It’s noteworthy that in his new book “Final Table” 2010 World Series of Poker champion Jonathan Duhamel made it a special point to say right at the top that he didn’t drop out of the University of Quebec business school to become a pro.
“I took a sabbatical,” said the first-ever Canadian to capture poker’s most prestigious event. “I love traveling and wanted to tour Europe. I saw new countries and played poker at the same time.”
Duhamel is delightfully casual and unassuming as he enjoys his celebrity status. He agrees the pressure is off of him from last year when he was the defender. Now he has less interview demands and is more able to be himself – which is a person free of entourages and more than accessible to the media.
“Just wait a few minutes, I’m low on chips,” he said as Table 58 resumed play during one of the smaller tourneys at the Rio between now and the start of the main event on July 11.
Sure enough, Duhamel was eliminated and ready to talk.
“My travels in Europe went pretty well, so I took a second year to see how it would go and it just went up and up,” he said. “I got better and better in poker and the World Series win just happened.”
Yeah, I guess. That’s what winning nearly nine million dollars can do for a kid in his early 20’s. The world is truly his oyster, but you would never know it talking to Jonathan. The black baseball cap is still worn backwards and when fans like the two charming girls visiting from Edmonton, Alb., approach him for an autograph he’s only too glad to oblige.
Fame and fortune haven’t gone to his head, though he freely admits it’s a life changer. As for the man under the ball cap, we go to the Q&A.
GT: What was your reaction to playing in the WSOP?
JD: It was my second appearance in the WSOP when I won. The first time was the year before (2009) and I made it to Day 3. Didn’t make money, but gained a lot of super experience. My first time in Vegas. Only played four events, but made a lot of friends.
GT: And, what did you discover about Vegas?
JD: It’s a party city. Lots of Cirque du Soleil shows, Celine Dion, stuff like that. Did skydiving, shot some guns. Just things you can’t do back in Montreal. When I came back in 2010, I played a lot more tournaments (17) with the last one being the main event.
GT: You built up a friendship with Guy Laliberte (founder of Cirque du Soleil) through the WSOP?
JD: Yes, it’s started in January 2011. We were both in the Bahamas. I was with some Quebecers and they introduced me to Guy. We became really good friends. He’s a simple guy, real down to earth. We connected; I learned a lot from him. He’s the type of person I would like to become in many ways.
GT: You are entered in the One Drop tourney just before the WSOP main event, right?
JD: Yes. I don’t want to be crazy about my money, but it’s for such a good cause. Per every entry $111,000 is going to charity, which is pretty amazing. It’s going to be the biggest tournament ever organized in the history of poker. I want to be part of that. I like my chances. Hopefully, it will be a pretty good one to win.”
GT: Do you think the One Drop will take something away from the Main Event?
JD: No. A lot of people can’t afford the $10,000 buy-in. The One Drop will be the top of the top among poker players. The World Series is a really prestigious organization. The main event is for everyone.
GT: How was your win looked upon in Canada?
JD: It was good. I was received like a hero. It was special. I really didn’t expect that. My English was pretty bad at the time. Now it’s getting better, but two years ago having to do all those interviews, it was pretty bad.
GT: Would you consider settling in Vegas in the future?
JD: Not for now. I am travelling too much over the past year and a half since signing with Poker Stars. I’m playing all of the EPT (European Pro Tour) as much as possible. I want to keep Montreal as ground base. My friends and family over the past 20 years are there. In Vegas, I’m renting a house with a couple of friends.
GT: Do you think poker’s popularity will level off?
JD: I don’t think so. It’s in waves. The biggest was in 2003. It went down a little bit with Black Friday. I’m pretty sure in two years we will see another boom. Not as big as 2003, but there will be more and more players. Everyone likes the game and knows the (no-limit) rules. I’m pretty confident about the future of poker.
GT: In your book “Final Table,” you were able to define 18 skills at winning poker, not 17 or 19?
JD: I don’t know why 18. I just tried to find the best qualities you could have. It felt like a good number. First it was 20 then some looked alike too much. Not so much playing as ways to prepare against the best in the world.
GT: What made you a successful player?
JD: By playing $5 games and going online. I first got interested in poker at age 8. Poker is so easy and convenient for most of the people. Learning the rules is easy. Mastering it is much tougher. All you need is a deck of cards.
Plus $9 million and a bracelet.