Damian Salas Becomes Latin America’s First WSOP Main Event Champion, Scores $2.55 Million

South America now has its own World Series of Poker $10,000 Main Event champion. On Sunday, Argentina’s Damian Salas finished off his second deep run in the biggest tournament in poker with a championship bracelet.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Main Event featured a split series with online play and live final tables. The international half played out at GGPoker and the US half played out at WSOP.com.

Salas was the international winner, claiming $1.55 million after topping the final table in the Czech Republic. On Sunday, he faced US champion Joseph Hebert at the Rio in Las Vegas for the title of Main Event champion and an added $1 million

After finishing seventh in the same event in 2017, Salas found some redemption on Sunday. The 45-year-old from Buenos Aires now claims the biggest title in poker as the game’s world champion.

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Argentina’s new WSOP champion

Winning any tournament isn’t easy, but the main event is an even bigger accomplishment. The 2020 Main Event attracted big numbers online at a time when online poker is booming.

At the international final table, Salas defeated Brazil’s Brunno Botteon at King’s Casino to earn his shot in Las Vegas. Defeating Hebert for the ultimate victory didn’t come easily.

Argentina’s Damian Salas shows off his World Series of Poker Main Event championship bracelet. (all photos courtesy WSOP/Melissa Haereiti)

The two players fought it out for 173 hands and over nearly six hours with the lead swinging back and forth. Eventually, Salas vanquished his foe after Hebert moved all in with Ace-Queen.

Salas called with King-Jack and flopped a pair of Kings. The turn card brought no help to Hebert and another King on the river gave Salas the championship.

“Joseph was a very hard opponent, and he played really well,” Salas said. “In a few instances, he was about to win, it was a real fight and he never slowed down. Going into the championship, I felt all the energy and support from my family and friends in Argentina tonight, and that helped me.”

Fulfilling a dream

Back in Argentina, Salas works as an attorney and doesn’t plan on leaving his job. He’s a regular player online and now has more than $3 million in live tournament winnings as well.

Before the event, the two competitors complimented each other and spoke about this year’s unique Main Event. Salas said it would be a dream come true to win a bracelet. 

“I always try to be better and that’s my motivation,” he said about his mindset going into the match.

A family man, Salas credited his wife, children, and friends with his success. He also thanked the Latin American poker community for their support.

Main Event champion Damian Salas and runner-up Joseph Hebert after the final hands plays out in the Rio.

“I feel like they’re here with me,” he said. “I feel like they make me better as a person.”

The new champion now has first bracelet, encrusted with plenty of diamonds. However, the post-match bracelet photos included two pieces of hardware. An additional bracelet crafted by Salas’ daughter was also included.

Big numbers for a big event

Getting to a champion wasn’t easy and there some unique circumstances came with the event. That included one player from China not attending the international final table.

In the US, another player was disqualified and paid ninth-place money after testing COVID-19 positive. In the end, the tournament indeed produced a 2020 champion no matter the obstacles.

How Salas’ championship is remembered remains to be seen. At the very least, his title stands out as an interesting footnote in the event’s 51-year history.

The tournament produced big numbers at GGPoker and WSOP.com. Between the two final tables, four players received payouts of more than $1 million.

Two of those became the first to win seven figures in the regulated US online poker market. Here’s a complete look ta the Main Event numbers:

  • Entries – 1,379
  • Prize pool – $13.2 million plus an extra $1 million for the heads-up match
  • Entries at WSOP.com – 705
  • Prize pool at WSOP.com – $6.8 million
  • Entries at GGPoker – 674
  • Prize pool at GGPoker – $6.5 million