At 7:30 pm on a Sunday night at the Rio in Las Vegas, Mark Radoja ran across the ESPN television stage and shouted “I don't believe it!” just as he was mobbed by a cheering rail of supporters who included several fellow poker pros.Seconds earlier, he'd been locked into a death stare against his lone opponent, a tough up-and-coming player named Don Nguyen, who finished as runner-up. The final two combatants competing for a WSOP gold bracelet were at the tail end of a long three-day journey, where there would ultimately be only one winner.The transition from a stoic poker-faced Radoja into an athlete running around the poker table celebrating victory reveals that behind the mask of emotional and financial detachment are real people, who love to win and hate to lose.“Last year when I finished second, it was tough,” Radoja said. “It was like a dagger. It's true that the deeper you go, the worse you feel right after you get eliminated....coming back in this one was very exciting for me.”Indeed, perhaps it was that painful memory of coming so close to winning a gold bracelet last year that made this win extra special. With this victory, Radoja now has two wins and one second place showing over the past three years – a mark exceeded only by Matt Matros, the Limit Hold'em specialist from New York City who has wins in three consecutive years.Two years ago, Radoja won his first gold bracelet in the $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em Shootout. Last year, Radoja came in second place. And now, he has a win in this tournament. His combined WSOP results since 2007 show 18 cashes, 4 final table appearances -- and now – two gold bracelet victories. With this $336,190 prize, his total WSOP earnings now total nearly $1.5 million.Radoja is a 27-year-old poker pro from the Canadian poker hotbed known as Guelph, Ontario. He became the fifth Canadian winner at this year's series, so far. Remarkably, the five-win mark matches the total number of wins achieved by Canadians during the entire 61-tournament series in 2012 (which was still impressive given their relatively small number). Canadians have now won one-third of all gold bracelets awarded, so far – five out of 15 (completed events).This year's $10,000 buy-in Heads-Up No-Limit Hold'em attracted 162 entries. The top 16 finishers collected prize money.Phil Hellmuth made the final eight, and was eliminated – fittingly by Radoja, who would end up as the winner. This marked Hellmuth's first cash of this series and represented his 97th in-the-money finish for his storied career at the WSOP – the most of any player in history
MEET GOLD BRACELET WINNER – MARK RADOJA
Name: Mark Radoja
Current Residence: Guelph, Ontario (Canada)
Marital Status: Single
Occupation: Professional Poker Player
WSOP Cashes (including this event): 18
First WSOP Cash (year): 2007
WSOP Final Table Appearances: 4
WSOP Wins (with this victory): 2INTERVIEW WITH THE CHAMPION
WSOP: How does it feel to win your second WSOP gold bracelet?
Radoja: This one was really special. It was different for me this time because it was such a test and the field was so strong. It was a smaller field, but the caliber of players here was unbelievable.
WSOP: You were considerably more emotional following this victory than last time you won. Why?
Radoja: There wasn't much emotion until I started to come back (from a deficit) and thought I had a chance. I knew I had a chance going into [the final heads-up match against Don Nguyen] but once I got down I had started to write it off in the back of my mind, even though I still had hope. Then, all the sudden a lot of chips came my way and I thought this might actually happen. That just excited me more.
WSOP: Who was the toughest player you faced in the heads-up format?
Radoja: I do not remember his name right now. I was playing early on against a young man who was 24-years-old from Las Vegas. I can't believe I just said 'young man,' since I'm 27. I think he was my toughest opponent.
WSOP: Where does this rank for your career as a poker pro?
Radoja: This was a really big deal for me. I really care about the money, but I'm a competitive guy. Last year when I finished second, it was tough. It was like a dagger. You don't feel right after you get eliminated. You feel good later. Coming back in this one was very exciting for me.
WSOP: Tell us more about the competition you faced.
Radoja: It's an absolutely perfect format. The skill involved is very high. You look at the field. It really is difficult. A lot of really good poker players pass on this event, which is why there are just 160 people. It's an absolute thrill and honor to be at the top of that because it's not just skill or luck, it's a really good combination of both. I'm really happy I brought my A-game and that the cards fell my way.
WSOP: Can you talk more about the Heads-Up format and what makes this different from other tournaments?
Radoja: This is a big event. All eyes are on it. You are playing every single hand. If you fold, there's a new one coming up. It's the highest skill level there is. It's not the longest blinds or the deepest structures, so I'm not going sit here and say I'm the best heads-up player in the world. But I thankfully did not let my game slip and have no regrets the whole way about the cards that came.
WSOP: Are there any people you want to thank who helped you get to this point in your career?
Radoja: Certainly. All my friends, and especially all the people at the house here in Las Vegas. And all my poker friends back at home, who are wathcing and who helped me. This one is for you guys. They aren't my friends. They're my brothers.
WSOP: This marks the fifth win for Canada at this year's WSOP – a remarkable feat given you are a small percentage of the field. Why are so many Canadians doing so well at the WSOP?
Radoja: We're awesome, that's what's going on. Canadians are good poker players. Guts, determination, we talk all the time, we share hands, we get better and better – so it's not coincidence we thrive here every year and get better. I think it's pretty cool. I think you're going to see more than five this year.
MORE ABOUT GUELPH (RADOJA'S HOMETOWN): Guelph is a small city in southern Ontario (Canada). It’s part of what is called the tri-cities, which also includes Kitchener and Waterloo. Guelph is known as “The Royal City.” Guelph is also increasingly known as a place that produces great poker talent. Mark Radoja called Guelph his hometown. Consider also that gold bracelet winner Gavin Smith grew up in Guelph. Steve Paul-Ambrose, with nearly $2 million in live tournament winnings, lives near Guelph. Mike McDonald, one of the top online players in the world, is from Guelph. Grant Pittman, one of the best online cash game players, lives nearby. About an hour away resides Howard Goldfarb, who finished as a runner-up to Dan Harrington in the 1995 WSOP Main Event Championship. Pat Pezzin, another respected pro, lives roughly the same distance, too. Then there’s poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, who is originally from Toronto, which is approximately 40 miles away.