Damian Salas wins the (other) WSOP Main Event

Images: Melissa Haereiti

Argentina’s Damian Salas has claimed victory against American Joseph Hebert to bring the 51st World Series of Poker (WSOP) to a close.

The US$10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship Main Event, which was presented as an online/live hybrid format in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, generated a total prize pool of more than US$13.2 million from 1,379 entries across two online verticals.

Salas, whose best result was seventh in the 2017 WSOP Main Event, qualified for the heads-up battle in Las Vegas after winning the “International” online tournament bracket hosted on GGPoker, which ended with a live final table at King’s Resort, Rozvadov in the Czech Republic. The 45-year-old practicing lawyer defeated Brunno Botteon of Brazil heads-up for more than US$1.5 million.

Salas then watched on as the “United States” bracket was completed via WSOP.com in late December. Hebert, who qualified for the tournament via a US$300 satellite, completed the online leg of his journey in dominating fashion, starting the live final table with the chip lead and never looking back to earn his US$1.5 million payday.

Both players then contested the ultimate heads-up showdown at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on Monday afternoon Australian time.  After a gruelling battle that lasted 173 hands, Salas clinched victory to earn himself the coveted gold bracelet and a further US$1 million in prize money.

wsop Bracelet

Salas was modest in victory, graciously thanking his supporters at home and tipping the proverbial cap to Hebert in his post-match interview. 

“Joseph was a very hard opponent and he played really well,” he said.  “In a few instances, he was about to win, it was a real fight and he never slowed down.

“Going into the championship, I felt all the energy and support from my family and friends in Argentina tonight and that helped me.”

While there is no doubt that Salas’ achievements deserve widespread recognition and praise, many are still questioning the overall validity of this tournament on several counts.

Up until Caesars Entertainment announced that this tournament was going ahead in early November, the vast majority of the poker world had counted Bulgaria’s Stoyan Madanzhiev as 2020 WSOP world champion after he won the US$5000 buy-in WSOP Online Main Event in August, besting 5,802 players to claim a massive US$3.9 million payday.

Heads Up

The tournament drew further criticism after the terms and conditions of entry were published, which ultimately saw two players fall victim: Peiyuan Sun, who was unable to travel from China to compete in the International final, and four-time WSOP bracelet winner Upeshka De Silva, who tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the start of the US final table.

Both players were effectively disqualified and awarded the minimum payouts for their respective final tables – and yet, tournament officials were able to reschedule the heads-up battle for Salas, who was initially denied entry to the United States due to border restrictions.

And whilst this was all within the rules, many people are still not convinced the event should have gone ahead in the first place given the current state of the pandemic globally.

Still, WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart remains optimistic that things will return to normal next summer, thanking “everyone who participated in this chapter of WSOP history … [we] can’t wait to see you in Las Vegas later this year.”

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