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When the World Poker Tour announced it would be heading to Montreal for a non-televised event, I'm sure most players regarded it as another intriguing stop but nothing that would move the needle on the tournament scene.
It's true that when the WPT last stopped in Canada in 2008 for the North American Poker Championship ($10,000 buy-in) event at the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort, it offered a strong 454-player field and created a top prize worth more than $1 million. Glen Witmer reaped the benefits of the turnout as he defeated Gavin Smith heads-up for the title. Everyone expected Canada to become a bigger player on the WPT, but for the past four years, that day never came.
Since that point, the WPT just didn't find a Canadian home even with Jonathan Duhamel reinvigorating the country's poker scene after his WSOP victory in 2010. The waiting continued until finally the WPT made what is now a brilliant decision.
Enter the Playground Poker Club, a highly popular venue in Quebec, and a price point of $3,300 (CAD) that has performed extremely well at the WPT's other stops domestically. Day 1A of the re-entry event attracted 478 players, but the buzz started almost immediately after the cards were in the air. Players in attendance began to comment socially on the field size, the atmosphere and the opportunity for a huge event. Flights to the city were booked, and Day 1B registration resulted in a 1,173-player tournament and a $784,101 (CAD) top prize.
WPT Montreal went from an outlying non-televised event to a must-visit stop on the World Poker Tour in less than a week. Many assume next year will be even bigger.
Jonathan Roy defeated a tough final table to win the event in front of a rowdy home crowd. The 25-year-old online heads-up specialist defeated WSOP bracelet winner Pascal Lefrancois for the victory.
"This is incredible," said Roy. "The support here was amazing. The crowd really wanted to keep the title in Quebec, and I am so happy to have done that."
The final table, live-streamed on WPT.com, attracted additional attention as Olympian Michael Phelps was in attendance cheering on Jeff Gross, who entered the final table as the chip leader and extended his lead on the first hand when he knocked out Peter Kaemmerlen. But it was Lefrancois who was in control for most of the final table, despite Roy eliminating Sylvain Siebert (fifth) and Gavin Smith (fourth). This was Smith's first WPT final table since the 2008 appearance and first cash since his 96th-place finish in the WSOP main event.
The three-handed battle featured 105 hands and ultimately resulted in Roy's elimination of Gross with A-Q to K-Q.
"Can't be more happy for what @Jgross5 did!! Proud of u man!!!!," Phelps commented on Twitter.
Roy held a mere eight big blind chip lead over Lefrancois, and with the blinds incredibly high, perhaps the only major complaint about the tournament during its final days, every hand became a critical one. The inevitable confrontation arrived on the 28th hand, and Roy's K-Q outflopped Lefrancois' 6-6 for essentially all the chips and the title. The two Canadians have been friends over the past few years, and Roy acknowledged on the Poker Edge that it was tough playing Lefrancois heads-up given their history.
The event was the third-largest WPT event in history and the largest poker tournament with a buy-in over $1,000 in Canadian history. Here are the final table results of WPT Montreal:
1. Jonathan Roy ($779,710 CAD)
2. Pascal Lefrancois ($470,920)
3. Jeff Gross ($317,450)
4. Gavin Smith ($211,745)
5. Sylvain Siebert ($146,360)
6. Peter Kaemmerlen ($113,155)
Greg Raymer wins fourth Heartland Poker Tour event in 2012
|Greg Raymer has won four HPT main events over the past four months.|
In perhaps the most under-reported and under-recognized success of the year, Greg Raymer has been absolutely dominant on the Heartland Poker Tour. The 2004 WSOP main event champion made his first HPT cash in July, topping a field of 131 players in New Mexico. While his victory was nice, the $71,875 prize, which coincidentally was his largest live tournament cash since 2009, wasn't really making anyone's radar. When he pulled in his second victory in St. Louis (worth $121,973), the rumblings began. Winning his third event just a few weeks later in Iowa ($72,089) caught people's eye, and a month later came the most recent win in Indiana.
Four titles in less than four months is no small accomplishment. Some say his dominance over the HPT is showing nothing more than his ability to beat up on weaker competition, but in reality, the competition probably isn't that different. As I said on Twitter, it doesn't matter what tour or what stakes -- to win four larger-field multi-table tournaments in this timespan is incredible.
In a great infographic by Chris Grove posted on Pokerati, the numbers include $3,542 won per day during this streak, 931 opponents defeated and 3,650 miles traveled. Raymer has once again earned the spotlight and with his success has come a byproduct of the HPT building momentum once again. It doesn't have the WSOP or WPT support behind it like the WSOPC and WPT Regionals do, but if players can pay a small buy-in to face a WSOP champ at the felt at every stop, that alone can help build the tour and bring it to the forefront of the industry.
Small blinds: Brock Parker won the Borgata's Fall Poker Open main event for $372,586. The $2,500 buy-in featured 644 entries. In his first post-WSOP appearance, October Niner Michael Esposito finished sixth.
Dwyte Pilgrim has won two events over the past 10 days, one at the Borgata ($200 re-entry) and one at the Bellagio ($1,000). His winnings total $62,883.
In the one HPT event Raymer didn't win, James Carroll earned the HPT title at the Palms in early November worth $104,253. October Niner Jeremy Ausmus finished 23rd.
Former Full Tilt Poker board member Rafe Furst settled with the Southern District of New York regarding charges related to Black Friday. Furst admitted no wrongdoing but will pay $150,000 and forfeit all money held in a separate trust.
The nominees in the Bluff Reader's Choice Awards are out. Check the list here.
According to the Casino City Times, representatives of some state lotteries will be lobbying against online poker next week.
Faraz Jaka will be donating a portion of his winnings for the rest of the year to Givology as part of #GivingTuesday.
Mohegan Sun is working on building an online poker presence and has partnered with the Ongame network to do so.