A breakdown of Damian Salas’s first level knockout hand from the 2021 WSOP Main Event

Dave Consolazio
Published by:
Posted on November 5, 2021 7:53 am EDT

Getting a quick double-up in the early stages of the World Series of Poker Main Event is every professional poker player’s dream. A flopped set against an amateur’s top pair. A flush-over-flush situation. There are several scenarios in which less experienced players overplay their hands early in the Main Event, even though the tournament’s outstanding structure gives them plenty of incentive not to. Defending champion Damian Salas appeared to be well on his way to one of these dream scenarios in the first level on Day 1A of the 2021 WSOP Main Event. Instead, the scenario wound up being a nightmare.

With the blinds still at 100/200 and a big blind ante of 200, Salas raised to 500, and was called by Oliver Thomas and Lynne Ji. The flop came 9♥ 8♣ 7♥. Salas bet 600 and was faced with a raise to 1,200 by Thomas and a three-bet to 4,000 by Ji. The defending champion and Thomas both made the call, and all three players saw the J♥ fall on the turn.

The action checked to Oliver Thomas, who put in a bet of 12,000. Salas responded with a raise, and Thomas countered with a re-raise all-in. The cards were revealed and Salas had turned the nut flush with the A♥10♥. Thomas meanwhile had turned top two pair with the J♣9♣. With Thomas drawing to only four outs, Salas had a 90.9% chance of eliminating Thomas and taking down a massive pot. But the J♠ came down on the river to give Thomas a full house and to knock the 2020 WSOP Main Event champion down to just a few chips left. He was eliminated by Peter Gould shortly thereafter.

Thomas’s overplay worked out

When Lynne Ji put in a three-bet and got a call from Salas, Thomas could have easily folded his hand there with only a pair of nines. A jack on the turn would bring him top two pairs, and also bring in the straight for any player holding a ten. Thomas was only drawing to three non-heart tens for a gut-shot straight of his own. But he made the call.

The turn brought him top two pair, but it also brought in the straight if one of his opponents was holding a ten (and the flush if one was holding two hearts). Thomas’s hand would be drawing extremely thin against these hands as well as sets. Playing the turn cautiously would have made a lot of sense. But Thomas pushed forward and got all his chips in as a 9-to-1 dog in the first level of a $10,000 tournament.

And won.

That’s the WSOP Main Event in a nutshell. Anything can happen and fortunes can change on every street. Not even the defending champion is safe from the landmines this tournament lays out.

Featured Image Credit: Haley Hintze