It took until 2021, but the World Series of Poker has at last found its 2020 WSOP Main Event World Champion.
Following a lengthy heads-up finale played live at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on Sunday night, Argentina’s Damian Salas defeated Joseph Hebert of Louisiana to win the title and an extra $1 million on top of the $1,550,969 Salas had already pocketed for making the final two.
Salas wins WSOP Main Event after coming close in 2017
A longtime pro with previous success both online and in-person, Salas won the $10,000 no-limit hold’em tournament in which a total 1,379 players took part.
Salas found the victory especially sweet given how close he came to winning the WSOP Main Event just three years ago.
In 2017, Salas made his way through a 7,221-player field to the final table. He ultimately finished seventh for $1.425 million.
This year’s tournament had the lowest number of entries for a WSOP Main Event since before it moved from Binion’s Horseshoe to the Rio.
In 2003, Chris Moneymaker topped an 839-player field to win the title and help ignite the “poker boom” of the mid-2000s.
Lengthy heads-up duel ends in several pre-flop all-ins
Salas traveled to Las Vegas to play the heads-up finale after winning the “international” portion of the 2020 WSOP Main Event bracket. Meanwhile, Hebert came out of the “domestic” half of the tournament to reach heads-up.
The pair each began with deep stacks of 500,000 chips worth 500 big blinds to start. Playing 20-minute levels, they needed almost six hours and 173 hands to complete the showdown.
According to the WSOP.com live updates, the lead changed hands a few times before Hebert pushed out to a big 9-to-1 advantage. However, Salas managed to win a double-up and then chip up thereafter to pull even once more.
The back-and-forth battle continued with players again taking turns leading. Then Hebert won an all-in with K-Q versus the K-J of Salas to move ahead by more than 3-to-1 in chips.
Salas won the next all-in with A-10 versus A-8 to grab the lead back. Hebert then doubled with Q-4 against K-10 when a four came on the board. They were close to even once again.
Finally, the last hand arrived when Hebert shoved his stack of 390,000 with A-Q and Salas called with K-J. A king flopped to give Salas a pair. Another king on the river made it trips to give Salas the title.
An unusual year, an unusual Main Event
Sunday night’s event concluded the most unusual version of the WSOP Main Event in its half-century history.
Typically the $10,000 buy-in tournament takes place in Las Vegas during the summer. Each year thousands of players travel from all over the world to compete in the prestigious event. Over recent years, the tournament has required two weeks to complete.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 WSOP Main Event. The original schedule included 101 bracelet events (87 live, 14 online).
Instead, from July to September, online events were staged on the WSOP Nevada and New Jersey online sites and on GGPoker outside the United States.
In fact, on GGPoker, the online series concluded with a $5,000 buy-in dubbed the “WSOP Main Event.” Stoyan Madanzhiev of Bulgaria won that tournament, earning more than $3.9 million for topping a 5,802-entry field.
Many believed the tournament Madanzhiev won on GGPoker was to be considered the 2020 version of the WSOP Main Event. An announcement in November, however, made it clear that an online-live hybrid WSOP Main Event would be held in December.
Online events produce live final tables, heads-up finale
For the hybrid WSOP Main Event, players separately participated in $10,000 freezeout tournaments on the WSOP.com sites and on GGPoker. Each tournament played down to nine players online. In each case, the final nine received invitations to play a live final table to determine the two finalists.
A total of 674 players played on the international side. The final table took place at King’s Resort in Rozvadov, Czech Republic. For the domestic portion, 705 players participated online, with the final table played live at the Rio last week.
In both cases, only eight of the nine players who made the final tables ultimately participated.
On the international side, China’s Peiyun Sun chose not to travel to Rozvodov to play in person. In the U.S., three-time bracelet winner Upeshka De Silva made the final table. However he could not participate after a positive COVID test. Both Sun and Upeshka were awarded ninth-place money in their respective brackets.
In fact, the pandemic affected the scheduling of the heads-up duel as well.
The match was originally scheduled for Dec. 30. However according to the WSOP, “unforeseen travel complications presented by the COVID-19 pandemic” forced organizers to reschedule the finale on Sunday.
As noted, Salas earned $1,550,969 for winning the international bracket. Meanwhile Hebert won $1,553,256 for his victory in the domestic bracket.
Salas collected an additional $1 million added to the prize pool by the WSOP and GGPoker, making his total takeaway just over $2.55 million. It is the lowest first prize in the WSOP Main Event since 2003 when Moneymaker won $2.5 million.