There’s no denying that 2020 was an absolute calamity for the poker community. When the lockdowns forced casinos and card rooms around the world it was uncertain when they would reopen for business. Almost certainly, some would close their doors forever.
The year wasn’t a total loss though. The online sector performed well, with traffic figures reaching five-year highs. When summer arrived the question on everyone's lips was would there be a World Series of Poker. Las Vegas was struggling particularly bad, but fortunately two poker sites stepped to the fore and delivered a series.
Best We Could Have Hoped for
GGPoker and WSOP.com ran a parallel festival with a $5,000 main event being held on GGPoker. This tournament was won by Stoyan Madanzhiev who then presumably thought he would be considered the 2020 WSOP Main Event champion. How wrong he was.
When it looked as if the COVID-19 pandemic was under better control, WSOP organisers seized the opportunity to run another parallel series, but this time the final tables would be played in a live setting.
The final nine players in the international leg on GGPoker would travel to the popular Kings Casino, Rozvadov, Czech Republic, and the final nine players on US soil would make the traditional pilgrimage to the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. The winners would then meet for a heads-up finale to battle for the title of WSOP Main Event champion and a cool extra $1 million thrown in.
So before what we were told was the real main event kicked off, there was already huge controversy. As always though, money talks, and off we went again.
The Race to Vegas
There was more controversy when the circus arrived in Rozvadov. China's Peiyuan Sun didn’t turn up without any explanation and was disqualified and given ninth place money rather than being allowed to blind out with the chance of improving that placing.
Damian Salas, from Argentina, was the final victor. The lawyer bested a field of 674 players to collect a $1,550,969 prize and an invitation to join his US counterpart for the finale.
The US final table was also not immune from a dose of rumpus.Before the tournament restarted Upeshka De Silva, a three-time WSOP gold bracelet winner and favourite for the event, failed a COVID test and was disqualified.
De Silva was the biggest draw left in the tournament and now he wouldn’t even get a chance to show us what he’s made of. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of days later a so called friend outed him as a multi-accounter who had played bracelet events using more than one account.
Joseph Herbert was the winner of the US final table. He topped a slightly bigger field of 705 entries for a prize of $1,553,256. Now we could get on with the heads-up finale to see who would be champion. Or could we?
By now the whole affair was looking like a comic caper from a long-forgotten era, but there was still more to come.
A couple of days after Christmas Damian Salas was denied entry to the US due to having been in Europe, considered a COVID-hot zone, in the last 15 days. Would he end up defaulting?
Fortunately, the red tape was dealt with and Salas finally made it to Las Vegas, albeit a couple of days later than planned.
A Deserved Champion
Damian Salas was the favourite in this matchup due to his already having appeared in the 2017 November Nine, but we still expected a tight battle.
For the first two hours both players didn’t overextend their ambition, preferring to let the other trip themselves up. Level 9 saw the first all-in a call but by then Salas was so short stacked that he was still a 4-1 chip underdog.
Salas kept on the pressure until he was able to pull himself out of a deep hole but then he lost an important all-in confrontation leaving him trailing by 3-1.
The match continued for a long while, even with both players in all-in or fold mode. This was a winner-takes-all fight and neither player wanted to risk a poor decision needlessly.
Eventually Salas had a slight lead and managed to get the chips in as a favourite holding AQ against KJ. The poker gods offered no help for the American and Salas became the first ever WSOP Main Event champion from Argentina.
A more than deserved champion in our opinion.