Tuesday, 30 November 2010
From Black-hoodied Villain to Champion: Jonathan Duhamel Wins 2010 WSOP Main Event by Paul ‘Dr. Pauly’ McGuire .
Since the emergence of Westerns in cinema almost a century ago, the audience has recognized the figure dressed in black as the archetypal bad guy. The outlaw in John Ford films always wore a black hat. The black-clad villain theme carried over into contemporary science-fiction: Darth Vader’s ominous black cape, shiny black boots, and menacing mask were a clear indication that he was the baddest mofo in the Empire and not to be messed with.
Jonathan Duhamel was unfairly cast as the villain at the 2010 November Nine in Las Vegas. That’s what happens when you wear a black hoodie, have a French accent, and suck out on the river to knock out a fan favourite. When the 22-year-old pro from the Montreal suburbs bought into the WSOP Main Event, Duhamel never thought he’d be pitted as the bad guy during his deep run, because in reality he’s quite the opposite.
Duhamel flew under the media’s radar for the majority of Main Event because his fellow French-Canadian colleague Pascal Le Francois garnered most of the attention inside the Amazon Ballroom. Le Francois made a name for himself earlier that summer after he won his first bracelet and posed for his winner’s photo without wearing a shirt. Le Francois was also rumoured to be romantically linked to former MTV reality star Trishelle Cannatella who happily showed off her curvaceous assets on the rail with two tables remaining.
When Duhamel got involved in a hand with young American Matt Affleck, the tides quickly turned and he went from being an unknown to the newly feared Prince of Darkness. If, by chance, you’re one of a dozen people who don’t know about the quasi-controversial hand – Affleck had pocket aces snapped off by Duhamel’s pocket jacks. They got it all-in on the turn with Duhamel tank-calling with an open-ended straight draw. Duhamel made his straight on the river, and a stunned Affleck fought back tears as he was unmercifully knocked out. The agony of defeat is never a pretty picture, but the haunting image of a demoralised Affleck was all that anyone could think about when you mentioned the name Jonathan Duhamel.
It’s not easy to alter the public’s perception, especially when caught up in the Byzantine gears of the American media machine. Duhamel looked the part – a scruffy foreigner in a black hoodie with a peculiar accent. The only way Duhamel could redeem himself was to win the Main Event. Easier said than done, right?
Duhamel entered the November Nine as the chip leader with 30% of the chips in play. The bookies made him the overall favorite to win, but the majority of public was pulling for the most “famous” pro at the table, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi. Off the felt, Mizrachi was running as bad as you could get with personal financial problems that stemmed from unpaid back taxes and several real estate investment properties that fell into foreclosure. He desperately needed an influx of cash and focused on the WSOP to bail him out of trouble.
If Mizrachi was seeking redemption at the WSOP, then he achieved his goal. Before the 2010 WSOP began, Mizrachi often topped the list of “Best Pros Who Never Won a Bracelet”. All of that quickly changed when Mizrachi won the $50,000 8-Game Mixed Players’ Championship and engraved his name on the prestigious Chip Reese Trophy. Mizrachi’s first-bracelet victory lit a fire under his ass and he embarked on a scorching run that culminated in three final table appearances. Mizrachi also had a legit shot at the WSOP Player of the Year (POY). Although Frank Kasella had won two bracelets in 2010, he was tied with Mizrachi for first in POY points. If Mizrachi won the Main Event, he’d tie Kassela in the POY race. If Mizrachi finished in any other place, then Kasella would lock up POY.
Depending on who you talked to, Joe “subiime” Cheong was often mentioned as a popular pick to win the Main Event. Cheong had been an online grinder for several years and had played the most consistently down the stretch compared to the rest of the November Niners. He seemed as though he had the mental toughness to win and demonstrated a high threshold for pain. He shrugged off getting his aces cracked by Filippo Candio late in the tournament. Despite the setback, Cheong still advanced to the final table third in chips.
Cheong wasn’t shy in stating that he’d rather finish in second than first place because he described himself as inherently “lazy” and would be a poor ambassador for poker. He also didn’t want to endure the pitfalls of fame and recognition that accompanied the position of WSOP Main Event Champion. He just wanted the money.
