Florida poker professional John Racener said Sunday he still likes his chances to win the World Series of Poker title despite his 6-1 chip disadvantage to Canadian pro Jonathan Duhamel as they begin their heads-up showdown Monday night.
Racener, 24, of Port Richey, Fla., said all he needs is to meet his first goal – doubling his chips.
"I’ll feel like I’m going to win it if I can do that," Racener told reporters on Sunday.
Racener, who said he got his start in poker in high school by turning $50 from his mom into $30,000 within six months of playing poker online, said he likes his position as an underdog to Duhamel.
"He’s expected to win — I’m just going to take advantage of that," Racener said.
At age 23, Duhamel is looking to become the first Canadian to win the world’s richest no-limit Texas Hold ’em tournament. He told reporters Sunday that he thinks there will be lots of gambling before community cards are dealt, as he tries to keep Racener from picking up chips.
"If I give him a little space, then he’s going to have room to do stuff," Duhamel said. "I just don’t want to double him up in the beginning, that’s for sure."
Duhamel has 86 percent of the chips in play when heads-up play starts Monday.
The chips don’t have any true monetary value — they’re just used to keep score in a battle each of 7,319 entrants paid $10,000 to enter.
Second place wins $5.55 million, but either Duhamel or Racener will need to win all the chips in play to end the tournament that started July 5.
"I just want to get my head into it," said Duhamel, who said he slept for only two hours after 24-year-old Joseph Cheong was eliminated in third place early Sunday.
A 14-hour session including breaks looked to be headed for a showdown between Duhamel and Cheong when an unsuccessful bluff by Cheong turned the entire game on its ear.
Cheong tried to outmaneuver Duhamel with a dramatic fifth raise for all the chips before any community cards were on the board. Despite minutes of thinking as they bet the hand, Duhamel instantly called the all-in wager with pocket queens. Cheong turned over an unsuited ace-seven.
The hand dropped Cheong out of the lead and he was eliminated six hands later, winning $4.13 million for third.
"The whole dynamic just set up for a good place for me to ship — especially when he had 60 million behind," Cheong said afterward. "He could easily lie bet and fold to me."
Racener said he understood the thinking – he felt Cheong was betting that Duhamel wouldn’t call unless he had pocket aces given his favorable position to be one of the last two players.
But Cheong’s mistake was Racener’s gain.
"Once I saw the all-in and call right away, just the feeling in my heart and my stomach was just so exciting," Racener said. "I was like, ‘Sweet!"’
Duhamel, who began the final table a chip leader before giving way to Cheong and fifth place finisher Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, said before the session started that he would only be happy with a win.
He still felt the same way Sunday.
"I kind of want to prove to others but I want to prove to myself also that I can be great and I can play a good game," Duhamel said. "I didn’t want to finish second or third, it’s not enough to me. What I want to do is win."