Damian Salas has won the 2020 World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event, He came out on top of a main event unlike any that has come before to earn the WSOP championship gold bracelet and more than $2.5 million in total prize money. The 45-year-old poker pro from Chascomús, Argentina became the first from his country to become poker’s world champion, after having fallen just a few places short of doing so when he finished seventh in the 2017 WSOP main event. He now has more than $5.7 million in career tournament earnings to his name.
Salas started this event as one of 674 entries in the ‘International Tournament’ of this event, which began online and played down to a live final table of nine. Salas emerged victorious at that final table on Tuesday, Dec 15, earning $1,550,969 and setting up a heads-up showdown for the title with the eventual winner of the US-facing ‘Domestic Tournament’. That player turned out to be Joseph Hebert, who defeated a field of 705 entries to earn $1,553,256 and a chance to face off against Salas for the bracelet and an additional $1,000,000 in added prize money.
Herbert and Salas were supposed to begin their final showdown just two days after Herbert had come out on top of the US-facing segment of this event, but 2020 had other things in mind. A report surfaced on the morning of the ‘Domestic Tournament’ final table that Salas was initially denied entry into the United States because he had been in Europe less than 15 days prior, having had to travel there in order to compete at the ‘International Tournament’ final table.
While the initial report was never officially confirmed by the WSOP, the live updates posted on their website did announce that the final heads-up battle that was originally scheduled for the night of Dec. 30 had been moved to Sunday, Jan. 3 at 5:00 p.m. local time. This delay was far from the only setback for the event. Peiyuan Sun declined to make the trip to Rozvadov for the ‘International Tournament’ final table, and three-time bracelet winner Upeskha De Silva was disqualified from the ‘Domestic Tournament’ final table after testing positive for COVID-19.
The final two players took their seats roughly half an hour after the scheduled start time, with 500 big blinds each to start with as they battled for the championship bracelet and the $1 million in added prize money that was on the line.
“We have a great battle ahead of us, Joseph and I, and of course I am going to enjoy it,” said Salas before taking his seat for the heads-up finale just a few years removed from finishing seventh in this event. “I am privileged to be able to be here again, at the final stage of the sport that I am so passionate about.”
The early action saw both players hold a small lead for periods, with Salas taking roughly a 5:4 lead into the first break of the day after completing six twenty-minute levels. The Argentine was able to extend his advantage during the early stages of level 7, but Herbert was able to surge back into the lead with a rivered flush. He then built a 3:1 advantage of his own by winning the largest pot of the night. Hebert raised to 20,000 from the button with K4 and Salas made the call with an unknown hand. The flop came down KQK and Salas checked. Hebert continuation bet 10,000. Salas unleashed a check-raise to 28,000 and Hebert called with his trips. The 5 hit the turn and Salas fired 52,000. Hebert called, and the 7 rolled off the deck on the river. Salas let loose another healthy bet, this time for 139,000. Hebert made the call with his trip kings and Salas mucked his cards. With that Hebert climbed to 775,000 while Salas fell to 225,000.
Hebert was able to extend that lead to roughly a 9:1 advantage before the first all-in and call of the match took place. Salas shoved from the button for 102,000 with A2 and Hebert called from the big blind with K5. Salas hit an ace on the flop and held from there to double up to over 20 big blinds. Salas won another double, this time with pocket tens to Hebert’s K-9 suited. After his pocket pair held, his stack grew to nearly 17 big blinds.
By the time the 13th level of the day arrived, there were just over 33 total big blinds in play between both players. Salas had closed the gap somewhat by taking down the blinds with open shoves late in the previous level, and then evened things up by making a straight in a raised pot. Salas took the lead for a while, but Hebert doubled up with A7 holding against Salas’ KQ to get the two more or less back to square one after 153 hands.
The two swapped the lead back and forth a few more times as the stacks had grown quite shallow. By the time the final hand of the event was dealt it was Salas who held the advantage. Hebert looked down at AQ on the button and moved all-in for just shy of 8 big blinds. Salas called with KJ for the majority of his stack. The board came down K855K, giving Salas kings full to secure the pot and the title. He earned the championship gold bracelet, becoming the first main event champion from his home country of Argentina. He also added $1 million to his earnings from the ‘International Tournament’, bringing his total score to $2,550,969.
“I don’t play for the money, I play because of the challenge, because of my love of poker,” said Salas after coming out on top. “I play to be better every time, to compete. I am very proud of myself to earn this achievement.”
When asked about the swings back and forth during his final match with Herbert, Salas said, “That is part of the magic of poker. It is pure adrenaline, it is a rollercoaster that you face down in a moment… It can look like you are the king of the universe, and all of a sudden they were castles in the air, and out of nowhere, it is gone. That is why poker is so good and so beautiful. So what happened at the table was simply poker in its pure essence. I have worked a lot to accept the good times that poker can give you and the bad moments, too.”
World champions in prior years have been the sparks that ignited poker booms around the world. When asked if his performance as the first Argentinian WSOP main event winner might do so in Latin America, Salas said, “I think this performance will help Latin American poker and will also help a lot for Argentinian poker. That makes me feel very happy. I don’t know what this moment will have as far as an impact there. I wish that all Latin American countries could start to see poker as a mental sport, which is what it is.”
Hebert fell just short of the bracelet and the added million dollars but still walked away with $1,553,256 as the ‘Domestic Tournament’ champion.
Salas winner photo via GGPoker Twitter account.