A Metairie native who last week captured the national poker championship and dedicated it to his late mother came up just short in his bid to clinch the world title in Las Vegas Sunday night.
Joseph Hebert entered the evening having bagged more than $1.5 million by winning the U.S. portion of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event tournament on Dec. 28, after stepping away from playing cards for a few months following his mother’s unexpected death in the summer.
The Covington resident had a chance Sunday to win an additional $1 million and a trophy bracelet worth about $500,000, but those honors instead went to his opponent, Damian Salas of Argentina.
Metairie native Joseph Hebert’s mother died just after praying for his success
Though winning one of the WSOP’s diamond-encrusted bracelets has been Hebert’s dream since he picked up professional poker more than a decade ago, the 38-year-old said he still found validation in the U.S. portion of the event that set up his showdown with Salas. That triumph more than doubled his career earnings of $667,000 in one fell swoop and allowed him to deliver on promises to buy a car for his father as well as a special bird for his young son.
The Archbishop Rummel High School graduate’s run at poker immortality began with heartbreak, when his mother, Linda Hebert, died July 30 from a pulmonary embolism. In the days before his mom’s death, Joseph Hebert had seen a close friend claim one of the bracelets he had long coveted at a tournament in which they both participated. He confided in Linda Hebert that he wasn’t sure winning a major professional poker event was in the cards for him, but she told him to keep the faith.
“I keep hoping and praying,” his mom, a former nun, told him. “What will be will be.”
Joseph Hebert, who picked up professional poker while working on and off over the years at The Galley Seafood restaurant in Old Metairie, took a three-month hiatus from the game to clear his head following his mom’s death. Then, playing in her honor, he sought a spot in the Main Event, the WSOP’s No-limit Hold’em championship, with its $10,000 buy-in.
Hebert would ultimately emerge from a field of more than 700 American players as one of eight finalists to advance from a largely online format to an in-person table at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Vegas on Dec. 28 for the chance at a $1.5 million payday and title of U.S. champion. Clad in a New Orleans Pelicans hat and a hooded sweatshirt with a bear on it to remind the event announcers how to correctly pronounce his last name, Hebert won and earned a berth in Sunday’s final against Salas, 45, who topped a field of more than 670 international players.
In the world of poker, the stakes for Sunday’s showdown could hardly have been higher. Argentine media reported Salas had the opportunity to etch his name in the country’s annals alongside soccer legend Diego Maradona and world middleweight boxing champion Carlos Monzon. Meanwhile, news outlets in Las Vegas, New Orleans and across the poker blogosphere celebrated the victory that the heartbroken Hebert dedicated to the memory of his mother.
PokerNews.com reported that Sunday’s clash lasted more than 170 hands, with Salas building an early lead in chips that Hebert was able to overcome. Hebert padded his comeback lead by more than an 8-to-1 margin, but Salas snatched the advantage back and then held onto it to become the full Main Event champion.
Hebert afterward told PokerNews commentator Sarah Herring that coronavirus restrictions, which prohibited all but a handful of live spectators, made for an unnervingly quiet atmosphere.
“It was a crazy feel to this final table,” said Hebert, whose son was among a small cheering section for him. “Just to be able to experience this was a joy.”
Herring said the poker world hoped to see more of Hebert in the future.
Looking at the camera, he smiled and said, “You will.”