First ever Argentine world champion
It may have taken until 2021 to happen but the history books will finally be able to record Damian Salas as the 2020 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Champion. The lawyer by day walks away with the coveted gold bracelet and a $2.5 million USD payday.
The showdown occurred at the traditional Rio Hotel & Casino but aside from the location, very little of this year’s Main Event was normal. Many poker players were surprised the event was even occurring, thinking that Bulgarian Stoyan Madanzhiev had the title this year after winning this summer’s WSOP Online Main Event. But the WSOP decided that the Main Event champion would need to be both a $10,000 buy-in and have a live element so a hybrid tournament was created.
Long international journey to Las Vegas
The journey to Sunday’s final heads-up table kicked off November 29 online on GGPoker catering to international players. After three initial flights to kick off the action, the 674 entrants played down to a final nine players who gathered at King’s Casino in the Czech Republic for a live final table. On December 15, Salas managed to knock-out Brunno Botteon and claimed victory in the international segment.
The WSOP though has a strong American heritage with the vast majority of past Main Event winners coming from the land of the free. For players from the USA, their online journey to celebrity kicked off December 13 at WSOP.com. Only open to players in US states with legal, online poker, the event nevertheless managed to draw even more entrants than the international version with 705 players ponying up the entry fee. Here again, the play began online before transitioning to a live final table.
It was once things got to Las Vegas that things took a turn for the unusual after an early final table favourite, Upeshka De Silva, was disqualified prior to the start after a positive Covid-19 test. Although short-stacked, many favoured his chances due to his three previous bracelets and multiple WSOP final tables. Once all the cards had been dealt though, 38-year-old poker pro Joseph Hebert had won the American bracket. All that was left was for the Louisiana native relax for a couple days in Vegas before sitting down to a heads-up match against Salas for the bracelet.
Heads-up title match rescheduled
For Salas though, the journey was a bit more difficult. He had come from South America to the Czech Republic for the final table and now needed to fly over to the United States. With quarantine and health guidelines, things were looking dicey for Salas making his December 28 heads-up match.
“I don’t deny that I was stressed out,” he said. “But I tried to accept the situation and resolve the problems in that moment.”
After being denied boarding at the airport twice, and with three flight changes, Salas finally made it stateside and the long-awaited heads-up match could finally begin – Sunday, January 3, 2021.
Seesaw battle back and forth heads-up
Although Hebert is the poker professional and Salas a lawyer by trade, the Argentinian did have one big advantage on his side – experience. Salas made it to the final table of the 2017 WSOP Main Event before eventually busting out in seventh.
That didn’t seem to matter at the start though as Hebert picked off a bluff by Salas to run up the chip lead before eventually topping out at a nearly 10 to 1 chip advantage. Salas never gave up though and after 173 hands, his King Jack spiked a King on the flop to send Hebert and his Ace Queen to the rail.
“Joseph was a very hard opponent, and he played really well. In a few instances, he was about to win, it was a real fight and he never slowed down,” Salas told WSOP.com after the victory.
“Going into the championship, I felt all the energy and support from my family and friends in Argentina tonight, and that helped me.”
In addition, to be coming only the second South American to take down the Main Event (after Ecuador’s Juan Carlos Mortensen), he’ll join plenty of other household poker names such as Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth when his portrait is raised at the Rio next year. If you’re looking to get a jump on next year’s WSOP – whether it will be online or live – take a look at our review of GGPoker and maybe a Salas moment can be in your future.