart cookie and is taking nothing for granted at all. Yesterday he told reporters: "If I give him (Racener) a little space, then he's going to have room to do stuff. I just don't want to double him up in the beginning, that's for sure."

A Racener double up was precisely the outcome of the only significant pot the two played against one another on Saturday. Racener was on the brink of elimination, when he was all in with A♠Q♠ against Duhamel's A♣K♥. But the World Series final table requires ace-queen to beat ace-king at least once--a similar coup eliminated Phil Ivey at the hands of Darvin Moon last year--and the Q♦ on the flop gave this pot to Racener to keep him alive.

Racener emerged from that hand with about 34 million chips, and he duly sat with a similar figure for the rest of the final table. Duhamel, on the other hand, dipped below that figure then surged above it, both times winning key double ups of his own.

The first of them was against Michael Mizrachi, when Duhamel had open-raised from the small blind, only to hear Mizrachi move all in behind him. Duhamel called for his tournament life with A♠9♥ and was right in his belief that Mizrachi had been shoving light. Mizrachi tabled 3♥3♠ and when one nine flopped and another turned, Duhamel was back in the hunt.

Even two days later, the dust still hasn't quite settled on the second of Duhamel's double ups. This was a hand that will be discussed for many years to come. When there were only three players remaining, Duhamel and Joseph Cheong had something like 90 million chips each, and seemed to be cruising to the heads up passage of play. But then poker observers were forced to take a very deep breath, rub their eyes with their balled-up hands, blink, and say: "Err, what?"

Cheong raised to 2.9 million from the small blind, attacking Duhamel's big blind. This had been happening a lot through the preceding ten hours, as had the next bit: Duhamel three-bet to 6.75 million. Cheong then re-re-raised, making it 14.25 million to play. The Cheong four bet had been arguably the strongest play at the final table to that point, and Duhamel admitted in interviews later than he'd been preparing to five bet at the earliest opportunity.

This was it. Duhamel made it 22.75 million. And the crazy thing was, we weren't even done yet. Cheong moved all in, covering Duhamel, and the Canadian called.

All of this happened in not much more than a couple of minutes, but it was the biggest ever pot in World Series history, weighing in at around 177 million. Both were nine days into the World Series Main Events, and they were wagering it all on a single hand. Clearly both players had enough respect for one another to know each of them could be tangling light. But in this instance Duhamel had actually found a hand.

Duhamel's pocket queens were leading Cheong's A♠7♥ and stayed good through an ace-less board. Cheong was eliminated soon after to take us to two players - one of them with an awful lot of chips.

"It's a dream come true for me," Duhamel said. "I want to prove to myself that I can do great and play a good game. I didn't want to finish second or third, that's not an option for me. I wanted to win."

Play is due to resume at 8pm in Las Vegas. It could be over in the blink of an eye, but it might also drag us captivated into the early hours. As ever, we'll follow it all on PokerStars Blog.

Key statistics:

2010 Heads-up chip count:

Jonathan Duhamel: 188,950,000
John Racener: 30,750,000

Previous heads-up counts:

2009: Joe Cada 136,925,000 v Darvin Moon 58,875,000
2008: Peter Eastgate 80,300,000 v Ivan Demidov 56,600,000

Scheduled start time: 8pm

Level: 40
Blinds: 600,000-1,200,000

First prize: $8,944,310
Second prize: $5,545,955


The quest for the WSOP Main Event bracelet continues tonight in Las Vegas

Howard Swains
@howardswains in World Series of Poker