The 2010 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event has finally ended and now comes the hangover, when every armchair poker player says why the World Champ is terrible. This year, that talk revolves around one huge hand, the one on Day 8 back in July when the eventual winner, Jonathan Duhamel, sucked out on the river against Matt Affleck, eliminating Affleck in 15th place.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: we all know that Duhamel did not make the perfect play. But contrary to what many casual observers think, it was not by any means outrageous. In calling Affleck’s all-in bet, Duhamel had to risk 11.63 million chips to win a total pot (including his call) of 41.71 million. So, Duhamel was contributing just under 28% of the total pot on the turn.
On the ESPN telecast before his heads-up battle with John Racener, Duhamel said that he was concerned that Affleck had a set of tens or nines; you could actually hear him ask Affleck if he had either of those hands as they flipped their cards over. Thus, if Duhamel put Affleck on one of those hands, he would have to believe that he had ten outs – two jacks for a better set and four eights or four kings to hit his straight. With those ten outs, Duhamel had just over a 21% chance to win the hand. Therefore, Duhamel was not getting the odds to call, but in reality, it was fairly close.
But let’s look beyond the simple math. In that same interview I mentioned above, Duhamel said that he looked at how many chips were in the pot and decided that it was worth taking the chance. And I can see why. Winning that pot put Duhamel at about 51 million chips, or just shy of a quarter of the chips in the entire tournament. That’s a pretty nice position to be in at the final table, but with Affleck’s elimination, there were still 14 players left. Duhamel was looking at a truly dominant chip stack of more than three times the average. At that point with that stack, it would be smooth sailing to the final table, barring a couple major coolers or meltdowns, and likely at least a spot in the final five or six. That pot was very possibly worth a million real dollars or so to Duhamel.
A lot of poker fans have called Duhamel a “luckbox,” a “donk,” or not deserving of being called World Champion because he made a “bad call” and got lucky. Well, you know what? He had every right to play that hand, or any other hand for that matter, however he wanted. He knew he was almost certainly behind. He knew the risks. In fact, he told CardPlayer that he was angry at himself for making that call. But along with the risks came the possible gigantic rewards, and he factored those in as well. He didn’t make the play thinking it was brilliant, believing that he was the best poker player to ever live. He took a chance, maybe not one that I would have taken, and it paid off.
And besides, why does it matter that he got lucky? Everyone who wins a major tournament has to get lucky at some point. Joe Hachem got lucky with Q-7 against 9-9 at the final table in 2005 and sucked out with an incredible flop on the final hand against Steve Dannenmann with 7-3 over A-3. Carlos Mortensen won the final hand in 2001 with K-Q by cracking Dewey Tomko’s Aces. The previous year, Chris Ferguson’s A-9 overcame T.J. Cloutier’s A-Q on the final hand. And the year before that, Noel Furlong sucked out an Alan Goehring with 5-5 over 6-6. Everyone gets lucky at some point in a tournament.
Even if someone were to go through a tournament without ever putting his chips at risk with the worst hand, he still has to get lucky to survive. Let’s say a player gets it all-in pre-flop as an 80% favorite. It would not be surprising if he won the hand, would it? Of course not. But let’s say, in the process of outlasting a few thousand players, he gets it all-in as an 80% favorite ten times. The chances of him winning every single one of those times is less than 11%. Even someone who gets all of his chips in the pot as a 95% favorite would still only have a 60% chance to win ten of those in a row.
So yeah, Duhamel got lucky. But there were hundreds and hundreds of hands we never saw. Ones in which he skillfully bluffed someone out of a pot. Ones in which someone sucked out on him. Ones in which nothing out of the ordinary happened. That’s all part of the fun of poker. You never know what that next card may be. Its takes a lot of skill and a lot of luck to make it through a tournament. If you want the best hand to hold up every time, play Casino War.