Salas Becomes First Argentinian WSOP Main Event Champ

The 2020 World Series of Poker Main Event finished on the first weekend of 2021. It shouldn’t be surprising, as few things in 2020 went as planned.

On the night of January 3, two WSOP winners – one from Argentina and the other from America – met up in Las Vegas to play a heads-up poker match. ESPN wanted footage for television, the WSOP wanted to give it to them, and the players wanted the $1 million prize and the 2020 WSOP Main Event bracelet.

When it was all said and done, Damian Salas of Argentina captured the coveted title, gold bracelet, and million dollars. Both players seemed to have a good time, and both exhibited good sportsmanship, love of family, and a true passion for poker.

How They Earned Seats to a $1M Freeroll

The World Series of Poker was determined to have a Main Event, not one that was affiliated with its summer WSOP Online series. So, in November, much to the surprise of everyone who thought they played the Main Event several months ago – especially to the surprise of that Main Event’s champion – the WSOP announced a Main Event.

The end-of-year 2020 Main Event was going to be a traditional $10K buy-in with no reentries. Technically, there were three tournaments involved, two of them starting with online poker components.

The first was the international version that played out on GGPoker via its partnership with the WSOP. Its final table then played in mid-December at King’s Casino in the Czech Republic. The second was the American version, offered in two states on WSOP.com and culminating in a live final table at the Rio in Las Vegas on December 28.

Damian Salas of Argentina won the international tournament for $1,550,969.

Joseph Hebert of Louisiana won the American tournament for $1,553,256.

Both of the players were then to play heads-up for the WSOP Main Event bracelet. As added incentive to play, WSOP and GGPoker put $1 million into the pot for the winner. It was set for December 30.

Pandemic Prompts Postponement

WSOP executives thought they took care of everything. They gave a special exemption certificate to Salas, who would be entering the United States from Argentina during a pandemic. To cover any possible customs issues, the WSOP provided Salas with that certificate.

What the WSOP didn’t consider was another rule implemented during the second wave of the pandemic in the United States. Anyone having been in Europe had to wait 15 days before entering the US. Salas had not been home for 15 days from the Czech Republic.

Unfortunately, Salas found out about this as he was preparing to leave his home for the airport. He was not happy, per an exclusive Codigo Poker report.

Regardless, Salas accepted the delay and flew to Las Vegas on New Year’s Day. Hebert and his family stayed quarantined in Las Vegas over the holiday to accommodate. The WSOP then scheduled the heads-up tournament for January 3.

Hella Long Heads-Up

The worst outcome for ESPN would have been a heads-up match that lasted one hand or just a few hands. Luckily, the table consisted of two players who valued the money and title and who planned to play solid poker.

Salas and Hebert were set up with 500K chips and 20-minute levels, starting with 500/1,000 blinds.

The tournament was not livestreamed or available for the public to watch. PokerNews was on hand to provide live updates.

Salas took the first small pot, but both competitors played solid small-ball poker to get the action underway. The Argentinian player took a slight lead during the first 30-35 hands, but Hebert mounted a comeback and took over the lead as the match neared 50 hands, though Salas took it back a dozen hands later.

Salas then extended his lead with some aggressive play, keeping the pressure on Hebert. But Hebert again pushed out to a lead and then took a huge pot to climb to 775K, leaving Salas with only 225K. Salas’ stack shrunk to 102K before he doubled to 204K. Salas lost ground and doubled again on the 101st hand of the night.

While Salas couldn’t seem to find any more double-up spots, he did slowly chip up. About two dozen hands later, Salas had nearly evened the stacks again. And then he took his lead back. By the end of Level 13, Hebert was down to 320K. The American lost ground but doubled to take a slight lead.

The game became a bit more tense with escalating blinds.

Salas took the lead back on the 160th hand. Hebert then doubled through Salas on the 163rd hand to 760K. But by the 170th hand, Salas made his move and doubled through Hebert to 780K. Hebert doubled back on the very next hand, almost evening the stacks once again.

Salas did have a slight lead going into the 173rd hand. Hebert pushed with ace-queen, and Salas called with king-jack. The dealer presented 5-K-8-5-K, giving Salas the win.

2020 Main Event Final Results

The payout for this tournament was simple. Winner Damian Salas claimed the $1 million, Main Event bracelet, and the title of Main Event champion.

Hebert quickly became a beloved US champion, exhibiting a passion for the game and his fiancée and eight-year-old son. He also spoke lovingly – and sadly – about his mother, who supported his career but died suddenly earlier in 2020. Hebert was gracious in defeat.

Salas is an attorney in Argentina and plays poker for fun. However, he has played some major tournaments around the world, even making the final table of the 2017 WSOP Main Event. He finished in seventh place there for $1,425,000. This time, with some family having flown to the US with him and mementos of his kids with him, the family man was an emotional winner.

Salas became the first Argentinian player to win the WSOP Main Event. In fact, he is only the fourth player from Argentina to ever have won a WSOP bracelet.

The vast majority of Main Event winners were US-born men. The exceptions now include Damian Salas:

  • 1987 & 1988 WSOP: Johnny Chan (born in China but lived in US)
  • 1990 WSOP: Mansour Matloubi (Iran)
  • 1992 WSOP: Hamid Dastmalchi (Iran)
  • 1998 WSOP: Scotty Nguyen (born in Vietnam but lived in US)
  • 1999 WSOP: Noel Furlong (Ireland)
  • 2001 WSOP: Carlos Mortensen (born in Ecuador but lived in Spain)
  • 2005 WSOP: Joseph Hachem (Australia)
  • 2007 WSOP: Jerry Yang (born in Laos but lived in US)
  • 2008 WSOP: Peter Eastgate (Denmark)
  • 2010 WSOP: Jonathan Duhamel (Canada)
  • 2011 WSOP: Pius Heinz (Germany)
  • 2014 WSOP: Martin Jacobson (Sweden)
  • 2016 WSOP: Qui Nguyen (born in Vietnam but lived in US)
  • 2019 WSOP: Hossein Ensan (Germany)
  • 2020 WSOP: Damian Salas (Argentina)

 

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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