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Will Durkee: Wrestles World Series Gold to the Ground
Pittsburgh native Will Durkee went into the final table of the 2007 WSOP Event 10 $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em tournament trailing Justin "ZeeJustin" Bonomo by $1.5 million in chips. Yet somehow, this college wrestling champion managed to get a choke hold on the chip lead and never looked back on his way to a World Series of Poker gold bracelet.
This very humble and well-grounded 24-year-old sat down with PokerListings.com just minutes after the win to explain just how he managed to pin the rest of this final table field to the mat.
So, WSOP gold Will! How does it feel?
It's awesome. I never would have dreamed that this would actually happen, and it feels fantastic.
You've got some friends with you in Vegas to celebrate with I hope?
Yes, I'm fortunate that a bunch of my friends are out here wrestling at the World Team Trials. Guys who don't gamble, don't play poker; guys who I have wrestled with at Northwestern, who I coach now ,who are out here for a tournament this weekend and having them around will be awesome for this weekend to kind of go out and celebrate with them.
You were facing a pretty big defecit at the beginning of the day, how did you make it go away?
Everything went my way all around. Early on I won a race and then picked up pots here and there. Then when we were five handed, I was in the Big Blind with 5-7. The small blind limps and the flop comes 5-6-7. He has 5-6 I have 5-7, we get it in on the flop and my hand holds up and that got me to the point where I was second in chips. Winning that pot helped me to be able to cripple Justin when I picked up aces at the right time.
That was the biggest hand. Picking up Aces when I was second in chips and having the chip leader have Kings. That gave me a massive chip lead. ZeeJustin was the strongest player at the final table so to cripple him and double up at the same time; it's just so lucky that I had that kind of situation happen. At that point that gave me $4 million in chips, and we were three handed.
So you just cruised home from there?
At that point, I had 4.5 million chips. I lost one time with A-K against A-J, but other than that, pretty much everything went my way at the final table.
With such a big chip lead heads-up, did you just roll over second place finisher Todd Terry?
Not really. At the end I was trying to keep the pots small, take a lot of flops and play. I was able to do that, and he wasn't as aggressive as I though he'd be, so I was able to be passive and wait it out. I had such a big chip lead, I didn't want to commit myself trying to steal blinds with hands I didn't want to get involved with, and I was able to keep the pots small and chip away at him until he made a move in a pot where he was drawing dead to the river and I was able to get almost all his chips in.
This is your first big win, but it's not your first big poker tournament is it?
Actually, last year at the World Series I made 52nd out of 2,500 in a $1,500 event, and I came close to the final table at the shootout event when I was heads up at my final table. I also cashed at a WPT event at Foxwoods. I ended up like 30th out of 400.
You're a graduate student at Northwestern and you were on the wrestling team at the University of Virginia before that, how do you fit poker into all that?
I just finished up competing in wrestling last year, so this year I'm coaching and not taking a full course load, so I could kind of buckle down and focus on poker, and I feel like I'm improving my game. This is a huge confidence boost. I got really lucky, obviously, at the final table and had a few fortunate spots in the earlier days. I know there are a few mistakes I made along the way, fortunately I was able to get lucky enough to make up for them and played well enough to get it done.
So how is school going?
I graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Economics and now I'm just taking a Masters of Liberal Arts which would help me towards a teaching certificate if I wanted to do that, but I'm not sure that I do. I just want to take some grad school classes and be able to help out and coach wrestling there.
Are you out here for the entire 2007 WSOP?
I'm out here for six weeks. I planned on playing in six or seven events, but this might change that to 10 or 11, we'll see. It's really tiring doing it, so I'll definitely take a couple of days off now.
What's the plan now?
This weekend I'll watch my buddies wrestle at the World Team Trials. That's a big thing for them. I'd be much happier to see one of them get ranked in the top six in the United States and make the Olympic Team than I am winning this bracelet right now.
Are you bunking with a bunch of wrestlers?
Actually, I'm staying with three guys - a friend from the University of Virginia and a couple of guys we met through poker. We have a house and we'll be staying here until the middle of July.
So are you going to throw a party tonight?
We'll definitely go somewhere.
Now that you are a WSOP gold bracelet holder do you think you might start playing poker professionally?
I don't really want to think about that right now. I don't think I could play poker on the circuit. I really don't know if I'd be able to do it and one tournament win isn't an indication of being able to do it over the long term. I think I'll just take these things one at a time and see where it goes from there.
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Sounds like Will's got a pretty good head on his shoulders and that's reason enough to think this is probably not the last we will be hearing of him in the poker world. Good luck to your wrestling buddies at the trials Will and PokerListings.com will catch up with you the next time you hit the felt here in Vegas.