Monday, November 08, 2010

2010 WSOP Main Event Final Table: Can Racener Defy Odds, History?

Jonathan Duhamel and John Racener battle tonight for the 2010 WSOP Main Event braceletTonight Jonathan Duhamel will try to turn his better than 6-to-1 chip lead over John Racener into a World Series of Poker Main Event bracelet.

The Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Dan Harrington and Erik Seidel is set to take place there in the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino at 7:30 p.m. Vegas time. Then at 8 p.m. Duhamel and Racener will be introduced, with cards scheduled to go in the air shortly thereafter.

Duhamel’s huge lead got me wondering whether Racener’s deficit might be the largest ever at the start of heads-up play. The hoodie-wearing Canadian will have 188,950,000 chips when the first hand is dealt tonight, while the gum-chewing Floridian will have but 30,750,000.

That 158 million-plus chip advantage is most certainly the largest ever to start heads-up play at the WSOP Main Event, quantity-wise. But how about in relative terms? With almost exactly 86% of the chips to start heads-up play, is Duhamel beginning tonight with the biggest-ever head start over his opponent in terms of the the percentage of total chips?

The answer is no.

Just looking back at the previous decade, there are a couple of examples in which a player had an even greater advantage to start heads-up play. Take a look:

2009 -- Joe Cada 135,950,000 (69.8%), Darvin Moon 58,850,000 (30.2%)
2008 -- Peter Eastgate 80,300,000 (58.7%), Ivan Demidov 56,600,000 (41.3%)
2007 -- Jerry Yang 104,450,000 (81.9%), Tuan Lam 23,025,000 (18.1%)
2006 -- Jamie Gold 78,975,000 (87.6%), Paul Wasicka 11,225,000 (12.4%)
2005 -- Joe Hachem 38,740,000 (68.9%), Steve Dannenmann 17,450,000 (31.1%)
2004 -- Greg Raymer 17,125,000 (67.5%), David Williams 8,240,000 (32.5%)
2003 -- Chris Moneymaker 5,490,000 (65.4%), Sam Farha 2,900,000 (34.6%)
2002 -- Robert Varkonyi 5,105,000 (80.9%), Julian Gardner 1,205,000 (19.1%)
2001 -- Carlos Mortensen ~4 million (66.7%), Dewey Tomko ~2 million (33.33%)
2000 -- Chris Ferguson ~4.6 million (90.2%), T.J. Cloutier ~500,000 (9.8%)

Looks like Jamie Gold had a slightly bigger advantage over Paul Wasicka in 2006 than Duhamel has over Racener. And while the numbers are approximate, it appears Ferguson had about a 10-to-1 chip lead over Cloutier in 2000.

By the way, looking over that list, do you notice a trend? That’s right. In each of the last 10 years at the WSOP Main Event, the player with the most chips to start heads-up play eventually won the bracelet.

Some of the matches were brief. Hachem and Dannenmann played just six hands in 2005. Gold and Wasicka didn't play much longer, lasting just 20 minutes. Other matches went on much longer and saw changes in the chip lead. Remember how Darvin Moon held the lead briefly last year during his 88-hand battle with Joe Cada?

But all 10 years, the player with the most chips going into heads-up play would be the only one left with chips when it concluded.

Statistics are harder to track down prior to 2000, but most accounts of the 1999 WSOP Main Event report that eventual winner Noel Furlong and runner-up Alan Goehring began their heads-up battle with virtually even stacks. Can say more definitively, though, that in 1998 -- the year Scotty Nguyen defeated Kevin McBride to win the bracelet -- the winner did not start that heads-up battle with the lead. McBride had something like 2.2 million to start there, while the Prince of Poker had about 1.3 million.

Odds are against Racener to break the streak, obviously. And looking at how both Duhamel and Racener played on Saturday, it certainly appears Duhamel has more than just a chip advantage going for him, having demonstrated a lot more versatility in his play than did Racener as they played down from nine to two.

But Racener was relatively short for much of the day, and thus his options often were relatively limited. And, of course, heads-up play always introduces a different dynamic which sometimes affects players’ approaches, causing them to play differently -- and/or better or worse -- than they did before.

What’s your prediction?

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