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Duhamel ready for WSOP encore

7 Jun 2011

By Howard Stutz
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Unlike his American counterparts, defending World Series of Poker champion Jonathan Duhamel didn't see his online wagering activities curtailed by the U.S. government's crackdown on Internet gaming providers.

A resident of the Montreal suburb of Boucherville, Quebec, Duhamel is Canadian. It's still OK to gamble online north of the border.

However, travel to poker tournaments throughout Europe, Macau and the United States since winning poker's ultimate title at the Rio last November diminished Duhamel's time on the computer.

He doesn't really mind.

Duhamel, 23, knew becoming the game's newest ambassador would change his life.

In Canada, he was treated like a Stanley Cup champion. As the first Canadian to win the World Series of Poker's Main Event, Duhamel spent his first few weeks as titleholder giving interviews to media outlets from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia.

"It's been a crazy time traveling everywhere," Duhamel said. "It makes things a little different than just playing poker. I'm enjoying it and poker is still a big part of my life."

Duhamel is back in Las Vegas with thoughts of becoming the first person to repeat as the Main Event champion since Johnny Chan won in 1987 and 1988.

Duhamel collected $8.9 million in winning last year's $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em World Championship, beating a field of 7,319 players. Before his victory, Duhamel was best known within the Internet poker community. His total winnings in live tournament poker had been $43,000.

The pressure at this year's World Series of Poker is a little different from a year ago.

"Last year, my main goal was just to see how well I could do," Duhamel said. "Now, my motivation is to play good solid poker and win gold bracelets (for individual event champions)."

The bankroll from winning the World Series of Poker let Duhamel continue playing the game, but it also allowed the one-time University of Quebec student to give $100,000 to a children's charity foundation in Montreal.

"It was important to me to be able to give something back," he said.

Duhamel plans to play up to 25 events at this year's tournament, which will have 58 events over 50 days. He participated in the $25,000 buy-in Heads Up No Limit Hold'em event last week that had 128 players. He didn't finish in the money.

Still, Duhamel has a pair of impressive finishes since winning the Main Event.

He collected $125,000 in March for fourth place in the National Heads Up Poker Championship held at Caesars Palace and televised on NBC. In January, Duhamel won $272,209 for first place in a No Limit Hold'em High Roller Event in Deauville, France, and sponsored by PokerStars.

Duhamel has remained loyal to PokerStars, even though operators of the website were among 11 people indicted by federal prosecutors in April in a nine-count indictment that alleged such activities as money laundering, bank fraud and operating an illegal gambling business. The federal government blocked American gamblers from accessing PokerStars, FullTilt Poker and Absolute Poker.

PokerStars reached an agreement with the government and said it has refunded more than $100 million to U.S. poker players who had money on account with the website. PokerStars has continued to offer Internet gambling in other countries, including Canada.

Duhamel, who was sponsored by PokerStars during last year's World Series of Poker, said he's noticed a drop-off in the number of players on the website the few times he's been playing online since April.

During the Heads Up event at the World Series of Poker, Duhamel wore a shirt with a PokerStars logo. The trademark wasn't as prominently displayed as it was during the Main Event's final table, when Duhamel sported several PokerStars logos on his hoodie-style sweatshirt for the ESPN television cameras.

Duhamel said he was "glad PokerStars stepped up" and is returning money to American customers.

"In Canada, things are fine and I'm hoping it will soon be fine for U.S. players," Duhamel said.

Last year, Duhamel's run to the title included winning two of the largest single-pot hands in World Series of Poker history.

He won a 42 million tournament chip pot to earn a seat at the final table of nine when he made a straight on the river when it appeared he would lose to a player with pocket aces. Later, Duhamel secured a place in the final two players when he collected a 95 million tournament chip pot with a pair of queens.

"I wouldn't have played the hands any differently," he said.

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