At long last, a 2020 poker world champion is crowned

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on 01/04/2021

Months after the WSOP Main Event was originally scheduled to run, Damian Salas, an Argentinian, is the 2020 poker world champion. The Argentinian won a lengthy heads-up battle against Joseph Hebert to take down the bracelet. He also receives an additional $1 million for his performance.

Hebert and Salas battled at the Rio in Las Vegas Sunday night for over five hours. Neither player would give in and let up as there was simply too much riding on the victory.

Both players had already secured $1.5 million scores. Salas won his money via the GGPoker online tournament and then the live final table at King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, while Hebert outlasted the WSOP.com field and Rio final table.

For winning their respective final tables, they both earned a right to compete heads-up for the WSOP Main Event title and an extra $1 million in cash money on December 30. Salas, however, ran into a few COVID-19 related hiccups on his way from Buenos Aires to Las Vegas. So, the heads-up match was bumped back to January 3.

The wait turned out to be just fine for Salas in the end. He became even richer and is now a member of the most prestigious group in poker — World Series of Poker Main Event champions. He joins the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, and last year’s champion, Hossein Ensan.

Ensan served as the reigning champ for five months longer than he expected. The 2020 WSOP in Las Vegas was canceled due to COVID-19. But the series organizers eventually put together a hybrid online-live version.

Better result this time around

In 2017, Damian Salas reached the Main Event final table with dreams of becoming a world champion and winning $8 million. He didn’t quite reach that goal, but still walked away from the felt $1.4 million richer, having finished in 7th place.

Few get a second opportunity to win the Main Event, and Salas was grateful for that chance. He certainly made the most of it.

Unfortunately, the heads-up finale wasn’t live-streamed and media members weren’t allowed inside the Rio Convention Center to watch the match. So, we can’t provide inside details about what went down, other than the accounts from the WSOP.com live reporting team.

The match lasted over five hours and there weren’t many big hands reported. For nearly three hours, the chip lead went back and forth, but neither player could pull away. The match remained close for quite some time before Hebert finally took control.

But Salas wasn’t about to give in. He’s been to the Main Event final table before, and his experience paid off. He remained patient and bided his time before catching up again.

Late in the contest, the blinds had gotten so big that there weren’t many difficult decisions for the players to make. They pretty much had to find a hand and go with it or fold. There were only about 15 big blinds in play when the match ended. No one expected it to last so long.

On the final hand, Hebert picked up A-Q, the same hand he sucked out with against Ron Jenkins’ pocket queens last week to win at the WSOP.com final table. Salas was a bit behind with K-J, but still about a 40% shot to win the hand. With the blinds so big, it was an easy decision for both players to move all-in.

This time around for Hebert, however, that ace-queen wasn’t so kind. The board ran out 5-K-8-5-K, giving Salas a full house. That wrapped up the 2020 WSOP Main Event, at long last.

For his win, Salas earned an extra $1 million, making it $2.5 million for the tournament. Hebert, on the other hand, didn’t receive any additional money, but will still head back to Louisiana where he resides with a $1.5 million overall score.

““Independently of the money, and I keep saying this, I don’t care of the money,” Salas, who doesn’t speak English, told the media through a translator afterwards. “I play because of the challenge, because of the love of poker.”

Salas was complimentary of his heads-up opponent. He referred to Hebert as a “very hard opponent who played well.” The champion also said he believes he is an “elite player,” and felt he was elite back in 2017 when he first reached the WSOP Main Event final table. But he is unsure if his game has improved over the past three years.

With the conclusion of the 2020 WSOP Main Event, we now look ahead to the 2021 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas next summer. That is, of course, assuming we have a series. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

Featured image source: Twitter