WSOP 2012: Players salute a champion once more
I arrived in the Brasilia Room to find several hundred Americans standing up for the Russian national anthem. Was this 30 years of jetlag kicking in? Or was that Viacheslav Zhukov on stage, wrapped in a Russian tricolour, collecting the bracelet he won for Event #58?
Standing next to him was Tournament Director Jack Effel, shoulders back respectfully as the last notes of the Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii played out over the public address system. Those in the room waited as Zhukov grinned and took his prize back to his table. A few Russians in the crowd then joked about something.
The reason the room was full however, was not to salute comrade Zhukov, although they did that, it was to stage a re-run of sorts, a presentation that had already taken place nearly two years ago but which the powers-that-be decided was worthy of repeating.
Back in 2011, in a much publicised incident, Jonathan Duhamel was beaten, bound and robbed in his own home. Large sums of money were taken but more importantly to Duhamel, so too was his WSOP Main Event winner's bracelet. The money, well, Duhamel could live with the loss of that. But the bracelet, with such sentimental value, was irreplaceable.
Jonathan Duhamel back at the Main Event final table in 2010
As Effel himself pointed out, the incident did nothing to dull the spirit of Duhamel who, if anything, returned to poker even stronger and more determined than ever, reaching four final tables at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure alone.
As legal aspects of the crime went on the bracelet itself was found, brushed up in the gutter by a street cleaner in Montreal, although when found it was hardly recognisable as anything other than a twisted piece of scrap metal.
Naturally, Duhamel was ecstatic, regardless of its condition. But when WSOP organisers heard it had been recovered they decided to take action.
"We at the World Series of Poker can't have a guy wearing a bracelet looking bad," said Effel. "So we took the actual bracelet and replaced it, and we're happy to give it back to its rightful owner today. He's a tough kid, a great kid, and someone we know will have better days on the horizon."
With that Duhamel stepped forward, a wide grin on his face, to collect the replacement.
"It feels like I won a second one," joked Duhamel, who then fought a comic battle with the Beef Jerky promotional Sasquatch (sometimes you really do have to be here).
"It means a lot to me," he added. "I'm really happy to have it back again."
Humbled, Duhamel left the stage to more applause. It's a happy ending to a difficult chapter in his life.