Jonathan Duhamel: "As Long as This Passion Drives Me, I'll Keep Playing"
With 6,000+ players in the Main Event every year, it's impossible to predict who will hit the cards and catch the breaks needed to win the ultimate poker title.
But that winner, regardless of skill or capability, is thrust into the international spotlight as a "poker ambassador" whether they like it or not. For better or worse, that's the face of poker for a year -- and not everyone is up to the task.
The WSOP hit the jackpot with Jonathan Duhamel in 2010, though.
The first Canadian to win the Main Event, the smart, talented and bilingual Duhamel not only took on the role of poker ambassador for a whole new legion of fans, he's proved himself time and again as far more than a one-hit wonder.
With $2m in earnings on top of his Main Event score and a 2012 PCA for the ages, Duhamel's definitely earned the respect of his peers and his prestigious spot on Team PokerStars Pro.
Our colleague at PokerListings France, Fred Guillemot, caught up with him at EPT London yesterday and got his thoughts on his career in poker, his beloved Habs and more.
PokerListings: For some, like say Pius Heinz or Jerry Yang, the media attention that comes with winning the Main Event seems to be more of a burden than a blessing. You, on the other hand, seem to revel in it. Do you enjoy the fame that came with your title?
Jonathan Duhamel: Basically I just try to have fun. When you win a title, media attention is part of the package. And if you play a lot of live events you also know there are going to be interviews.
So I just try to have fun with everyone as much as possible. I definitely don't think it's a chore or anything like that, even though it's true that sometimes you'd rather just be sitting at home doing nothing.
It's not even that I particularly love it, but since I have to do it I do it and I figured I might as well do it with a smile.
PL: How would you say you measure up to other Main Event winners?
JD: Wow, no idea. I don't think I should be the one commenting on that, you have to ask others. Some winners were excellent players, others were very inexperienced ...
PL: Speaking of former Main Event winners, Greg Merson said he planned to "invest in himself" and play the biggest cash games in the world. Is that something that appeals to you? Playing in Macau for example?
JD: Actually I've already been to Macau once, but I didn't stay long. I would love to go back there though, it's a beautiful city, but right now, I can't tell you if I'll be playing cash games there or not.
I take things one week at a time, I don't really plan things. Ideally, I'd like to play a tournament there and maybe play some cash games while I'm there.
PL: No long-term thing, then.
JD: I want to keep playing a lot of live events, so it would be hard. I can't really stay in Macau for a whole month if I want to keep playing tournaments.
PL: Poker seems to really be booming in Quebec lately, you guys are getting a lot of good results. What's your secret?
JD: All of us players from Quebec, we're a bit like a family, we stick together. When one has a question about how to handle a hand or about strategy, we talk about it and help each other.
The fact that we're traveling together helps too – we spend a lot of time on the plane or on the bus, so obviously we use it to talk about strategy.
PL: Ah, so there's no magic behind it?
JD: Nope, no magic. What can I say, us Quebecois are just smart! (laughs)
PL: Can you give us some tips about which up-and-coming players from Quebec we should keep an eye on?
JD: A lot of players from Quebec have been getting very good results for the last couple of years: Marc-André Ladouceur, Chris McClung, Yann Dion, Jonathan Roy who won WPT Montreal ... and there are always new ones to add to the list.
Often they are players who used to play almost exclusively online, who start traveling and who do really well. Players like Sam Chartier, for example, who also gets good results even though he doesn't travel much yet.
So yeah, I think the future has good things in store for us. You haven't heard the last of us! (laughs)
PL: Who do you think is the most inspiring player?
JD: That's a tough one, there are so many. I watch my fellow Quebecois a lot though, since we talk a lot about strategy, and I have to say Marc-André Ladouceur.
He's an amazing player and, strategically speaking, he's excellent. I just love talking with him, I feel it helps both of us get better. He's definitely one of the players I respect the most in the world.
Personality-wise, I have to say Daniel Negreanu, who's doing such impressive work as a “poker ambassador." He's doing so much for poker in general that honestly, I'd be happy if I could do even half of it.
He's very approachable, always nice with journalists, he's very popular and he does a lot of work towards the future of poker.
PL: Now that you're completely part of the live tour and you've played pretty much everywhere in the world, are you still as fond of online poker?
JD: I'd say so, yeah. I've recently started playing a lot of mixed games and Omaha to become the best player I can be.
