MONTREAL - It's been a wild career path for Jonathan Duhamel these last few years: Factory worker. College dropout. And, now, high-stakes poker millionaire.
The transformation culminated Monday night when the 23-year-old Montrealer won the World Series of Poker main event title in Las Vegas and US$8.94 million.
"It's a dream come true right now," Duhamel told the crowd at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino as confetti fell from a theater ceiling. "It's like the most beautiful day of my life."
"Come join the party" he said, flanked by some 200 friends and family who had rooted him on.
Duhamel -- who had already beaten a field of 7,300 competitors -- took the last of Florida pro John Racener's chips with an ace high after pushing Racener all-in and Racener called with a king-eight of diamonds.
"I love playing poker so much, so I mean I'm going to be playing all those big tournaments and try to make other big scores," he said. "I'll be there next year in the World Series and try to do my best again."
Duhamel said he now plans to play in the world's biggest tournaments -- and buy Canadiens season tickets.
Friends say Duhamel has retained his simple tastes and that his ever-increasing success at poker hasn't changed him.
They say he's the same easygoing guy who worked at several factories in the Montreal area, including a Pratt and Whitney plant.
Two years ago, he also dropped out of the finance program at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal and decided to gamble on an unconventional career path: full-time poker player.
It didn't work out very well at first.
"I went broke -- so I had to go back and get another job," Duhamel said in a recent interview on the World Series tournament's website.
"But then I reviewed my game and studied and learned more and more and became better. Then I went back and tried it again and it was successful for me."
His parents were apprehensive about his career choice at first. They've since turned around.
The passion for the game became all-consuming, friends say, and quickly supplanted other activities.
"I guess (poker) took much more time and energy than he expected and I guess school just took second place," said fellow player Philippe Boucher.
"He's really a competitive guy so it makes it easy with poker. And he likes hockey, so that (competitive) side took over."
Duhamel does have other passions. There's hockey, which is one reason so many of his friends in Las Vegas wore Montreal Canadiens jerseys in a show of support. There's also ultimate fighting, and there are movies.
He claims to be able to recite every single line from his favourite film, "Rounders." That film is, of course, about high-stakes poker. He says he's even willing to take bets on whether he can do it.
Boucher, a former Quebecer who now lives in Las Vegas, met Duhamel a few years ago and has played against him in a few friendly tournaments back home.
He says Duhamel put a lot of effort into his game to be able to play among the elite.
For instance, Duhamel wears what has become his trademark black hoodie while he plays so he can shut out all distractions and concentrate on his game.
"Every time he walks into the room he puts the hoodie up and that's when he just shuts down everything outside that hoodie," he said.
Boucher, 28, says he's watched Duhamel get better since he first played the Boucherville, Que., native online a few years ago.
Duhamel was 20 years old at the time.
"He was different than most of them. He was more down-to-Earth," Boucher said.
"A lot of players -- especially when you're 20 years old, and you earn a lot of money -- a lot of them are going to buy nice cars and they're going to get a little more flashy."
But that wasn't the case with Duhamel -- known online as "Poker John."
"He pretty much stayed the same and got just what he needed: a little apartment and a little car," Boucher said.