WPT Montreal Shaped by History Making Moments

Ahead of the return of WPT Montreal, which kicks off on Thursday, we’re taking a look back at the World Poker Tour’s history across 12 events at Playground.

Tim Fiorvanti
May 14, 2024
The last time the WPT visited Montreal back in Season 18, the final table was loaded. From left to right: eventual champion Geoffrey Hum, Kristen Foxen, Martin Jacobson, Joseph Cheong, future WPT Champions Club member Dapo Ajayi, and Mike Watson.

For the first time in four-and-a-half years, the World Poker Tour has returned to the Playground Poker Club for WPT Montreal.

Kicking off on May 16, WPT Montreal will be the 13th WPT event held at this historic venue. The $3,500 CAD Championship event with three starting flights features a $2 million CAD guarantee and a televised final table that will play out on May 22.

“It is a tremendous success to have a Playground festival back on the WPT schedule,” WPT CEO Adam Pliska said back in March.

Some of the biggest moments in WPT history have happened at Playground since the tour debuted in Montreal in 2012. Legendary WPT broadcaster and Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton had his name etched on the the trophy that would eventually bear his name – the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup – when he won WPT Montreal in 2016. Ema Zajmovic became the first woman to win an open WPT Main Tour title in February 2017 at WPT Playground – and she’s got a few other claims to WPT history in Montreal as well.

The WPT Montreal Championship event is the culmination of a festival that also featured a WPT500 event and a $1,150 CAD WPT Prime Montreal Championship, the latter of which is in progress. Jonathan Willis has already been crowned as the WPT500 Montreal champion, claiming a first-place prize of $105,860 CAD ($77,384) including a $10,400 seat to the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas. The champions of WPT Montreal and WPT Prime Montreal will also walk away with seats to the WPT World Championship. All three events feature players who won their seats via WPTGlobal.com.

On the eve of the return of WPT Montreal, here’s a deeper look at the highlights across the 12 previous WPT events at Playground.

Jonathan Roy celebrated his hometown WPT Montreal victory with a number of other notable players and friends from Quebec.

A look back to the Beginning of WPT Montreal

Let’s travel back in time to Season XI of the World Poker Tour. It’s November 2012, and less than two years after opening up the poker room at Playground, the venue hosted its very first WPT Main Tour stop.

With the Canadian dollar at its strongest point in history compared to the U.S. dollar, the 1,173-entry field produced an overall prize pool of over $3.4 million. Canadians were well-represented, taking up four out of the six spots at the final table, and there were some heavyweights among the bunch.

Among them was WPT Season 4 Player of the Year Gavin Smith, who was both a WPT Champions Club Member and a 2010 WSOP bracelet winner. Pascal Lefrancois also won a WSOP bracelet in 2010, famously posing for his winner’s photo without a shirt on. Jonathan Roy had knocked on the door a few times in major events to that point, and Sylvain Siebert would go on to make a second WPT final table at Playground. Riding hard for the American contingent was Jeff Gross.

When it got down to heads up play, it was a battle between Roy and Lefrancois, two young local pros from Quebec vying for the title. Roy emerged with the inaugural WPT Montreal title and the $779,210 first-place prize, which included a seat to the $25,000 WPT Championship for Season XI. Roy made something out of that opportunity as well, finishing third in that event for $421,800 and tying for second overall in the Season XI WPT POY race.

Seth Davies is one of five Americans to win a WPT title in Montreal. Canadians have won six of the 12 WPT events at Playground, including the last three.

North American Border War in Montreal

While Canadians have predictably had the advantage for a WPT event held on Canadian soil, the edge varies depending on the metric. Of the 70 players to make a WPT Main Tour final table in Montreal, 42 have been Canadian and 24 have come from the United States. The gap widens when you look at top-15 finishes, of which 110 have been Canadian with 47 from the USA.

There was on WPT final table in Montreal with a clean sweep of six Canadians, which is one of two such final tables in which Americans were completely shut out. The lowest local WPT final table representation saw one Canadian, four Americans and one German player.

When it comes to crowning champions in Montreal, it’s been a tight race. Six of the WPT champions in Montreal were born in Canada, but with three consecutive Canadian winners coming into this year’s edition, they’ve passed the five American-born winners. Only one WPT winner in Montreal hailed from elsewhere (and more on her in a moment).

Ema Zajmovic was the first woman to win an open entry WPT Main Tour title. She’s also the only player to date to make three WPT final tables in Montreal.

Ema Zajmovic Becomes First Woman to Win Open WPT Event

Born in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ema Zajmovic emigrated to Canada with her family when she was six years old. Zajmovic first popped up on the poker radar in November 2016, when she finished fifth at WPT Montreal to eventual champion Mike Sexton.

She came back just a few months later, in February 2017, and won WPT Playground to claim a special place in WPT history as the first woman to win an open entry WPT Main Tour title. Zajmovic is the second woman to add her name to the WPT Mike Sexton Champions cup, as Van Nguyen won the WPT Invitational back in Season VI.

After making her third carer WPT final table in Amsterdam, where she finished second, Zajmovic returned to Montreal and made her third WPT final table at Playground (fourth overall), ultimately claiming runner-up honors again. To date, Zajmovic is the only player to make three final tables in WPT events in Montreal and one of only five players total to make multiple such appearances.

Mike Sexton added to his poker legacy by winning WPT Montreal in November 2016.

The Legacy of Mike Sexton

Mike Sexton was part of the fabric of the WPT from its very first event, taking his seat on every TV broadcast alongside Vince Van Patten. For the first eight seasons of the WPT, so as to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety, neither man was allowed to play in any of the WPT Main Tour events that they broadcasted.

In 2010, that rule changed and Sexton began to extend his list of career accomplishments into the WPT sphere. In Season IX, Sexton took sixth in the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star, and in Season XI, Sexton finished third in the WPT Venice Grand Prix.

A few years later, during the WPT Season XV stop in Montreal, Sexton added the crowning glory to his WPT tenure by capturing the title and a first-place prize of $317,896. He rounded out what would become his 15th and final year on the WPT broadcast team by making a fourth career WPT final table, finishing fourth at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic.

Who will be the next Montreal Millionaire?

To date, only two poker players have accumulated over $1 million USD in earnings in events held at Playground – and both of them are Americans. No. 1 all-time is WPT Champions Club member Darryll Fish, who finished second in the Season XIV edition of WPT Montreal and later returned to Playground for the 2018 partypoker Millions Main Event, finishing second for a career-best $937,221. Second on that list is another WPT Champions Club member, Taylor Black. Black bested Fish heads-up to win the 2018 partypoker Millions Main Event for $1,093,425.

For schedules, tournament structures and other information pertaining to WPT Montreal, click here.