World poker title nets Quebecer $8.9M
College dropout from suburbs did odd jobs before becoming poker pro
Now the Montrealer might never have to work again.
Duhamel won the World Series of Poker title and $8.94 million US on Monday night, the first Canadian to take down the no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event in Las Vegas.
"It is surreal. I could never dream of that. It's so huge, so big. It's a dream come true for me," Duhamel said after winning the gold bracelet. "I don't know what to think right now, I don't even know what I feel. It's just — it's amazing."
Duhamel, who said poker has been his primary income for the past two years, was spending the night partying like a high roller with 125 friends and family in a suite at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. Many in his group donned Montreal Canadiens jerseys in an ode to their hometown NHL team.
Duhamel told The Canadian Press is was important to be surrounded by family and friends.
"It was very important, they helped me a lot [and] when they're cheering for you, you know what you're doing is very important," he said.
"I was very happy they were there behind me — they helped me a lot."
Duhamel dominates from start
The Sin City suite reserved for celebrities and gamblers who easily lose tens of thousands of dollars in a single blackjack hand is a far cry from the Montreal suburbs, where Duhamel said he plays hockey several times a week and hones his poker skills online.
"I was aggressive on the final table, so I wanted to mix it up a little bit," he said. "I didn't fold at all, but I limped a little bit just to try to confuse him and have a good balance in my game."
Duhamel said he felt good about his chances as he took his seat.
'It's so huge, so big. It's a dream come true for me.'— Jonathan Duhamel, poker champion
"I was very confident about my game, so I knew it wasn't over of course, there was a lot of poker to be played, but I liked my chances.
"I think I play a great game so I knew I could do it if I made no mistakes."
It didn't hurt that Duhamel started the night with a big chip lead and put away John Racener before the 24-year old tournament specialist could pick up good cards.
"He was patient and kind of threw me off a little bit," said Racener, of Port Richey, Fla., who got his start in poker by turning a $50 stake from his mom into $30,000 within six months.
"I was like, 'Wow, you know, this is going to be harder than I thought," Racener said.
With many of poker's biggest names watching, Duhamel took the last of Racener's chips after 43 hands.
On the last hand, Duhamel pushed Racener all-in and Racener called with a suited king-eight of diamonds. But Duhamel had an unsuited ace-jack, giving him a 60 per cent shot to win.
A flop of two fours and a nine helped neither player; and Racener didn't improve with a six on the turn and a five on the river.
Duhamel won the hand — and the tournament — with an ace high.
"The only thing that I was thinking for the past four months was to be sure that my game is sharp and that I play good on the final table," Duhamel said.
2nd-place finisher gets millions
Racener won $5.55 million for second place, never finding real traction in the biggest heads-up card match of his life.
Racener said his only good hand was pocket queens and he didn't pick up anything besides that better than an ace-deuce.
"I could never get anything going," he said. "It was unfortunate and he played it well."
Duhamel had nearly 90 per cent of all the chips in play when players took a 10-minute break after 36 hands.
He put the pressure on after that, pushing all in on three straight hands and dropping Racener's stack to just above 16 million chips.
When Duhamel pushed again, Racener unsuccessfully tried to make a last stand.
Racener began the session a 6-1 underdog in chips, with just 26 big blinds in his stack.
Chips have no monetary value in the tournament, and Racener had to lose all his chips to be eliminated.
Now, Duhamel can think about a bigger future in poker and buying Canadiens season tickets — or perhaps dropping a ceremonial first puck before a game.
"To drop the puck would mean so much to me, I mean, 'cause since I'm two years old I've watched the Montreal Canadiens on TV," he said. "I played hockey all my life."
Duhamel, who left the University of Quebec in Montreal during his second year studying finance, said he doesn't know how he'll spend most of his winnings, but pledged $100,000 to a foundation for kids