It turns out that the poker dream – once considered to be the product of a bygone era that saw millions of aspiring poker players honing their craft online before seeking out glory on the live stage – is very much alive and well.
Other dreamers need to look no further than Eliot Hudon, the 25-year-old Canadian who took down the record-setting WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas Wednesday night to earn $4.1 million and set in motion the micros to majors narrative that so many poker players have dreamed of.
Just 3.5 years ago, Hudon started with a $2,000 bankroll. He used $500 of that to invest in an online training course and then set about putting those lessons to practice. He started out by firing $1 buy-in online poker tournaments trying to figure the game out.
“I was just playing 50 cent to $5 tournaments. Then I shipped my biggest buy-in, the $5 tournament for $2,000,” Hudon said. “Then another win happened, and then eventually I could be playing pretty much $100 to $1,000 tournaments online.”
“That also went pretty well, apparently, and so I could play a $10,000 tournament here.”
Now Hudon is sitting with that $4.1 million and will have his name etched onto the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup after taking down the largest WPT event in the 20 year history of the Tour. The event drew 2,960 runners and made a mockery of the $15 million guarantee with a total prize pool of $29,008,000.
Earlier in the tournament, Hudon battled not only the other players at his table, but the emotional swings that come along with carrying a big stack in any tournament, let alone one with $4.1 million up top.
“When you start running deep, it feels like you have thoughts that are different. Some of them are saying, ‘I’m going to ship this for sure’ and then some of them are saying, ‘What if I just get coolered?’,” Hudon said. “You just have to recognize that you’re thinking those thoughts and just forget about them. As soon as I’m conscious that I’m thinking those thoughts, I know I just have to put it behind me and just keep playing.”
When the six-handed final table began, Hudon had the second biggest stack behind only Benny Glaser and there were four much smaller stacks. In preparing for the final table, Hudon gave consideration to how he should play based on his spot behind Glaser and the ICM pressure that the other four players were likely going to be under.
“Coming in second I was torn between I want to win but I also want to play properly, so I have to play tighter. I can’t just go for all the chips,” Hudon said. “I was torn, because at this point it wasn’t even about the money so much. Of course, the money is nice, but if I’m going to make it this far, I want to really win the trophy more than anything.”
Just four hands into the final table all of that pre-planning went out the window and Glaser and Hudon clashed. The hand kicked off with Glaser moving all in for 148,800,000 from the UTG with adjs. Action folded to Hudon and he had no decision to make – but not in the way he was expecting before looking down at his holdings.
“I was expecting to just look at a hand that was an easy fold and I saw kings and I had to look at it like five times to make sure that it was kings,” Hudon said. “When I see (Glaser) with ace-jack (offsuit), which he’s going to have mostly an ace or a pair here, I was hoping it was more likely going to be a pair. It was an ace and I knew I was ready to bust out. I was ready to just go out in sixth.”
Hudon couldn’t bring himself to watch as the dealer spread out the community cards. He just waited to see how his rail reacted and once the th7c5s flop, td turn, and 2h river covered the table, his friends from his hometown of Montreal, Quebec cheered loudly and Hudon was suddenly shifting into a higher gear.
“Now all of a sudden, I’m the one who’s got all the chips,” Hudon said. “So now I’m playing for the chips, the money, and the trophy.”
Even in the immediate afterglow of his victory, Hudon was self-aware enough to know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring professional poker players who could have wound up in his position had a card or two not been different at some point.
“There’s just so many guys like me, so many young guys who want this, I suppose, and I don’t deserve it more than any of these guys,” Hudon said.
After a final table that lasted just 55 hands over 2.5 hours, Hudon ended up with all the chips, the money, and the trophy and now he’s set to embark on the second act of every aspiring poker player’s dream: the world tour. With his newly inflated bankroll and the title of world champion, Hudon is about to become a familiar face at some of the biggest poker tournaments around the world to prove this victory wasn’t just some sun running exhibition.
“I’m going to The Bahamas. I’m going to go to the WSOP. I’m going to play the bigger stakes, as long as I think that I beat them, which can be tricky because everyone thinks they can win,” Hudon said. “I like to think that my self-awareness is a key element to my success so far, but you never know for sure. Maybe you are a loser, maybe you lose in that tournament, and you can’t know for sure.”
“That’s also the beauty of the game. It’s the mysterious aspect. So we’ll see. I’m going to do all the live trips that are coming, all the big ones.”