For a third consecutive year, the final table of the WSOP Main Event was delayed for four months in order to build up suspense and drama in the eventual televised broadcast of the final table. During the downtime, many of the players hit up the tournament circuit to tweak their weaknesses and prep for the November Nine. Others sought out coaches to help improve their games. Jason Senti, a musician and online pro from Minnesota, had Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond in his corner, while Matt Jarvis hired fellow Canadian Sorel Mizzi to assist him.
Nine men stepped inside the Penn and Teller Theatre at the Rio Casino, and only one of them would leave almost $9 million richer.
The hallways outside leading up to the theatre were congested with players’ friends and family anxiously waiting in line to get inside. Red was the most popular colour in the theatre and was worn by supporters for Soi Nguyen, Michael Mizrachi, and Jonathan Duhamel. Nguyen and Mizrachi’s crews sported custom-made red t-shirts, while Duhamel’s supporters were clad in replica Montreal Canadiens hockey jerseys. They travelled in a ferocious pack and many of them were already drunk at 11:00am and presumably dangerous. Hardcore ice hockey fans have a similar deviant element that you’d find in football hooligans. If any fisticuffs flared in the crowd, it was safe to assume one of Duhamel’s hockey goons initiated the fracas.
Mizrachi’s extended family packed the stage and in swarmed in random sections of the theatre. Duhamel’s friends were the most vocal, and alternated between chants of “Du-ha-mel! Du-ha-mel!” and “Ole!” – a catchy song by the Bouncing Souls often played during Montreal Candiens hockey games.
The November Niners were given a grandiose entrance in the style of traditional Las Vegas boxing fight. They were announced one-by-one and led into the theatre by a ring girl carrying a circular card signifying their seat number. Each player made their way onstage to a song of their own choosing blasting through the sound system. Duhamel entered to a surprising I’m Shipping Up to Boston by the Drop Kick Murphys. Jason Senti selected This Is the End from Suburban Heroes – an original song that his band performs back home in Minnesota.
Senti began the November Nine as the shortest stack at the table. He was the odds-on favorite to bust first, and even though he was the first player to get his chips all-in and risk his tournament life, he avoided a quick death. Soi Nguyen took the dubious distinction of busting out first. At 37, the amateur from Southern California was the oldest player at the youngest final table in the history of the WSOP (the average was a shade over 26-years-old). The rallying cries of “Soi might win! Soi might win!” from Nguyen’s supporters were not enough to help him when he made a stand with A-K against Senti’s pocket queens. Senti flopped a set, but Nguyen picked up a gutshot Broadway draw. Nguyen failed to improve and Senti’s set held up. Nguyen was eliminated in ninth place and collected $811,823.
In previous years, you could count on at least one random Scandi and a Brit at the Main Event final table, but Europe had only one representative at the November Nine – Fillipo Candio from Italy. Candio overflowed with excitement and could barely sit still. During the early stages of the Main Event, Candio was yellow-carded for excessive celebration. He clamped down on his fervent nervousness for the rest of the tournament, but he couldn’t contain himself while he was on the brink of elimination at the final table. The jittery Italian got it all-in with pocket aces against Duhamel’s A-K. Awaiting the flop from the dealer, Candio jumped up and down like a small child on the verge of wetting himself. He fidgeted the entire hand and then leapt into his mother’s arms. She had flown in from Sardinia to watch her son attempt to become the first Italian to win the Main Event. Candio doubled trough Duhamel and rocketed into third in chips.
Then Jarvis got it all in with pocket nines against Mizrachi’s A-Q. Mizrachi’s fans jumped to their feet. Some shouted out his moniker, “Grinder!” Others begged the dealer for an ace or a queen. The dealer fanned out the flop. When everyone saw two queens on the board, the theatre trembled. My eardrums rattled with the piercing sounds of jubilation from Mizrachi’s faithful fans. It seemed like a good two minutes of frantic screaming before the dealer peeled off the turn card. A nine spiked, giving Jarvis the lead with a boat, and his fans from Canada went absolutely insane as their hero sprang back to life. Jarvis had to fade seven outs for the double-up, as Mizrachi’s family begged once again for an ace. Alas, the ace of spades spiked on the river and Jarvis lost to Mizrachi’s bigger boat.
One member of the Canadian press turned to me and said, "So fucking rigged."
Jarvis’ father, a professional golfer who had been fighting a bout with cancer, looked devastated as tears trickled down his face as he embraced his son. Jarvis finished in eighth place and won $1,045,738.
