David Dongwoo Ko Put on a Masterclass on Way to WPT Montreal Title

David Dongwoo Ko was the chip leader at the end of Day 1A of WPT Montreal, bagged the top stack at the end of Days 2 and 3, and when the final table was over on Day 4 he was crowned a WPT champion.

Tim Fiorvanti
May 23, 2024
David Dongwoo Ko won $434,900 CAD, a seat in the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas in December, a permanent spot on the WPT Mike Sexton Champions Cup and a custom WPT championship belt awarded by Playground Poker Club.

If you were to plot out a dream scenario for any poker player seeking success on a major tournament stage, it would look a lot like David Dongwoo Ko’s path to victory at WPT Montreal.

On a single entry, Ko managed to bag the Day 1A chip lead, and then proceeded to have the top stack at the end of each and every day he played in the tournament – including the last one.

You might leave out the two-plus hours spent in darkness during a widespread power outage at Playground Poker Club due to severe weather in the area, or getting short-stacked during three-handed play at Wednesday’s final table. But after a pair of double-ups to retake the lead, Ko eliminated third-place finisher Tommy Nguyen to set up a heads-up battle with another breakout star of the week, Dan Stavila.

Ko then landed on the right side of a shocking flush-over-flush finale, and secured both a storybook ending and a payday – $434,900 CAD (about $319,217 USD) – to match it as he was crowned champion of WPT Montreal.

“Being a WPT champion is something that will last forever, you know, so that just by itself means a lot,” Ko said shortly after securing his victory.

Wednesday night was the culmination of a two-year stretch in which Ko committed himself to becoming a professional tournament poker player. He won three World Series of Poker Circuit rings dating back to July 2023, including one in Calgary less than two weeks ago. In fact, Ko played until the early morning hours at a final table on his last night in Calgary before jetting over to Montreal.

His success in a $3,500 buy-in event with the field size, prestige and level of competition of WPT Montreal gave Ko the kind of payoff he so deeply desired.

“I had lots of success in low stakes and mid-stakes tournaments, but I didn’t really have much success in the High Roller events, or anything $3,000-plus,” said Ko. “That was something that I really, really wanted to prove to myself and to the world, that I can compete in these higher level tournaments – and today I think I did.”

Ko emerged from a gauntlet that took final table action at WPT Montreal deep into the night. After getting down to the final three players fairly quickly, Ko, Nguyen and Stavila battled for a long stretch of time with each holding the chip lead at various different points. Then came the matter of waiting for a resolution to the power outage, as a storm knocked out electricity over a significant area surrounding Playground Poker Club.

As various outcomes and potential solutions were discussed, Ko knew it was important to simply concentrate on the factors that he could control.

“It was weird,” said Ko. “We just never knew how long it was gonna take [for the power to come back] or even if it was going to be happening tomorrow or today. There was uncertainty, but my mindset in this room was always to focus on the right now and on the moment, so I was ready to go back and play at any time.”

Ko started to lose some momentum when play resumed, as Stavila pushed further out in front in his chip lead. Everything ultimately came down to the type of close-call hand that often determines a tournament’s outcome – Ko’s Club K Diamond J against Stavila’s Heart A Diamond 6. With a Diamond K on the flop Ko doubled up, and then just three hands later, Ko doubled up again when his flopped set with pocket jacks went up against Stavila’s turned two-pair.

After Ko knocked out Nguyen to set up a heads-up battle with Stavila, you might imagine Stavila might hold onto a little bit of negative energy after having to pass over a healthy portion of his stack. But he and Ko embraced in a warm hug just as cards went back in the air, permeating the room with a positive energy and vibe.

Part of it had to do with both players locking up a career-best result just by getting to heads-up play. But there was also a shared bond formed through many days of playing poker, along with the absurdity of what each of them had endured during their hiatus.

“Both of them are very, very nice people and great poker players,” said Ko. “During the long outage, we did a lot of talking, and then yeah, we got very friendly.”

Ko and Stavila even put together a bit after the traditional WPT presentation of the first-place prize money at the table. Each of them took a little extra money out of their pocket as if to signal they weren’t quite playing for enough despite a six-figure difference between first and second.

Both David Dongwoo Ko and Dan Stavila were in a friendly, joking mood at the start of heads-up play as they added a little bit of their own money to the pile of cash laid out for the eventual champion.

“At the end when we got to the heads up, I offered him a little bit of a fun joke,” said Ko. “We were gonna put $100 extra each on top of the money, so we did that and that was really fun.”

It was particularly fun for Ko when, shortly into their match, both he and Stavila turned club flushes. Ko’shis king-high flush had Stavila’s queen-high flush dead to rights, but both men were still all smiles as the meaningless river card brought the tournament to an abrupt conclusion.

Ko’s victory was the perfect closing of a week to remember – one that had only a single, minor flaw. Because of his WSOP Circuit ring victories, Ko had qualified for the WSOP’s Tournament of Champions freeroll in Los Angeles. Because he made the final table of the WPT Montreal Championship, he had to cancel his flight and back out of that event, which ran concurrently on Wednesday.

It’s safe to say that most decisions that lead to a $434,900 CAD payday are ultimately going to be worth it, but a grincame to Ko’s face when asked if there was anything he might’ve done differently.

“I mean, if I was there [in L.A.], I would have probably won $400,000 there,” said Ko. “But being a WPT champion is an amazing thing, and I can win a bracelet next month.”