The 67-year-old retiree from Waterloo, Ontario had won his tournament seat in a $170 satellite at host venue Fallsview Resort and Casino in Niagara Falls and made his way through 449 of the 454 tournament entrants.
Having done so, he found himself facing down two of his country's best professionals in Gavin Smith and Marc Karam, as well as legendary American pro Kathy Liebert and a formidable online adversary in Ryan "gotskillz" Fisler.
Even with his $3,710,000 starting chip stack worth almost $1 million over second-place Gavin Smith as play began, Witmer entered play on the fifth and final day at Fallsview as a footnote more than as a feature attraction, with all eyes on Karam (who'd final-tabled this event twice and cashed thrice), Smith (the only member of the table to have previously won a WPT event) and Liebert (the only player at the table with a World Series of Poker bracelet).
By the time play concluded just before midnight on Thursday evening, however, all eyes were on the amiable amateur, who with a patient, measured game and a fortuitous ace on the river captured the tournament title and its $1,254,152 CAD first prize with his ever-supportive wife watching in the stands.
Witmer's road to victory on Thursday began much earlier in the day, when he and his five final-table counterparts returned to the Grand Hall at Fallsview for the last leg of a potentially million-dollar journey. The six (Liebert, Smith, Karam and Witmer were joined by 40-year-old firefighter James "Jim" Trenholm) formed a remarkably genial table, with Smith and Liebert engaging the amateurs and each other in small talk throughout what would play out as a very relaxed final table.
Relaxed though it may have been, people still got eliminated, and the first to go was Trenholm. The short stack, Trenholm would survive nearly three hours of final-table play before deciding to get cute with Smith in a pre-flop confrontation and ultimately calling off his last $1 million with pocket sevens, telling Birdguts, "You were picking on me one too many times."
Smith, however, had the goods this time, tabling pocket kings and dodging Trenholm's flopped gutshot draw to send the Pickering, Ontario native to the rail. Trenholm took $153,107 from the prize pool for his sixth-place finish.
Next to go would be Marc Karam. The Ottawa native never seemed to get into a groove on Thursday and towards the end of his stay seemed to go a little shove-crazy, shipping all-in repeatedly and without prejudice.
"Myst" couldn't be faulted for the way he went out, however, running pocket queens into Witmer's A-K in a pre-flop all-in that was more or less unavoidable. An ace on the flop gave Witmer the lead and after the turn and river bricked out Karam was history, out in fifth place for a one-spot improvement over his 2006 final table performance and a $196,851 improvement to the old bank account.
Witmer would refuse to slow his roll after busting Karam, finagling a couple of big pots from Gavin Smith. Both instances saw Witmer three-bet his Full Tilt Poker adversary's pre-flop raises from the small blind with jacks, taking a $2.5 million pot at showdown the first hand and turning quads in the second hand to take another $1.2 million or so.
The hands would bump Witmer's stack up to the $7 million range, or more than his three opponents could muster combined, and the chip leader would continue his reign of terror as the night proceeded, sending Ryan Fisler to the cashier in fourth place after another massive pot.
In Fisler's final hand, Witmer raised to $200,000 on the button and Fisler raised to $775,000 in the small blind. Witmer insta-called, preempting Kathy Liebert's fold in the big blind, and the flop came J♠ 9♦ 2♥.
Fisler thought things through for a minute before moving all-in, only to see Witmer insta-call with A♥ J♥. The Kitchener kid could only mutter something about a "three-outer," turning up A♠ K♦ and needing to improve to survive. But the J♣ on the turn ended the drama fairly quickly and Fisler was finished, headed to the rail and his $262,469 cash reward.
Three-handed play would see Witmer face off against Liebert and Smith, holding a massive chip lead over both. The two pros would need to cannibalize each others' stacks if one was to have a chance at the title and that's precisely what happened, with Smith relieving the PokerKat of most of her catnip with A♥ 9♣ against Liebert's Q♦ J♦ after all the chips got in the middle on an A♦ J♥ 3♦ board.
With a pair and a flush draw, Liebert was flipping a coin for the chance to bust Birdguts, but the board bricked out and a clearly frustrated Liebert found herself stacking up what little remained of her once-proud stack. A few hands later and the party was over for the PokerStars-badged pro, who hit the bricks when her 8♣ 7♠ failed to connect against Witmer's Q♠ J♥. Liebert earned $319,337 for her time.
Witmer brought $9.83 million of the available chips into the ensuing heads-up match with Smith, who could muster only $3.815 million of his own, though with the tournament structure allowing for plenty of play, the pro certainly didn't find himself at too pronounced a disadvantage.
Smith would manage to grind his way up to nearly $5.5 million over the course of the 49-hand heads-up match, but in the end the WPT Season 4 Player of the Year would see his tournament dreams evaporate on a coin flip.
In the tournament's climactic hand, Smith limped with pocket fives and saw Witmer raise with A♠ K♠. Smith shoved over the top and Witmer insta-called, setting up a classic race scenario with a WPT title on the line.
The flop came Q♦ J♦ 2♠ and the amateur picked up more outs, and after the J♣ fell on the turn Witmer needed an ace, king, queen or ten to clinch the championship. The river card was the A♣, giving Witmer top pair and the tournament, sealing the deal on his first-ever WPT title and that $1.25 million CAD first prize.
Runner-up Smith takes $612,427, while Witmer also collects two victory bracelets, a magical Fallsview trophy and an interview with the PokerListings.com team which we'll put up in a day or so. Congratulations to both finalists and to the country of Canada, for once again securing most-ballingest-nation status with a strong showing in Niagara this week. So long!