Two WSOP Main Event Finalists to Play for Title Jan 3

The 2020 World Series of Poker Main Event has many components…and several winners. Two of them, however, will battle it out in a live heads-up poker match in Las Vegas on January 3 to become the official 2020 WSOP World Champion. That player will win the official Main Event bracelet.

Winner #1: Stoyan Madanzhiev

This summer, the coronavirus pandemic forced the World Series of Poker to cancel its annual summer series. It had been live in Las Vegas for more than 50 years…until Covid-19 stopped almost everything across the globe.

WSOP executives compiled a series of 85 online poker tournaments to give the players chances to win bracelets from around the world. WSOP’s own namesake website offered 31 of those tournaments online in two American states per US laws: Nevada and New Jersey. GGPoker and sister site Natural8 hosted the other 54 tournaments for players in most other places in the world.

To top off that summer WSOP online series, the WSOP placed a Main Event at the end. It advertised the tournament as THE Main Event. It was different than the annual Main Event in that it cost half the normal $10K buy-in, offered 23 starting flights, allowed reentries, and put a guarantee on the prize pool. But adjustments per the pandemic restrictions had become normal.

That tournament played out in August and September. Its final numbers were:

  • Total players: 5,802
  • Total prize pool: $27,559,500 (more than the $25M guarantee)
  • Total paid players: 728
  • Minimum payout: $11,834
  • Winner: Stoyan Madanzhiev of Bulgaria for $3,904,686

Not only did Madanzhiev win the largest prize ever awarded in an online poker tournament, the event itself set a record and made it into the Guinness World Records.

Winner #2: Damian Salas

In early November, the World Series of Poker announced that the aforementioned Main Event was not the official one. The actual 2020 WSOP Main Event would be a mix of online and live poker. There would be an international and a US component, with the two culminating in a live heads-up match to determine the ultimate Main Event champion.

The two tournaments to determine the heads-up players would be more traditional, with a $10K buy-in, no reentries, and no guarantee.

The first component was the international one to start playing out on Natural8 and sister site GGPoker. Players had three starting days from which to choose (November 29, December 5 and 6), and the results were as follows:

  • Total players: 674
  • Total prize pool: $6,470,400
  • Total paid players: 80
  • Minimum payout: $15,277
  • Winner: Damian Salas of Argentina for $1,550,969

The final table of that tournament played out at King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic. One player, short-stacked Peiyuan Sun of China, chose not to travel to Europe in a pandemic, so he accepted ninth-place money. The rest of the players traveled from Austria, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil.

Brunno Botteon of Brazil made it to heads-up against the Argentinian, and Salas emerged victorious. Botteon still took home more than $1 million for second place.

Winner #3: Joseph Hebert

The US portion of the real 2020 WSOP Main Event played out on the WSOP’s own website, which is only licensed to operate for WSOP events in Nevada and New Jersey. Players from anywhere could travel to those states to compete.

They did just that. After one starting flight, the tournament revealed these numbers:

  • Total players: 705
  • Total prize pool: $6,768,000
  • Total paid players: 107
  • Minimum payout: $14,890
  • Winner: Joseph Hebert of Louisiana for $1,553,256

This tournament played online on December 13 and 14, the latter bringing 71 surviving players back to play to the final nine. At that point, three-time WSOP bracelet winner Upeshka De Silva was the chip leader.

As Day 2 played out, some of poker’s most well-known names exited the field, like Nick Schulman, Darren Elias, Freddy Deeb, Scott Seiver, Joseph Cheong, Maria Ho, and former Main Event champion Ryan Reiss. The final table ultimately consisted of Joseph Hebert as the significant chip leader and De Silva eighth in chips.

Those nine players were supposed to meet in Las Vegas to play their final table at the Rio on December 28, but De Silva tested positive for Covid-19. According to the rules, he was disqualified and had to accept ninth-play money in lieu of playing.

The final eight did play a relatively short final table on December 28, with Hebert taking his lead all the way through the action to heads-up against Ron Jenkins. It only took one hand to find Hebert as the winner.

An emotional victor, Hebert played with his mother, Linda, on his mind. She died earlier in 2020 and had been an avid supporter of her son.

It should be mentioned that another finalist, Gershon Distenfeld, who finished in eighth place for $125,885, played solely for charity. He previously announced that he would donate all of his winnings (after taxes) to eight charities.

Finale: Salas vs Hebert on January 3

The original plan was for Salas to travel to Las Vegas around Christmas. He would then play the US winner – now known to be Hebert – for the title of 2020 WSOP Main Event World Champion. GGPoker and the World Series of Poker previously announced that the prize pool would consist of $1 million in cash, a freeroll for the players. The winner would take the entire pot and the championship bracelet.

The WSOP anticipated the problem of Salas entering the United States during a pandemic surge, so they gave him an exemption certificate to allow him across the border for the tournament.

Unfortunately, the US had implemented another rule of which the WSOP was unaware. Anyone who was in Europe at any time must wait at least 15 days before entering the United States. Salas had just been in the Czech Republic less than two weeks before his flight. He learned of the problem as he was heading to the airport to begin his 30-hour journey to America.

Salas did reschedule the flight for January 1, obtaining the proper information to enter the US.

The heads-up match between Salas and Hebert will take place on January 3.


Rose Varrelli

Rose Varrelli has always been passionate about online casinos, as she’s been a player at a variety of places for years. Rose turned her personal knowledge and insight into a writing career. She aims to provide readers with the most up to date, informative news in the world of online casinos!


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