With seven to go, Duhamel held the lead with Cheong in second and Mizrachi in third. John Dolan, a pro from Florida, began the final table second in chips, but he lost two sizable pots to slip to the back of the pack. Cheong showed zero fear and stole away the lead from Duhamel when he turned two pair with 6-4. Cheong’s lead didn’t last for very long because Senti doubled through him with a runner-runner four-flush. After Cheong’s decline, Mizrachi found himself in the top spot. When play was suspended for dinner break, seven players remained with Mizrachi the chipleader and Dolan the short stack.
Shortly after dinner, Senti’s run came to an end due to another catastrophic river. Senti got it all in with A-K against Cheong’s pocket tens. Senti caught a delicious flop with two kings and it appeared that the poker gods were shining down upon him. He was ahead with trips, but the turn gave Cheong more outs with a straight draw, and all of a sudden the air filled with a nauseating feeling. Everyone in the theatre knew what was coming – a runner-runner straight. Almost on cue, a nine fell on the river and Cheong won the hand. Cheong’s crew heartily celebrated, while Senti’s loyal friends moaned in disgust. They were an eclectic group who wore porn mustaches and randomly blurted out “Fear the tache!” Senti headed to the rail in seventh place and collected $1,356,708.
Short-stacked Dolan was the next to depart. He got it all in with Qd5d against Duhamel’s pocket fours in a blind-versus-blind confrontation. By the turn Dolan still trailed, but he picked up outs with an up and down straight draw and a potential chopped pot with four hearts on the board if the river was another heart (neither he nor Duhamel held a heart). Dolan whiffed when a small club fell on the river. Duhamel dodged a plethora of outs and won the pot. Dolan finished in sixth place and won $1,772,959.
With five to go, Mizrachi was out in front with over 62M, and Cheong not far behind with 60M. Duhamel improved to 52M, while Candio hung on with 27M. John Racener became the short-stack by default with 16M.
Racener, one of three pros from Florida (Dolan and Mizrachi are both Florida natives), avoided elimination with a timely double-up when his A-K held up against Mizrachi’s Ad8d. Mizrachi slipped to second in chips as Cheong regained the lead.
Racener caught a huge break at one of the most critical junctures of the final table. Even though he had just doubled through Mizrachi, he was still short. He shoved with A-Q but got called by Duhamel’s A-K. Racener’s future looked grim until he flopped a queen to snatch the lead. Racener’s fans in the audience frantically waved signs spelling out, “GO RACENER.”
Duahmel’s once-rabid fans were silenced when Racener seized momentum with a fortunate Queen on the flop. A disgruntled Duhamel shook his head and sent almost 20M in chips to the other side of the table, as he unexpectedly found himself the shortest stack at the table.
Duhamel still had plenty of fight left in him and picked a spot against Mizrachi. In a battle of the blinds, he opened and Mizrachi three-bet shoved with pocket threes. Short-stacked Duhamel called with A-9 and was flipping for his tournament life. Duhamel flopped a nine and turned another nine. His trips held up and he avoided elimination. Duhamel’s fans instantly woke up from their somber funk. One proudly waved the Canadian flag, while the rest of the hockey-jersey wearing goons unleashed their most raucous version of “Ole! Ole! Ole!”
Mizrachi sunk to around 30M and only Candio had fewer chips. Cheong held the overall lead with 68M, but Duhamel leap-frogged into second place with 53M. Mizrachi eventually slipped to 20M and had to make a move. He got it all in with Q-8 suited on a Q-6-4 board against Duhamel, who held pocket aces. Mizrachi did not suck out and that’s where he met his fate. Mizrachi capped off a magnificent run at the 2010 WSOP and lived up to his “Grinder” moniker with a gritty and gutsy fifth-place finish in the Main Event. Mizrachi’s small army of family and friends gave him a warm sendoff as he exited the stage and disappeared into the red sea of his supporters.
Cheong and Duhamel were racing to become the first player to pass the 100M chip mark. Duhamel came close after he knocked out Mizrachi. Short-stacked Candio made a stand with K-Q suited against Cheong’s A-3. Candio was in deep trouble with an Ace on the flop, and a blank on the turn sealed Candio’s fate. He hit the road in fourth place, an impressive performance considering he was a total fish out of water when he first set foot inside the Amazon Ballroom earlier that summer. Candio will now go down in Italian poker history as the first player from Italy to advance to a WSOP Main Event final table.
