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Benjamin Lablond Wins Canadian Open Poker Championship

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Jeff Madsen came oh-so-close to winning the main event at the 2009 Canadian Open Poker Championship in Calgary, Alberta this week. The two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and the 2006 WSOP player of the year had the event well in hand, but Quebec’s Benjamin Lablond came from the edge of elimination to win the title and its $100,000 first prize.

Lablond was down one game to nothing and sitting with a mere 800 chips in the second game of their best two-out-of-three affair. With 18,200 chips, Madsen seemed a lock to take the title, but after a series of consecutive double ups and Lablond battled back. Amazingly, the comeback was complete just ten minutes later, squaring the match at 1-1.

The third game lasted about an hour and the players got it all-in pre-flop with Mdesen holding A-10 versus Lablond’s pocket fours. A 10 hit the flop but so did a 4 and the Canadian was able to pull off the improbably comeback. For his efforts, Lablond pocketed $100,000 and well-deserved bragging rights after surviving an extremely tough field that included 11-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth, Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari, Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, Gavin Smith, Brad Booth, and defending champ Huck Seed.

Lablond’s road to victory was no picnic. He defeated Canadian Champion Richard Webb in the round of 16, Hellmuth in the quarterfinals, Brad Booth in the semis and then Madsen in the finale.

Madsen almost didn’t make it into the money. In the round of 16 he was down to his last 1,500 chips in the third game before turning things around. He received $50,000 for his runner-up finish. “I’ll definitely be back next year,” said Madsen. “The slow blind structure and best two-out-of-three format really allowed for a lot of play. I wish all heads-up tournaments were structured this way.”

The star attraction was Hellmuth, who as part of the proceedings was the centerpiece of a “White Hat” ceremony conducted by the deputy mayor of Calgary. Seed, Gavin Smith, Greg “FBT” Mueller and Esfandiari were also presented the city’s White Hat honor during the VIP kickoff party hosted by the Canadian Poker Tour. “It was a great honor to receive the key to the city. I mean that doesn’t happen all the time,” said Hellmuth, who wore the white cowboy hat during his matches.

The biggest surprise of the tournament had to be the play of Mike Matusow, who was handing out copies of his new book Check Raising the Devil. He lost his first-round best-of-three battle in an astonishing 20 minutes. “That’s the worst I have ever played, I mean ever,” he said. “I’ve been on a big rush lately winning online and sports betting and I didn’t want to come. Plus, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews for my book and I wasn’t feeling well. I’m not making excuses because I really did play bad.”

Huck Seed, the 1996 world champion and current NBC Heads-Up Invitational champion was not able to defend his title after being eliminated in the first round. Scott Montgomery, who final-tabled at last year’s World Series of Poker main event, was also a first-round loser.

The Canadian Open consisted of five events with an estimated prize pool of $1,000,000. There were two $550 No-Limit Hold’em tournaments, a $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em tournament, a $200 Pot-Limit Hold’em event with re-buys and the main event, the $5,000 heads-up showdown. The main event attracted 94 players and took four days to play. The shortest match was Matusow’s ,while the longest was an eight-hour marathon between Herb Van Dyke and John Mayberry.

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