The decision by WSOP organisers to host live final tables in the United States and Europe as part of a makeshift 2020 World Series of Poker main event has come under fire after COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the WSOP’s plans.
In an eventful yet largely predictable conclusion to the main event, the WSOP announced Tuesday that the heads-up battle between US domestic final table champion Joseph Hebert and international champion Damian Salas to decide this year’s title would be postponed by four days until 3 January 2021 after Salas, from Argentina, was denied entry into the United States.
According to a report by South American poker news site CodigoPoker, authorities in both Dallas and Miami – Salas’ two possible US entry points – have refused to recognize a travel exemption obtained by the WSOP on behalf of the Argentinian because he has been in Europe within the past 15 days, ironically for the WSOP International final table in Rozvadov, Czech Republic.
Under a new-look format, this year’s main event was split into two separate hybrid online/offline tournaments.
The international division, which attracted 674 entries, was held on GGPoker with the final table then hosted live at King’s Resort in the Czech Republic on 15 December. The US division attracted 705 entries via WSOP.com with a live final table at the Rio in Las Vegas on 28 December. Salas, who collected US$1,550,969 as international champion, and Hebert who won US$1,553,256, had originally been scheduled to face-off on 30 December but will now meet heads-up this Sunday with the winner to take home another US$1 million.
However, the final table delay wasn’t the only COVID-induced issue the WSOP has faced during this main event.
The international final table in Rozvadov began with only eight players after China’s Peiyuan Sun chose not to travel, most likely due to concerns over Europe’s growing COVID-19 crisis.
Likewise, the US final table found itself a player short after Upeshka De Silva was disqualified for testing positive to COVID-19 that morning. Both Sun and De Silva were awarded ninth-place prize money.
While the circumstances surrounding De Silva’s disqualification have divided opinions on social media, there has been plenty of criticism from the global poker community over the WSOP’s decision to host live final tables in the midst of a pandemic.
“What a blunder by WSOP even running the event,” said veteran US pro Shannon Shorr. “Would pay lots for footage of the zoom call of the [brains trust] as they orchestrated it. ‘Hell, if they get COVID just disqualify ‘em!’”
Former WPT Borgata and two-time EPT main event champion Olivier Busquet said, “I didn’t play the 10k fake main event and one major reason was because I wanted to avoid this possibility. The idea was ridiculous.”
From two-time WSOP bracelet winner Mike Gorodinsky, “You gotta hand it to WSOP for year after year coming up with creative new ways to tarnish their image. I respect the ingenuity of the mid-pandemic hybrid live event where you brutally punish players for getting ill.”
And from six-time WSOP final tablist Matt Glantz, “Fake main event in the middle of a pandemic when nobody needs to be playing poker live in a confined area. WSOP throwing a hail Mary to fulfill a TV contract (only way to get paid).”
Both Glantz and 2006 WSOP Player of the Year Jeff Madsen appear to reference WSOP Online, the online summer series that saw 85 gold bracelets awarded and Bulgaria’s Stoyan Madanzhiev paraded as the 2020 WSOP Main Event champion after topping the much larger 5,802 player field.
“So glad I didn’t play the fake WSOP 10k online COVID main,” said Madsen of this latest WSOP main event. “Shameful year for poker.”