WSOP 2011: Duhamel's champagne showers put on hold during title defense

wsop2011-thumb-blog.pngInside the Palazzo Suite at the Rio Hotel and Casino, it looked like the Montreal Canadiens had just won the Stanley Cup. Fire engine-red sweaters were mandatory for the true believers. The people in the suite believed in two things: their hockey team and the 23-year-old man smiling in the middle of the room.

"You like the Habs?" one fan asked a journalist.

"I don't really follow hockey," the journalist responded.

"You like the Habs," the fan insisted.

Meanwhile, bottles of expensive champagne were liberated from the bar and held at a 45-degree angle three feet off the ground. A young man who had just proven he could conquer the world leaned over to take his medicine. He shook his head like a mad dog as his screaming friends shot hundreds of dollars worth of bubbly into his face. It was nearing 4am, and the party had been raging for hours. It would last for weeks as Jonathan Duhamel assumed his role as poker's ambassador to the world.

"The pressure was off. The tournament was over. It was now time to relax," Duhamel explained. "We had a lot of champagne, and it was just a great night with the people I love. There was no better feeling in the world."

Just a few hours before, Duhamel, a PokerStars player who had been flying the big red spade flag since Day 1 of the World Series of Poker Main Event, had won $9 million and poker's most coveted bracelet.

That was some seven months ago. Now the time to relax is over and the champagne showers have been corked while Duhamel returns to defend his title. Tourney officials plucked his table from the room and put it front and center on the TV stage Mothership. Jack Effel told the assembled Day 1C players that Duhamel implored, "Everyone come and get'cha some!" A few people obliged. Duhamel's start to the 2011 Series was slow today and it's only been in the last hour that he's managed to work his stack north of 40,000 from his initial 30,000.

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Duhamel back for more in 2011

Duhamel had faced countless opponents in his long march to the World Series of Poker final table and the heads-up battle that would decide the 2010 world champion, but none so insistent and unforgiving as the expectation he foisted upon himself. He said at every turn that he would not be happy unless he was wearing the gold bracelet. Within a few days in November, Duhamel put a muzzle on that nagging compulsion when he became the first Canadian to win the WSOP Main Event. After entering the second night of November Nine play with a better than 6-1 chip lead over American John Racener, Duhamel made quick work of his opponent and claimed the bracelet in fewer than 50 hands.

"It's a dream come true," Duhamel said on the stage of the Penn and Teller theater. He let loose a primal scream and held the gold bracelet over his head like it was the real Stanley Cup. For a moment, he could've been mistaken for the Habs' left wing. Then again, there was never a Montreal Canadien who won $9 million without breaking a sweat.

The man from Quebec may have pushed himself unfairly hard, but it was not without some help in the pushing. Duhamel's victory made him an immediate nationwide hero, the first man from Canada to ever win poker's biggest championship. For the past decade, Canada's first father of poker, Daniel Negreanu, was the undisputed king of Canadian card playing, but even he was never able to claim a Main Event victory. In an age of poker that welcomes players from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, there is still only one person from each country who can be the nation's first WSOP champion, and Canada was not going to let Duhamel forget it.

Duhamel did not shy from the national pride. Like sports fans the country over, Duhamel knew what his accomplishment would mean to the people under the maple leaf flag. Duhamel dressed his family and friends in Montreal Canadiens sweaters and took any opportunity to talk nicely about his suburb on the outskirts of Montreal. Boucherville, a city of around 40,000 on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, is a place with neighborhoods named "Harmonie" and a city just small enough that Duhamel will be the biggest name there for the foreseeable future.

"I have a chance to put my beautiful city of Boucherville onto the map, and I'll do everything I can to do it," Duhamel said. "I've lived there all my life. I would never trade that for anything."

Since then, Duhamel hasn't stopped working. A few months after his win, Duhamel won a side event at EPT Deauville for nearly $300,000. He went on to place 4th in the NBC Heads Up Championships for $125,000.

Now he's back after spending seven months as everything he he wanted to be. He is still the man with the bracelet. He is still a hero to his country and beloved Boucherville. He will always be the 2010 World Series of Poker champion.

"It's like the most beautiful thing in my life by far," he said. "This bracelet means so much to me. It's amazing. It's unbelievable."

Now, to see what he can do in 2011.

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