Commentary

Jon Duhamel at ease before final table

Updated: October 22, 2010, 11:38 AM ET
By Gary Wise | Special to ESPN.com

Multiple 24-bottle crates of Sleeman's beer decorate the walls of Jon Duhamel's ground-floor condo. The place is 23-year-old-bachelor neat. It's lived in, but the clutter is organized and the only thing out of order is the laptop and iPhone sitting on the dining room table …his office. Duhamel is hurriedly working the phones, looking for a fourth player for his hockey team.

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It doesn't matter that there's not a flake on the ground to the poker pro that poker nation will get to know in the upcoming weeks of the WSOP's broadcasts on ESPN (Tuesdays from 9-11 p.m. ET). In Boucherville, Quebec, for 23-year-old men, it's always hockey season. It's a reality that hasn't escaped Duhamel despite the recent success that could cause less-grounded poker players to outgrow these rural surroundings. After all, it's not everyone who gets to spend four months as the chip leader at the World Series of Poker. In fact, he's only the third person to ever have the opportunity to feel this exact feeling.

Duhamel's done over 100 interviews since that morning of July 15, when he left the table as the chip leader amongst nine survivors in the biggest poker tournament in the world. Assured of some $900,000, he's already made a score that's 20 times bigger than anything he'd done before. The kind of lifestyle change that windfall could provide doesn't appeal to him, though.

"I bought an Audi," he smiled as we joked about how life could change if he wanted it to. "I needed a car anyways."

The truth is that he's only just gotten started. As much as he's already earned, a win in the main event would give him nine times as much money just from the tournament alone. His eyes are on even broader prizes than that.

"I knew I wanted to play the Series, make a big score," Duhamel said. "If you want to be known, that's the place to play tournaments. Being known, recognized … obviously, sponsorship is good, but being known will let me play in a lot more live tournaments, something I'd like to do."

See, despite the interviews and the PokerStars gear dotting his apartment, Duhamel hasn't yet figured out that he is at the eye of the storm. He's still a fan of the game, hearing angels singing when the stars of the game walk into the room. He doesn't seem to see that Dennis Phillips and Darvin Moon -- the chip leaders heading into the two previous November Nines -- both became stars despite not winning their respective final tables. He doesn't understand he's the big deal he is. It's probably because when he looks in the mirror, he sees the same guy he's always seen.

John Duhamel
David Becker/Zuma Press/Icon SMIJohn Duhamel's road to the final table included an incredible hand against Matt Affleck.

"I'd rather you write about how I'm the same guy, to be honest," Duhamel admitted during our interview. "Really, I think I'm the same guy."

In a fame-obsessed generation of reality stars and celebrity wannabes, he's just a small town kid who loves to play poker and broaden the depth of his comprehension of the passions he takes to heart.

Duhamel doesn't have hobbies, just passions. When he discovered poker five years ago, he consumed it.

"A friend of mine said, 'I learned a new game, want to see it?'" Duhamel said, speaking of no-limit hold 'em. "It went like that. We played until 5 or 6 in the morning that night and then we started playing every day. We'd finish school at 3, do our homework and get dinner as fast as possible and then we'd play all night and half the morning."

That same friend, Pascal Turcott, has 1 percent of Duhamel. A victory for his friend could mean a new condo.

"He's the same guy," insisted Turcott. "He's really modest. He's happy with what he has right now and I think that's what's best for him right now. He can win and for a modest guy it's such an achievement. In all the world, I think the guy who most deserves it is him. He'll still be the same, at least with his real friends and his family. He'll probably change a little in the way he talks to new people, but I know with us he'll always be the same old John."

Turcott kept up with Duhamel in their friendly home games (complete with wild cards), but when Duhamel discovered online poker about four years ago, he separated himself from the mob. As he started beating his friends, John started beating $1 sit-and-gos online, then $5, $10 and so on. He's now a regular in the $2/$4 and $5/$10 games online, amongst the toughest in the world.

Duhamel put aside a sizable chunk of his online winnings for the 2010 WSOP.

"I knew I wanted to play the Series, make a big score," Duhamel said. "I am a big fan of poker, so getting the chance to play and spend time with the stars of the game means everything."

Now, he's one of them. After a lackluster first five days where he fought to survive, Duhamel doubled up midway through Day 6. Then, early on Day 8, he doubled from 10,000,000 in chips to 20,000,000.

"That's when I knew I would make the November Nine," he said. "From there, I never looked back."

The key for the kid from Boucherville is that he's not looking too far ahead. With the kind of chips he's sitting on and the word "favorite" tattooed across his forehead, it would be easy to get caught up in the hoopla. When the whole world wants to know your every thought, it seems like it's much tougher not to be swept away.

For Duhamel, though, those are thoughts for another day. As he is every time he sits down to play poker, he's keenly focused on finding one more player for that hockey game.

"If I don't find someone, I think we will lose." he said, underneath his breath. You get the sense he's not the kind of guy to let that happen.

He eventually found his man and that night his team won 10-0, and the good run continues for the one who is quietly going about his business before taking his seat for the biggest night of his career.

Gary Wise is a poker columnist for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @GaryWise1.

Gary Wise has contributed to ESPN.com since 2007. He is well-studied in the history of poker and presents a unique tableside view of the goings-on in the poker community. Google author profile

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