So yeah, maybe if I always played NLHE, I'd get bored, but I play many different games, I travel the world, so it keeps me on my toes.
PL: I read in some interviews that your parents really insisted on teaching you the value of things and the value of money. How do you manage to reconcile that with the big bucks at stake in poker?
JD: I think you can't think too much about the money. The only question you should ask yourself is whether you can afford the buy-in or not.
After that, it's all chips and a certain number of big blinds whether it's a $100 or a $100,000 tournament. You have to forget about the rest.
As long as your bankroll is sufficient to play the tournament, you need to forget about the money and focus on the game.
PL: How do you think poker has evolved since you were World Champion?
JD: The level has increased tremendously. Good players have become even better, and the less experienced ones have been gaining experience.
Overall, I quite like where poker is going. It's getting more and more popular, and there's no reason to think this will stop any time soon.
PL: The poker world can sometimes be all about “glitz." Is it something that bothers you?
JD: Actually, most players are just regular guys. Me, I tend to be pretty quiet at the table but outside I'm a completely different guy.
There are a lot of colorful characters in poker, but I think that's mostly fun. They mess around a little bit, entertain us a little bit... It'd be boring without them!
PL: How do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Still playing poker?
JD: I have absolutely no idea. Like I said, I take it one week at a time.
For now, I love the challenge, the game keeps getting tougher, so I always want to get better and perfect my strategy. As long as this passion drives me, I'll keep playing.
PL: Can you tell us a little bit about your book, Final Table? Do you think you'll write another one?
JD: No, I don't think so, at least not for a while. My book only came out about a year ago –- 4 or 5 months ago in English -- and for now I just really want to focus on my game and on the tournaments.
Plus, honestly, I don't really have time to write a book. But you never know, I never say no to anything, so who knows?
I liked writing a book because it was something I'd never done before. If I wrote a second one, it wouldn't be a new experience this time.
So let's say I don't plan to do it in the next two years. After that, we'll see.
PL: I wanted to ask you about what happened to Theo Jorgensen – which is a bit like what happened to you. Do you think this is becoming a real issue for poker players?
JD: I think they're isolated occurrences, but for some reason people always think that we keep millions of dollars in our house and that's just not true.
When you win an event, you don't walk out of there with an envelope full of cash. It goes straight to the bank.
I think that all we can do is try to protect ourselves and be aware that this kind of thing can happen. That's life, and we have to deal with it.
PL: How can you get over something like that?
JD: For me, the most important thing was to focus on my friends and family. In moments like these, you spend time with your family and the people you love, and eventually you just realize that life goes on and that you have to get over it.
PL: Do you think you'll only really be able to get over it once the case has been closed?
JD: Definitely. It's not over yet, it's been going on for a year and a half now. I don't really bother with it, I just do my thing, play tournaments, I let my lawyers take care of it.
PL: So I guess you won't be forgiving your ex anytime soon?
JD: Nope, I don't think so.
PL: Let's talk about another one of your passions, hockey. It looks like the Habs are on their way to the playoffs this year...
JD: Yeah, that's awesome. Last year we finished 29th out of 30 and this year we're third or fourth so it's a nice change.
It's great to follow their season – even though with all the traveling it's not always easy. When we're in Europe for example, the games start at 1 in the morning, but well, we try to watch them anyway.
PL: Could it affect your poker schedule?
JD: It's too early to say, but it might. The playoffs will take place at the end of May/beginning of June, which is around the time the World Series begins, so I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
If they make it to the Stanley Cup final though, I'll probably try to be there, yeah. It hasn't happened to Montreal for like 20 years.
PL: You're a real sports fan: hockey, baseball, golf, football, … Is there ONE sport you don't like?
JD: Actually, there is! Well, I like watching it, but I hate playing it: basketball!
I'm kinda short, so I'm really not very good at basketball. Other than that, it's true that I've always loved playing sports. Obviously I can't play as much now but because of that I seem to enjoy it even more when I do get the chance.
We can even play badminton or bowling or whatever, I just have a blast. Plus it helps staying fit, and it's also a social activity, a good way to spend time with your friends.
PL: Would you be interested in challenges like the ones ElkY and Katchalov do for example?
JD: Oh man, these guys train everyday! They'd be much better prepared that I would. Plus this isn't really my thing.
I'm more into the whole social dimension of playing team sports with your friends.
PL: Maybe you could challenge them to a sport you particularly like...
JD: Yeah, I could take them any day at ice hockey! (laughs)