BY CHRISTOPHER COSENZA
In July, during his run at the World Series of Poker main event, Jonathan Duhamel could be seen shadow boxing in the Rio poker room as a way of keeping himself pumped. The self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie added to this image a black hoodie, which may have given the impression he was a prize fighter. And fight for a prize he did.
The Canadian from Boucherville, Quebec, entered the final table as the overwhelming chipleader, but he got knocked down to the short stack halfway through Round 1 of this nine-player bout for the world title. And just like a true champion he got up off the mat and landed a knockout blow to capture the 2010 WSOP Main Event bracelet and the $8.9 million that goes along with it.
Duhamel would square off against John Racener, the 24-year-old pro from Tampa, Fla., on Day 2 of the final table with what turned out to be an insurmountable 6-to-1 chip advantage. Racener, to his credit, built his stack from 30 million to 40 million at one point, and it looked as though his now legendary patience might actually pay off against Duhamel. But the escalating blinds and Duhamel’s relentless pressure proved too much to overcome in the youngest heads-up match in main-event history. On the final hand, with blinds at a staggering 800K-1.6M, Duhamel shoved with AS-JH. Like he always does, Racener thought it over carefully and called with . The final board, , sent the Duhamel fans scurrying toward the table to lift their champion on their shoulders.
“It was a very tough table,” said Duhamel, who is the first Canadian to win the title. “I knew if I made any kind of mistakes I’m going to pay the price. … I played the best I could and I have to give credit to all the other guys, especially to John Racener, who played very well to get to heads-up play. It was an amazing run.”
Racener’s family and friends embraced him as he took it in stride, pocketing nearly $5.6 million for second, ending the final table’s last of three chances to crown the first Floridian world champ.
When asked what he would take away from this experience Racener said, “The money!” showing his great sense of humor. “It was just a great experience. I’ve always dreamed of being in this spot, and even though I got second I’m still just so thrilled.”
Interestingly, a hand that gave Racener hope about an hour earlier would prove to be the demise of his shot at the title. On the 11th hand of heads-up play Duhamel shoved with and Racener instacalled with .
“I peeled the queens and I was just so happy,” said Racener, who had begun the final table in fourth with 19 million chips. “That’s what made me call with the king-eight because it was about the same number of chips. I had like 17 million, and when I had the queens it was like 15 (million), so once I saw the king-eight and it was suited I just had to go with that type of hand. He played real solid. I thought he was going to be more aggressive and it kind of threw me off a little bit, and I was like, ‘This is going to be harder than I thought.’ I did think he was going to try to play real fast and one in five hands I’d eventually trap him, you know? But it didn’t work out that way.”
That means Duhamel’s plan worked to perfection.
“I knew he would think I was going to be aggressive because I was so aggressive at the final table,” Duhamel said, “but I wanted to mix it up and not be so obvious with my game. I didn’t fold at all, but I limped a little bit and tried to confuse him. I tried to balance my game as best I could. … He had just 12 big blinds so I think with the king-four it’s a good play to just shove and try to win the blinds. With the king-eight it was a good call from him, it was just unfortunate for him I had ace-jack.”
When the final hand ended the chants of “Doo-Ha-Mel! Doo-Ha-Mel!” from the Canadian fans wearing Montreal Canadiens jerseys were deafening. But what might have been even more deafening was the loud thud you may have heard two nights earlier when Joseph Cheong’s ego got the best of him.
It’s customary when tournament play reaches three-handed for the big stacks to generally avoid each other until the short stack is eliminated. It’s not collusion; it’s just common sense. But Cheong wanted nothing to do with that. In what would be the largest pot in WSOP history at 176.4 million chips, Cheong was leading with a little more than 90 million chips. Duhamel had almost 90M and Racener was around 25M. Cheong raised to 2.9M on the button, Duhamel three-bet to 6.75M and Racener got out of the way. Cheong then four-bet to 14.25M, Duhamel five-bet to 22.75M and Cheong six-bet shoved. Duhamel called immediately with Q-Q. What did Cheong have? . The crowd moaned and Duhamel’s fans erupted. The board was , essentially handing Racener a free $1.5 million.
“I wasn’t folding those queens” Duhamel said, “but I was very unhappy he decided to play. For me, my goal out there, because John Racener was so short, I wanted to wait until he doubled-up or busted. But then I saw Joseph Cheong wanted to play a lot of poker. So I decided, ‘OK, I’m gonna dance with him a little bit, but not too much.’ And when I picked up those queens it was just an automatic call for me.”
