CHAMPION CHAT: WSOP Main Event Champ Damian Salas Talks Winning, Poker, Life, & More

The last year brought plenty of changes for poker and that included the World Series of Poker Main Event. Because of the pandemic, the event played out in December and January with Argentina’s Damian Salas taking the title.

Salas took home a total of $2.4 million after separate events played out internationally on GGPoker and WSOP.com. The final nine players from each half played separate live final tables – one at the Rio in Las Vegas and one at King’s Casino in the Czech Republic.

Salas faced WSOP.com US champion Joseph Hebert, of Metairie, Louisiana, at the Rio in Las Vegas. He won the bracelet and a $1 million bonus and becomes champion at a strange time for poker. 

He’s also the first Main Event champion from Latin America. ESPN broadcasts of the Main Event are expected to begin airing in February.

Salas, 45, works as an attorney in Buenos Aires and is no stranger to Main Event success. He finished seventh in 2017 for $1.4 million. Salas recently spoke with PokerScout about his poker life and winning poker’s biggest prize.

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How did you get into poker?

I started playing poker with my school peers when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I started playing No Limit Hold’em after watching ESPN broadcasts of the WSOP tournament won by Chris Moneymaker.

I think it was in 2004. And that’s when my group of friends and I began playing. I simply started out of passion since I love playing cards.

“Actually, I began playing cards when I was 4 or 5 years old. I used to play with my grandmother and her sister, and with my cousins as a young kid. I’d say the reason is passion. And, well, thank God, my passion is still intact.”

You’re a big online poker player. How often do you play?

I typically play two to three times per week. No more than that. Generally on Sundays, very frequently. And then I choose either Tuesdays or Thursdays, or both days.

It also depends on whether there is some series in particular that I’m interested in. In that case, the frequency might be increased. But I ‘d say during the year, I play two or three times a week – that’s my routine.

Do you have any special plans now when you return to Argentina?

Well, currently I’m planning on resting, restoring my energy, spending time with my family as during this month I haven’t seen them as much as usual. I’m also spending time with friends.

And if possible, I’d like to return to my routine of playing online, as long as I feel like doing it and have the necessary passion to contend again quickly.

What area of law do you practice and how does poker fit into your schedule?

I have a master’s in business law. I graduated from a prestigious university here in Argentina and I specialize in business law.

Today, I devote a little time to my profession. I do it so that poker wouldn’t take all my energy. I work as a way of keeping myself active, informed, and aware of other areas in life – doing it as a complementary activity and as a personal challenge of being able to give answers in other fields than poker.

While playing poker is amazing and makes me feel great, if you let it absorb you during elite tournaments and allow yourself to be carried away by the game, you’ll be at risk of being conditioned by poker due to the attention it requires, its magnitude, and the energy it demands.

Therefore, I like to do different activities. One of them is to remain active in terms of my given field in business law. 

What advice would give a player new to the game?

Well, my recommendation depends a lot on the person I’m advising. To those who play poker for fun or as a hobby, I would tell them to enjoy the game and have lots of fun.

“Poker is amazing, but always understand it’s just a game and the polarities complement each other. So winning and losing are parts of the same thing, so surrender yourself to the pleasure of playing.”

To those who want to become professional or pseudo-professionals, I would recommend to work hard and study a lot. There are several tools to evolve your skill level, so start using those tools: coaching, online reading material, and videos.

A top tip – I’d say watching the best players in the world in real time is what gives me wisdom in terms of poker. I’ve learned a lot about interpreting the play of the best players in the world. When I’m in a similar situation, I count on these different strategies to counter whatever play I’m up against.

Today, that’s my best learning tool and this is what I advise to more advanced players.

What are your plans for your Main Event winnings?

Well, to be totally honest, I’ve got no concrete plan in mind for the prize. I don’t have any particular idea of what to do with the money.

“I really don’t. As I said before, I don’t play for the money, that’s not my motivation. It’s not what generates the best version of myself. Money is never my priority, neither among the goals I set at the beginning of the year nor has anything to do with my personal growth or my perspective of the results.”

So I have nothing specific, to be honest.

How tough was your heads-up opponent Joseph Hebert?

Joseph was a great adversary, a very hard rival. In many situations either one of us could have won the match. The fact the heads-up took six hours to finish speaks of the complexity and difficulty of my clash with Joseph.

Before the contest, when we were interviewed by ESPN, that was when I realized he was going to be a really hard opponent. Regardless of his skill level, I saw a very confident person, very calm, with aplomb, but not arrogant at all.

This vibe he had spawned my respect from the beginning of the game. Owing to this respect I felt and also honoring his disposition during battle, when I finished playing the first thing I did was respectfully and humbly bow before Joseph because the match was extremely complex.

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How do you think winning this WSOP Main Event compares with winning the normal version of the tournament?

For me, the experience with this hybrid, regardless of my success, was excellent. I’m not talking about the Main Event specifically because the essence of it is to play live. But I think many formats and series of great significance and importance could even be moved, when this pandemic is over, into another relatively similar hybrid format. 

I think it’s a good idea that early stages of big tournaments can be played from the comfort of home without any travel expenses at all. I should think that this could eventually make live poker fields more massive.

I believe people should travel. I’m not saying only for a final table, but when they’re in the money, which ensures no financial loss due to the trip and related expenses. I think it could be great to play a part of the tournament online, and the next stage live. I believe i’́s excellent.

How was the experience on GGPoker? What are your thoughts on playing on the site?

My impression after playing online is that I felt really comfortable playing at GGPoker. I believe the GG poker room values all kinds of players, both amateur and professional. 

The Fish Buffet rewards system reimburses players with a proportion of the earnings they generate. And the more you play, the higher the reimbursement, so it seems it rewards customer loyalty.

“Honestly, everything I have to say regarding my experience playing at GG are words of praise for the platform. Not for nothing has it recently become a worldwide leader in the poker market, with incredible and exponential growth.”

My warmest congratulations to all the people who created GG and help it continue to grow and improve daily.

Anything you would like to add?

Yes, I’d like to add only a sincere feeling I express every day. It is my great appreciation to those who made this possible, who made my dream come true.

Those include GGPoker, the World Series of Poker team, my family and friends, and my colleagues who always for many years have shown me great respect.

And most importantly, thanks to all the Latin American poker community. Not only for this achievement, but for the love and respect expressed during these last 10 years. So I’d like to thank them with all my heart.

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