Who Will Be the Real 2020 WSOP Main Event Champion?

One thing we can say about 2020 is that is has been unpredictable.

Remember how the 2020 World Series of Poker played out in the United States and then on GGPoker for the international crowd this summer? It started on July 19 and ran through the first week of September. It drew players from 166 nations, tallied 239,754 entries in the 54 official WSOP tournaments, and paid out $147,789,550 in prize money.

There was also a tournament dubbed the 2020 WSOP Main Event. It was a $5K buy-in event with 23 starting flights and several reentries allowed per player. In the end, that tournament brought in 5,802 entries and a US$27,559,500 prize pool. Bulgarian player Stoyan Madanzhiev won the Main Event for $3904,686.

Madanzhiev assumed – as did everyone else – that he was the 2020 WSOP Main Event World Champion.

He was not.

The WSOP announced this week that there is more, three events that will determine the real WSOP Main Event champion. Sorry, Stoyan!

WSOP Main Event to Return

The announcement from the World Series of Poker this week was a surprise to many people. As mentioned, most believed the WSOP played out in the summer and declared its champion.

Not so, said WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart. “There must be a world champion in 2020,” he said. “Poker’s history is too important. It’s a unique format for the Main Event, but this is a unique year. We want to keep players’ health and safety top of mind and still deliver a great televised showcase for the game we love.”

That unique format involves a Main Event for US players on WSOP.com and a Main Event for international players on GGPoker. The two winners of those events will then meet in Las Vegas on December 30 to play a heads-up match for $1 million.

The WSOP calls it a hybrid online and live version of the $10K No Limit Hold’em World Championship, also known as the Main Event.

It will more closely resemble the traditional Main Event than did the one held this summer. The new Main Event will be a $10K buy-in tournament with no reentries, no prize pool guarantee, and the usual three starting days.

International Players Start First

Per the WSOP’s relationship with GGPoker – not to mention the site’s chief ambassador, Daniel Negreanu – the international version of the tournament will be on GGPoker. It will start online as follows:

  • Sunday, November 29: Day 1A, first of three starting flights
  • Saturday, December 5: Day 1B, second of three starting flights
  • Sunday, December 6: Day 1C, final starting flight
  • Monday, December 7: Day 2, all survivors play down to the final table
  • Monday, December 15: Live final table

For the final table, the action moves online. The final nine players at the final table will play it out for the win at King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic. This is the casinos that planned to host the WSOP Europe in 2020, as in previous years, but had to cancel due to coronavirus restrictions.

The action could be rescheduled or played online should the pandemic present travel problems or the ability for King’s to even host the tournament per Czech government guidelines.

Should a player from Canada, for example, make the final table, the WSOP will – pandemic permitting – likely arrange for a last-minute flight to King’s Casino, as well as hotel accommodations and travel expenses. This is not clear per the press release but assumed to be the case.

US Players Up Next

American players will have their own opportunity to compete in a Main Event. They can play it on WSOP.com but only from the states of Nevada or New Jersey.

The tournament details will be the same except for the playdown, which will only offer one starting day.

  • Sunday, December 13: Day 1, play for 20 levels
  • Monday, December 14: Day 2, all survivors play down to the final table
  • Monday, December 28: Live final table

The US players will then make their way to Las Vegas, where the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino will host the final table action for the last nine players. The Rio has not yet reopened from its March pandemic-related shutdown but is scheduled to open its doors again on December 22.

Winners Meet in Vegas

Notice there will be two champions, one in the US and the other an international one. Only one will win the ultimate WSOP Main Event bracelet and carry the title of Main Event World Champion.

The winners of the tournaments – one at King’s via GGPoker and another at the Rio via WSOP.com – will meet in Las Vegas at the Rio on Wednesday, December 30.

They will play a heads-up match that will be filmed by ESPN for television. They will play for the bracelet and title…and $1 million put into the pot by the WSOP and GGPoker. It will be a winner-take-all pot.

What Happens If…

During a pandemic, there seem to be a lot of uncertainties. What may seem like a good idea this month may be impossible next month. The virus doesn’t seem to care about plans.

Should positive Covid-19 cases spike further than they are currently in the pandemic’s second wave, the WSOP acknowledges that it may need to play its international or US final table – possibly both – at a later date or online. However, since the goal is to play it all out in 2020 to declare a 2020 WSOP Main Event champion, online play seems the most likely.

What if a final table player is uncomfortable or unable to travel to the final table location?

The WSOP says that any player may forfeit his or her seat at the final table and accept the payout for ninth place.

What if a final table or heads-up player tests positive for Covid-19?

Since players will be tested at their respective casinos for Covid-19 and ahead of the Las Vegas heads-up match, it is likely that a player may test positive for the virus whether displaying symptoms or not. A player who tests positive will be disqualified from play and must accept ninth-place money.

If it happens at the heads-up match in Las Vegas, they will likely need to find a way to play it out, as ESPN will be prepared to film the action for television.

What if border restrictions prohibit players from traveling to a final table or heads-up location?

It appears this may prompt the WSOP to take the action online. However, any decisions for situations such as these will likely be made only if necessary.


Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen


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