The World Series of Poker has crowned a World Champion for 2020, as the $10,000 Championship Main Event concluded on January 3 in Las Vegas.
Damian Salas became the first South American WSOP Main Event champion, after defeating Joseph Hebert in a lengthy heads-up battle. The Argentinian claimed the coveted gold bracelet and an additional $1 million.
Three starting days of the $10,000 WSOP Main Event took place on the GGPoker Network (GGPN) and created a field of 674 entries. The domestic version was hosted with a single starting day on the WSOP.com client for players in Nevada and New Jersey.
The 45-year-old lawyer from Chascomus, a city more than 120km south of Buenos Aires, considers himself a passionate amateur player. Salas has had plenty of success prior to his victory in Las Vegas, and 2020 saw him enjoy a very promising year on the GGPN.
He has cashed in the WSOP $10,000 Main Event several times since 2009, even making it to 7th place in 2017 for $1,425,000. Fast forward three years and Salas entered the $10,000 Freezeout on the GGPN for the third and final starting day, turning his stack of 60,000 into 266,036.
Just one day later, all Day 1 survivors played down to the nine-handed final table. Salas made it through with the third biggest stack.
The live-online poker hybrid would determine a champion for the International Leg at King’s Resort in the Czech Republic, and all finalists had one week to make the necessary travel arrangements.
For Salas, that meant a long international trip all the way from Argentina during a global pandemic. Eventual 2nd place winner Brunno Botteon had an equally long journey from Brazil.
It would not be the only travel obstacle for Salas, who after winning the International Leg headed back home. His attempts to travel to the US for the Heads-Up Championship was denied twice due to COVID-19 restrictions. Luckily for Salas, he ultimately made it to Las Vegas with his wife, brother and two friends.
Back to the final table of the International Leg, where eight of the nine finalists made it to King’s Resort. Only China’s Peiyuan Sun opted not to travel and thus received the 9th place payout, as per the predetermined rules of this unique tournament.
The first two-hour session featured the eliminations of Hannes Speiser, Stoyan Obreshkov and Dominykas Mikolaitis. Salas then became a major contender and took over the lead after he won a big pot off Botteon, with top pair against second pair and a busted straight draw.
Salas continued to pull further away to the top of the leaderboard, when Marco Streda jammed ace-king into the aces of Manuel Ruivo to reduce the field to the final four. The UK-based Spaniard Ramon Miquel Munoz was next to fall with a severe short stack.
Down to the final three, Salas’ lead became smaller. A pivotal battle with Ruivo brought the Argentinian back on track however, when his flush draw got there against two pair.
The heads-up duel with Bruno Botteon lasted some two dozen hands as Botteon gained the lead temporarily, only for Salas to pull way ahead. Ultimately, Botteon ran a gutsy bluff with a busted straight and flush draw to get called by Salas with rivered top two pair.
2020 ended with a huge payday of $1,062,723 for Botteon, while Salas earned the top prize of $1,550,969 and the spot in the heads-up final.
One day prior to the live final table at King’s Resort, the domestic part of the Championship Event played down to its final table on the WSOP.com client. Only players situated in the US states of Nevada and New Jersey were allowed to participate. Once the final nine were set, they were allowed two weeks to prepare for the live showdown.
Three-time WSOP bracelet winner Upeshka De Silva reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, as all domestic qualifiers underwent screening prior to the final table at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. As per the rules, De Silva was deemed not eligible to participate in the final table and received the 9th place payout. The other eight finalists passed their tests and took a seat to determine a champion on December 28, 2020.
Joseph Hebert started the final table with a big lead and never surrendered the top spot until the heads-up against Ron Jenkins. It was Jenkins who dealt the first blow on the final table by knocking out Gershon Distenfeld. Jenkins picked up queens once more in a three-way all-in to eliminate Shawn Stroke in 7th place. Harrison Dobin was left short after that hand and was next to hit the rail.
Hebert notched up his first elimination by sending Tony Yuan out in 5th place. Jenkins then took care of Ryan Hagerty with ace-jack versus ace-eight. Heads-up was reached when Michael Cannon stood no chance with king-queen against the aces of Hebert, who claimed a two-to-one lead over Jenkins.
While both players were deep-stacked, they got it in the very first hand of heads-up with Hebert holding ace-queen versus queens and in need of an ace. Sure enough an ace appeared right away on the flop and Jenkins had to settle for $1,002,340, as Hebert secured the top prize of $1,533,256.
The Heads-Up Championship duel between Salas and Hebert was supposed to take place two days later on December 30. However, it had to be postponed a few days as Salas struggled with permission to enter the US.
Due to having previously visited Europe 15 days prior, he was initially denied entry due to COVID-19 restrictions. The trip was finally made possible on December 30, and the heads-up match was rescheduled for January 3 of the new year.
Both players sat down with 500,000 in chips and the first level featured blinds of 500-1,000. All levels lasted 20 minutes each. Salas took an early lead but Hebert struck back to then take a commanding lead. The first all-in and call took place in hand #83 and Salas prevailed with ace-deuce versus king-five to stay in contention.
The duel continued to be a very tense affair, with both Salas and Hebert avoiding elimination. Ultimately, with just 20 big blinds in play the chips went in again in hand #173, as Salas called the shove of Hebert with king-jack versus ace-queen. The Argentinian flopped top pair and rivered a full house to win the match, earning the coveted gold bracelet and the $1 million bonus prize.
And that wraps up the final WSOP bracelet event for 2020, although the WSOP Winter Online Circuit on the GGPN is still ongoing. There will be a stunning $10 million guarantee up for grabs in its $1,700 Main Event. Open to poker enthusiasts in eligible countries all over the world, Day 2 will take place on January 10.
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