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POKER STORY

World in their hands

The seemingly impossible became the inevitable last month as a field that once started with 7,319 runners returned with a WSOP final nine all set on one thing Ė becoming the 2010 World Champion

One title. Four months. Nine hopefuls. Those were the numbers of this yearís World Series of Poker Main Event final table broken down into their most basic form, but it was another number altogether that caught the attention of the poker world when play resumed at the Rio.

The figure in question was, of course, the $8.9 million that was to be awarded to one lucky winner when the dust had settled on the WSOPís showpiece finale Ė and it was a number that saw the nine remaining poker sharks take to the final table in a state of frenzy as they played out this yearís final scene.

Unfortunately for the tableís sole amateur, Soi Nguyen, 110 days of anticipation, expectation and trepidation came to an abrupt end after just 28 hands. As the oldest remaining player in the competition, Nguyen was hoping to teach the young bucks a thing or two, but he came unstuck at the hands of Jason Senti.

Being fully aware of the pre-flop aggression he was likely to face from his juniors at the table, Nguyen decided to make a stand with Ad Kc to put the pressure of fellow short stack Senti. However, Senti didnít buckle and made the call with pocket queens, spiking a third on the flop to make a set and send the amateur to the rail.

If those early fireworks were to set the tone for the tournament, the roof was practically blown off the Rio just a few hands later when Matthew Jarvis tangled with Mike Mizrachi. Jonathan Duhamel got action underway with a raise and Mizrachi made the call before Jarvis decided to put them both to the test by moving all-in.

The squeeze-play was enough to force out Duhamel, but holding Ad Qd Mizrachi wasnít going anywhere and he was left racing with Jarvisí pocket nines. A crucial flop of Qs 8d Qc seemed to propel Mizrachi into an insurmountable lead, but the 9s on the turn was lightning for Jarvis. Heíd barely caught his breath, however, when the As provided the ultimate sting in the tail to send him to the stands in utter disbelief.

Having seen two players brutally beaten by the deck in quick succession, the seven survivors at least let the dust settle before the next flurry of chips was sent cascading over the felt. However, when the fateful coinflip between Sentiís big slick and Joseph Cheongís 10c 10s did arrive, it again came with an impressive piece of conjuring from the dealer as the Kd Kh Qc flop put the former way out in front with trips.

Unsurprisingly though, the magic didnít stop there, with the Jd being followed by the 9d to hand Cheong an improbable straight and send Senti crashing out of the tournament in seventh. The win catapulted Cheong up the chip counts, but one man whose stack was heading in the wrong direction was John Dolan, who soon gave up the ghost after losing a coinflip Ė yes coinflip Ė with Qd 5d against Duhamelís fours.

After Dolanís elimination another lull in play followed, but it was to prove only a temporary respite as two players saw their Main Event dreams shattered in the space of only three hands. First to fall was many peopleís favourite for the tournament, Mizrachi, as the ĎThe Grinderí failed to find another miracle escape hatch from a cunning trap set by runaway chip-leader Duhamel.

With three players having limped pre-flop, a 5d 4s Qc flop proved enough for Mizrachi to take a shot with Qd 8h, but Duhamel had other ideas and stuck in a sizeable raise. A flurry of activity followed and with neither player willing to back down, all of the chips went into the middle only for Duhamel to reveal a cleverly disguised pair of aces, with no help arriving for Mizrachi this time on the turn or river.

The exit doors had barely stopped swinging on their hinges when just two hands later, the sole European at the table, Fillipo Candio, open-shoved his short-stack into the middle with Kd Qd. Unfortunately for the Italian, with considerably more chips and a hand with enough equity to call, Cheong looked him up from the big blind with Ac 3c and an ace on the flop was all she wrote for Candio as the board bricked out.

Cheong was now the overwhelming chip leader and with poor John Racener sandwiched in between him and the other towering stack of Duhamel, it looked very much as though the third place finisher had already been decided. It was to the abject shock of everyone in the Rio then, when Cheong blew up and became embroiled in a 150m chip pot with the only man who could harm him in Duhamel.

Raising to 2.9m from the small blind, Cheong was subsequently three-bet by Duhamel in the big before coming over the top of the raise for 14.25m. Incredibly the action wasnít done there and Duhamel made it 22.75 to go as a ripple of excitement spread around the Rio. Cheong waited for a moment of silence among the clamour before finally announcing he was all-in and Duhamel instantly made the call.

With the cards on their backs, Duhamelís Qc Qd was understandable enough, but when Cheong turned over As 7d the room was stunned. The board ran out 9h 3d 2c 6s 8s and the biggest pot in WSOP history was pushed in Duhamelís direction, leaving a short-stacked Cheong to make a final stand with Qs 10c a few hands later as Duhamel finished the job with As 2c to take a 6-to-1 lead into heads-up play.

Such a huge disparity in chips was always going to leave Racener with a mountain to climb and he could only hold off the inevitable for 43 hands before the final blow was struck. It came when Racener decided he had no choice but to pin his title hopes on Kd 8d against Duhamelís As Jh and, despite picking up a flush draw on the 9d 4d 4c flop, the turn and river bricked out 6c and 5c to hand Duhamel the bracelet.

With that fateful hand, one of the best-contested final tables in WSOP history came to a close with the man who started play with most of the chips end it with all of them. In doing so, Duhamel became the first Canadian to be crowned World Champion and picked up a cheque worth $8,944,310 for his titanic efforts. But more importantly, he went down in history as one of only a handful of heroes to have won pokerís Big One.

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