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Rich kid: Canadian Duhamel newest WSOP champ

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

LAS VEGAS -- From $3 an hour picking strawberries to nearly $9 million at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, 23-year-old Jonathan Duhamel says he's out to prove he can consistently play cards among the best.

And after partying the night away as Canada's newest poker icon, the Quebec poker professional said Tuesday he's looking forward to his encore at the tables.

"I have to prove something to myself. The best way to prove it is by just playing a lot, practicing a lot, and then be ready if I play a final table," Duhamel said. "That's what I'll try to do."

Duhamel said he's putting pressure on himself to be better, and plans to compete in the world's biggest no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournaments as a sponsored player.

Not bad for the Boucherville, Quebec, native who said his last job before poker was working in a factory that bundled magazines for distribution.

After besting 24-year-old Florida pro John Racener on Monday night, Duhamel might find himself profiled in a few magazines instead.

Duhamel won $8.94 million Monday night, the culmination of a run that started in July, paused nearly four months and resumed Saturday with the final nine players settling the top prizes generated by 7,319 players buying into the tournament for $10,000 each.

"I'm just very fortunate to be in the situation that I'm in right now," he said.

Poker at any level combines luck and skill -- and Duhamel showed plenty of both.

Duhamel came into the final table with nearly one-third of the chips in play, having gained his lead in one of the most talked-about hands of the tournament when he busted Seattle pro Matt Affleck in 15th place by catching a straight on the river.

Duhamel lasted to the end of the final table despite losing the top spot and facing several hands that any hardcore poker fan could break down and talk about for hours.

Duhamel was steadily losing chips early Saturday, and after losing a big hand to Racener, found himself facing an all-in bet from Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, the table's most famous shark.

Duhamel called with an unsuited ace-nine and found himself against Mizrachi's pocket threes. At that point, his chances of staying in the tournament were about the same as correctly calling a coin flip. But he survived after catching two nines and later busted Mizrachi in fifth place.

Duhamel said he felt like he had to call given the range of hands he felt Mizrachi would have raised with.

"I just had to stay calm the best I could" after losing early, he said. "My friends helped me a lot with that."

Duhamel's biggest play at the final table came against third-place finisher Joseph Cheong, in a battle of wits where Cheong challenged Duhamel to ignore the likelihood that they could cruise together to the final two with Racener short on chips.

Their back-and-forth dynamic in previous hands set up an all-in by Cheong on a fifth re-raise -- and Duhamel called with queens, eventually collecting 86 percent of the chips in play.

"I was just fortunate to have a hand at that time. But to get into a player's head, it's also what you need," Duhamel said. "You need to try to get to know what your opponent thinks and just react to that."

After a night of aggression, Duhamel threw Racener a changeup Monday night by playing more patient and letting him see more community cards than expected. Racener doubled his stack once with a pair of queens, but was never better than a 4-1 underdog in chips.

"It was kind of shocking, though, because he played so tight," said Racener, who won $5.55 million for second place. "It was kind of weird, and he played good, so I couldn't do nothing about it."

Duhamel said his past of school and working since age 13 -- he left the Universite du Quebec a Montreal in his second year studying finance -- prepared him for playing cards. Before telling his skeptical parents he would play poker for a living, Duhamel had picked strawberries, worked in a grocery store and in the factory.

"That's part of life, I think," Duhamel said. "I was kind of getting tired of all those small jobs, so when I thought maybe I had a chance in the world of poker, I just took it 100 percent and did my best with it."

But now, Duhamel said he's found a career he can stick with.

"I think it's every player's dream," he said.