“Jonathan is a really aggressive player,” Cheong said. “He had been three-betting me a lot. I’d been four-betting a lot, so the whole dynamic set up for it to be a good place for me to ship, especially when he had 60 million behind, he could easily five-bet fold to me. And there’s also the fact that Racener had about 20 million on the side, so I thought he might fold a lot of better aces.”
Cheong earned $4.1 million for third, but the Californian will forever be haunted by what could have been. And he’ll be reminded of it every time he enters the World Series and sees the massive banner of Duhamel hanging from the rafters or standing in the halls.
“It means so much to me,” said Duhamel, who is the first French-speaking champ, though his English is pretty good, too. “All my life I dreamed of this and to be called a champion is just so amazing. I don’t realize right now what’s happening. It’s just crazy and I’m the happiest guy on Earth.”
HOW THE REST WENT HOME
FILIPPO CANDIO: The Italian was very inactive at the final table, seemingly just waiting for others to get eliminated so he could move up, and that’s exactly what he did, finishing fourth for $3.09M. After not entering a pot for about an hour, he went all-in short-stacked with and Cheong called with . An ace flopped and it was over by the turn.
MICHAEL MIZRACHI: The Grinder let this one slip away. He came into the final table in seventh place with only 14.45M chips, but he outplayed the field and grabbed the chip lead. If the Grinder is anything he’s a risk-taker and he doubled-up other players when he didn’t have to, most notably Duhamel and Racener.
“Unfortunately I didn’t win, but I’m happy with myself,” said the Miramar, Fla., resident. “It could have been worse. Fifth is OK; I’m happy with fifth.”
The play that people will question for years to come came in a battle of the blinds with Duhamel. Mizrachi was chipleader with about 55M and in the big blind with 3-3. Duhamel, in the small blind with about 25M, raised the standard 3x.
Unbelievably, Grinder shoved and Duhamel called fairly quickly with . The flop came with a nine and Duhamel turned another nine for good measure to double through Grinder.
“I was really surprised he called,” Mizrachi said. “I don’t know, maybe he felt like gambling, maybe he thought he was short, gave up, I don’t know. If I win that pot I have like (80 million) chips. I’m glad I had pocket threes there instead of aces because that would have really been a bad beat. … I wanted to be in that situation where I had a big, big stack. … He only had like 12 big blinds and I had enough chips to take that risk. I’ve said when I have enough chips I’m going to take those risks. Sometimes you have to gamble.”
Grinder ultimately was short and eliminated when Duhamel slow-played A-A in the small blind. He let Mizrachi see a flop from the big blind and hit top pair (queens). They got it all-in and Grinder didn’t improve, taking home $2.3 million and ending an incredible World Series.
“I can’t complain. To win the Players Championship and make two other final tables and finish fifth in the main event, you know I can’t complain. It was an unbelievable run and I wish every year could be like this. It would have been great if I had won it. … but I’m happy with my performance.”
JOHN DOLAN: The first of the Florida Three to be eliminated, Dolan just couldn’t get anything going all night. He came into the match second in chips (46M).
“It was very frustrating,” said the 24-year-old from Bonita Springs, Fla. “I don’t think I ever got above what I started with today. But it’s all right.”
Dolan, an online pro who admitted to being bored because of the incredibly slow pace of the final table, shoved all-in with 13 big blinds and just Q-5. Duhamel’s 4-4 held up and the former Jefferson County Kennel Club dealer was out with almost $1.8M.
JASON SENTI: “Fear the Stash!” was the rallying cry of this bearded Minnesota man, who seemed to have more lives than Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. But eventually he had to put it all-in with A-K vs. Cheong’s pocket 10s. It was a heartbreaker as he flopped three kings, but runner-runner gave Cheong a straight. Senti got $1.35M for finishing seventh.
MATTHEW JARVIS: This elimination is too good to wrap up in a graph or two. Please see our story here. Jarvis received $1.045M for eighth place.
CUONG “SOI” NGUYEN: At almost the 90-minute mark Nguyen shoved his 7.6M chips in the middle with and Senti reshoved with two queens. Senti flopped a set, Nguyen picked up a straight draw on the turn but he paired his king on the river to go home with nothing more than the original $811,823 he got paid in July.