Should the WSOP pass on creating a 2020 Main Event Champion banner?

Geoff Fisk
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Posted on: December 27, 2020 2:00 pm EST

This year’s champion might look out of place adorning the halls of the Rio

Whether it’s Argentinian poker legend Damian Salas or one of the final nine from the U.S., this year’s 2020 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion will have done everything asked of them in the quest to claim poker’s ultimate prize.

The Main Event champions banners that adorn the Rio Convention Center at each year’s WSOP stand as iconic symbols. The unmistakable signs of the WSOP’s lineage exude an almost sacred status, much like the championship banners that grace the rafters of selecting sporting venues around the world.

Taking nothing away from the eventual 2020 Main Event champion; does that player’s victory warrant a 2020 banner that stands alongside the others for all future years of the WSOP?

Was there a “real” WSOP Main Event in 2020?

The WSOP Main Event championship line includes names like Chris Moneymaker, Jamie Gold, Joe Cada, and 2019 champion Hossein Ensan from the game’s modern era.

Poker fans can easily remember distinct moments and unforgettable turning points from each of those years, with the Main Event win making all of those players instant poker superstars. The champions banners displaying those players hang alongside the faces of Doyle Brunson, a baby-faced 1989 version of Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Stu Ungar, and other legends of the game.

2020 WSOP Main Event
(Image source: Twitter)

All of those pre-poker-boom era players are icons, but they’re likenesses are only displayed in the Rio at WSOP time because they’ve won the Main Event.

Does this year’s WSOP Main Event deserve to count as an “official” run of poker’s biggest tournament? Some in the poker community argue that the tournament the WSOP calls the 2020 Main Event isn’t the “real” Main Event for this year.

Included in that skeptical group is Bulgarian pro Stoyan Madanzhiev. Madanzhiev won the WSOP Online Bracelet Series $5,000 Main Event in September, a tournament that played as the centerpiece event of an online festival designed to replace the postponed live version of the 2020 WSOP.

The Online Bracelet Events series produced 85 WSOP bracelet events, with the tournament won by Madanzhiev seemingly continuing the official Main Event lineage in the eyes of some in the poker community. Madanzhiev expressed frustration when the WSOP announced intentions to run the currently playing 2020 Main Event in December:

“Looking back, If I had known I wasn’t playing the “actual” world series of poker, I probably wouldn’t have reentered. Or maybe even played. It worked well for me but I wonder how many others fell for this false advertising trap?” tweeted Madanzhiev Nov. 16.

Madanzhiev fired two bullets in the $5,000 re-entry event and eventually took down the $3,904,686 first-place prize. That nearly $4 million score will easily eclipse the sum earned by whoever emerges from the Rio as the “official” Main Event champion December 30.

Both the international and U.S. side of the 2020 Main Event awards just over $1.55 million to first place. Salas will take on the winner from the U.S. portion of the Main Event in a Dec. 30 heads-up match, with the winner scoring an additional $1 million.

As players like Daniel Negreanu have pointed out, however, the WSOP Online Bracelet Events Main Event played as a $5,000 re-entry tournament. The traditional WSOP Main Event always proceeds as a $10,000 buy-in freezeout.

The combined fields from the GGPoker international and U.S. sides of the 2020 Main Event ended up at 1,379 players. That total is impressive for any $10,000 buy-in online tournament, but is the winner of that tournament deserving of continuing the WSOP Main Event Championship lineage?

The circumstances of 2020 make the tournament that WSOP is calling the Main Event unrecognizable. Whoever wins the event deserves high praise but doesn’t belong among the lineup of champions banners at the Rio.

Featured image source: Twitter