Weekly Poker Update: January 11, 2021

Weekly Poker Update Text and Pro Poker Player Joseph Hebert

There is that famous scene in The Godfather Part III where Al Pacino, as Michael Corleone, complains that he can’t quite go because others won’t let him. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” he says with a grimace.

It’s beginning to feel a little like that with the World Series of Poker. We keep thinking we’re getting to the completion of the 2020 World Series of Poker, even as it’s crossed over into 2021. And yet now we’re learning that there is more of the WSOP to come within the month, to the point where it’s feeling like a never-ending affair.

WSOP 2020 Recap

Let’s recap where we are, shall we? The 2020 World Series of Poker main tournament, the most prestigious of all real money Texas Hold’em events, was initially postponed in the spring because there was no way to hold a large-scale poker tournament while social distancing. A late summer online version of the WSOP appeared to be the answer for filling in the gap.

Rio Las Vegas

Yet even after that was over, the WSOP announced a hybrid event for the end of the calendar year. The reasoning was that they didn’t want the year to expire without having some live element included. After online preliminaries narrowed the fields, live final tables were held for both domestic (in Las Vegas) and international (in the Czech Republic) players.

The initial schedule had intimated that all of this would be wrapping up before the end of the year. In the international event, Argentina’s Damian Salas took home the crown. In the last week of 2020, Joseph Hebert ended up capturing the American event.

The plan had been for the two winners, who had already captured over $1.5 million in purse for their efforts in winning their respective final tables, would be going at it in a head-to-head match on December 30. $1 million more would be at stake for the winner. But that plan initially crumbled when Salas couldn’t make it to the United States in time.

Considering that one player out of each WSOP final table failed to take their rightful place among the last nine for various reasons, there was some concern that Salas’ absence might cause the head-to-head portion to be scrapped. But Salas was able to make the rescheduled date in Vegas this past week. Finally, the 2020 edition of the World Series of Poker would come to its conclusion.

An Unpredictable Poker Final

As befitting some of the wild action in the World Series of Poker to this point in the past year, the final was an entertaining rollercoaster. For a good chunk of the early portion of the match, the American Hebert had Salas on the ropes. As a matter of fact, at one juncture, he led the way by a margin of almost nine chips to every one Salas possessed.

But Salas was able to dig himself out of the hole by doubling up several hands in a row. Hence, from the brink of defeat, he not only got back in the match but ended up taking a solid lead. Suddenly, it was Hebert who was clinging for all he was worth.

On the 173rd hand of the match, Salas—holding a chip lead of around three to one—jumped into the fray with an off-suited king-jack. Hebert sensed his own opportunity to perhaps reverse his fortunes as he went all in on an off-suited ace-queen. When the community cards were revealed, two more kings and a pair of fives made a full house for Salas and earned him the championship.

In the World Series of Poker history books, Salas will go down as the Main Event champion, which makes him one of the most successful WSOP final table players in recent history. Just three years ago, Salas finished seventh in the Main Event, meaning two Top 10 finishes in four years. Adding up his international win and the head-to-head battle, he now has earned over $2.5 million in the span of just a few weeks.

After Salas had triumphed, it appeared that the World Series of Poker would be taking a breather until the 2021 installment (however that might transpire). Perhaps sensing that they still had the attention of the poker world, the WSOP came out with a press release noting that there would be an online circuit that would provide monthly opportunities for players.

Pro Poker Player Damian Salas

The idea here seems to be that these online events will, for the moment anyway, take the place of the WSOP circuit events that usually culminate with the Global Casino Championship. There will be some sort of year-end event here as well as a $250,000 championship scheduled for the very end of 2021.

The WSOP Circuit will be available, like the domestic Main Event we just witnessed, to players who log on in Nevada or New Jersey. In addition, the press release teased the possibility of a third market being brought into the fold as well. It seems like this will come down to either Michigan, which has recently announced mixing of player pools with other states, or Pennsylvania, which already has some connections to the WSOP.

The Future of Live Poker

So, what does this all mean for the future of live World Series of Poker events? Well, for now, it just seems like a smart contingency plan. If concerns about the effect of COVID-19 on casinos lighten up with the wider administration of vaccines, there certainly could be an increase in live poker events. But, if not, this online circuit can certainly fill in the gap.

On a wider scale, it does seem like this is a nod to the way that online poker boomed this past year. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. Why bother to stuff it back it in when it has proven to be so lucrative? Even many veteran poker stars have made the adjustment to online play, so it’s unlikely that there will be many holdouts.

In any case, it does seem like it is time to finally put the 2020 version of the World Series of Poker to bed. Like so many other things in this year unlike any other, it didn’t go quite as planned and often seemed haphazard and random. But the fact that some version of it will go in the books is a triumph of sorts, one that we hope bodes well for what happens when they deal the cards in the new year.