Jonathan 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. Tonight, Duhamel put a muzzle on that nagging compulsion when he became the first Canadian to win the World Series of Poker 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 right now,” Duhamel said.
The 23-year-old PokerStars player from Quebec may have have pushed himself unfairly hard, but it was not without some help in the pushing. Duhamel’s victory makes him a 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.
The newspapers–which often have a hard time grasping the vagaries of the game–couldn’t hold back. In one breath, they mentioned Duhamel’s status as a “college dropout.” In the next, they waved the Canadian flag as hard as possible above Duhamel’s head. “Quebecer holds all aces in $8.9M World Series of Poker” offered today’s Montreal Gazette. “Canadian on the verge of poker history–and $9 million” read the Toronto Star.”Montrealer could become the first Canadian to win World Series of Poker” screamed the Winnipeg Free Press. The implication was clear: Duhamel may have won the bracelet and the money, but this is as much his country’s victory as it is his.
Duhamel did not shy from the national pride. Like sports fans the country over, Duhamel knew what his accomplishment would mean 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.”
There will be those who look at how Duhamel started the final table and make the logical jump that the Canadian’s road to victory this weekend was a smooth one. That is, if Duhamel had a big chip lead to begin the final table and a massive chip lead heads-up, he had no excuse to not win. Those would be people who didn’t witness Duhamel’s precipitous fall down the leaderboard Saturday when his ace-king lost to John Racener’s ace-queen, a pot that paved Racener’s road to heads-up competition. It, too, threatened to end Duhamel’s and Canada’s chance for the bracelet. Duhamel, as he did all summer, persevered and dispatched the remaining favorites from the table. The effort carried him to the stage tonight where poker’s biggest spotlight pointed its bulb in the Canadian’s eyes and asked, “What’s your next trick?”
Duhamel responded by summarily dismissing Racener. After wading through a field of more than 7,300 players, waiting four months to play at the final table, and killing 40 hours before getting to face Racener heads-up, Duhamel made it clear, he didn’t want to drag this out any more than necessary. After doubling up Racener once in the first 30 hands with king-four versus pocket queens, Duhamel didn’t seem fazed. After a short break in the action, Duhamel came back in binary form. It was a yes/no proposition for him. He was either all-in or folding. It took just a few hands of that before Racener’s stack was only a little more than 15,000,000. With the big blind coming in at 1.6 million, Racener had little time to wait.
And so when Duhamel shoved it in again, Racener finally decided to call. It was A♠J♥ for Duhamel and K♦8♦ for Racener. With his hood off, Duhamel rocked back and forth on his feet and breathed deeply as he watched the flop come out 4♣4♦9♠. It was a clean flop, one just as pretty as the 6♣ on the turn.
Duhamel put his hands together as as if in prayer and held them to his mouth. The man who had betrayed no emotion in the hours leading up to this moment suddenly allowed himself to look hopeful. He had to dodge just six cards in the deck. If he could, everything he wanted would be his. Only an eight or a king would ruin the moment.
The dealer’s hand pulled out the last card that would matter in the 2010 World Series of Poker. It was the 5♣, a greeting card that might have read, “You are now the biggest name in poker.”
With four months of energy stored in his 23-year-old body, Duhamel turned from the table and sprinted to his fans. In a sea of red jerseys, it looked for a moment as if Duhamel and his fans had won the Stanley Cup. Hoisted onto shoulders, Duhamel rode a screaming scrum around the stage and into poker history.
With that, with his family and friends bursting from their Canadiens sweaters, with the poker world ready to celebrate him, Jonathan Duhamel climbed down from shoulder-top, hugged Racener, and then assumed his role as poker champion of the world.
From that spot on the stage, Duhamel could see his fans’ elation, Racener’s disappointment, and the local cadre of the world poker media mobilizing to make him the biggest name in the game. What he could only imagine is what will happen next. The WSOP will cut Duhamel a $8.9 million dollar check. His home country will celebrate him. The late night TV chat shows will start calling. The possibilities are so heady, it will be some time before Duhamel will be able to grasp it all.
“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.”
Tonight, Jonathan Duhamel is everything he wanted to be. He is the man with a bracelet. He is a hero to his country and beloved Boucherville. He is the 2010 World Series of Poker champion.
For a look back at all our November Nine coverage see any of the links below.