With three remaining, Cheong had pulled ahead of Duhamel when he decided to engage in the largest pot in the history of the WSOP Main Event, worth over 177M. Cheong and Duhamel fought to the death – the winner would gain a tremendous lead and become the heavy favorite to win, meanwhile the loser would bust out or be crippled. Cheong opened. Duhamel re-raised. Cheong four-bet. Duhamel five-bet. Cheong six-bet shoved. Duhamel snap called with queens. Cheong sheepishly tabled A-7.
“Duhamel’s range is so big, he’d been raising with nothing. I thought he’d fold to a six-bet there,” later explained Cheong, in a hand that confused many reporters and quickly became fodder for the cynical denizens on internet forums.
The board blanked out for Cheong and Duhamel’s queens held up. The deeper that Duhamel got, the louder his friends chanted “Ole! Ole! Ole!” Cheong was reduced to under 5M, while Duhamel held 80% of the chips in play. Cheong eventually busted when his Q-10 lost to Duhamel’s A-2. He took home $4,129,979 for his third-place performance. Even though deep down he didn’t want to win, Cheong was one critical move away from being heads-up for the championship.
With two players remaining, action was suspended and scheduled to resume almost two days later. Duhamel led 188.95M to 30.75M and held better than a 6-1 advantage over Racener. Judging by the shit-eating grin on Racener’s face, he didn’t care about the massive gap. He was simply happy to still be alive.
When heads-up play commenced, the majority of the non-affiliated members of the audience rooted for the underdog in Racener. Not too many people gave Racener much of a chance to win because Duhamel was a heads-up specialist. Racener’s only hope was to double up early to keep his head above water long enough to double up a second time and make it a more level playing field. On the flip side, if Duhamel had a chance to deliver a knockout blow with one punch – he was going to swing away.
During the first ten hands of heads-up the energy inside the theatre seemed more worrisome than electric as Duhamel chipped away at small pots to improve his stack to over 200M. On the 11th hand of heads-up play, Racener woke up to pocket queens and called all-in when Duhamel shoved with K-4 from the small blind. Duhamel was way behind and failed to improve his hand. It was barely a sweat for Racener, who doubled up to over 36M. His fans erupted with a boisterous chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” Duhamel’s rail was drowned out for the first time at the November Nine because the majority of the crowd quickly jumped on the underdog bandwagon. The French-Canadians couldn’t match the infectious support for Racener.
Racener’s gain quickly evaporated within a few hands, and all hope was abandoned on the 43rd hand of heads-up play and the 262nd overall hand at the final table. The blinds were 800K/1.6M with a 200K ante. Duhamel didn’t mess around and shoved all-in from his small blind. Racener held less than 15M and called with Kd8d. Duhamel was ahead with AsJh. Duhamel’s crew was on the cusp of exploding, while Racener’s friends pleaded to the poker gods for a miracle. The flop was 4c2s2d. The turn was the 6c and the river was 5c. Duhamel’s hand held up. He’d won his first bracelet and almost $9 million. To put that money in perspective, Duhamel earned more for one tournament than Canada’s best hockey player, Sidney Crosby, will earn for an entire season.
Duhamel faded a field of 7,319 players to advance to the final table with a target on his back as the chip leader. Even though he was a darling to the oddsmakers, Duhamel was not the favorite among the public because many fans unfairly cast him as the villain. He then survived the four-month layoff, the hype, and the pomp and circumstance behind the November Nine production.
Duhamel’s victory instantly thrust him into the upper echelons of notoriety in the poker universe. He also joined a unique group of men who have won the most prestigious tournament in poker. The WSOP Main Event champions are in an elite group which thousands aspire towards every year, yet few accomplish.
Hopefully, the villain label will soon subside and the public will see Duhamel’s good side over the next twelve months as he becomes poker’s next ambassador. Duhamel kicked off his reign on a positive note when extended an open invitation to a victory celebration at the Rio. Man, oh man! They may talk funny, but those rowdy liquor-guzzling French-Canadians sure know how to throw a raging party.
Paul ‘Dr. Pauly’ McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker. Buy it now at www.lostvegasbook.com.