Updated December 28, 2020 - 9:47 pm
The coronavirus pandemic loomed over the World Series of Poker on Monday at the Rio.
First, the final table of the U.S. portion of the Main Event was reduced from nine players to eight before play began when Upeshka De Silva tested positive for the virus.
The players competed under tight COVID protocols with no fans in attendance, with no live TV coverage and without much of the usual Main Event fanfare.
But the night worked out beautifully for Joseph Hebert, who won the U.S. title and $1,553,256. He dedicated the victory to his mother, Linda, who died unexpectedly in July from a pulmonary embolism.
“The year started off amazing, the middle of the year was horrible, and the end of the year was absolutely amazing,” he said. “I love you, Mom.”
Hebert, a 38-year-old poker pro from Metairie, Louisiana, moves on to face international winner Damian Salas of Argentina for the Main Event title, the trophy bracelet and an additional $1 million Sunday at the Rio. The match originally was scheduled for Wednesday but was moved, PokerNews confirmed late Monday.
Ron Jenkins, a real estate developer from South El Monte, California, finished second for $1,002,340.
Hebert came into the final table with a large chip lead and never relinquished it — though he nearly did in the final hand. On the first hand of heads-up play, Hebert moved all-in with ace-queen, and Jenkins called with a pair of queens.
Jenkins would have taken a 2-1 chip lead if his queens held, but an ace came on the flop to deliver the title to Hebert.
The Main Event, the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Hold’em Championship, was played in a hybrid online/live format this year because of the pandemic. Because of U.S. online poker laws, two tournaments had to be held, one for U.S. players on WSOP.com and one for international players on GGPoker.
A total of 705 players entered the U.S. portion, and the international portion attracted 674 players for a total field of 1,379.
The tournaments were played online until the final tables of nine were reached. Salas won the international event in Rozvadov, Czech Republic. The U.S. players convened Saturday at the Rio and had to pass COVID tests Sunday and Monday to participate.
De Silva didn’t make it. The three-time WSOP bracelet winner confirmed his positive test late Sunday on Twitter.
De Silva was disqualified and received the ninth-place prize of $98,813. He was eighth in chips coming into the final table.
A Caesars Entertainment spokesperson confirmed Monday afternoon that a player would not play, without naming De Silva.
The pandemic also loomed large for Harrison Dobin, who finished sixth for $215,222.
“I have no job anymore. That’s how the pandemic affected my life,” he said. “But it’s fine. I collect unemployment, and I just won 200 grand.”
Dobin, a resident of West Long Branch, New Jersey, said he lost his job with a company that clears out homes after evictions. He thanked his friends and family for their support.
“I got like 300 text messages I gotta reply to,” he said. “They don’t gamble. They love it now.”
He said he won’t be switching to a full-time poker career.
“I’m definitely going back to work,” he said.
Michael Cannon finished third for $529,258, and Ryan Hagerty was fourth for $387,130.
Gershon Distenfeld, a 44-year-old New Jersey resident who works in finance, finished eighth for $125,885. He has pledged to give all of his winnings to charity.
WSOP Main Event
U.S. portion final table
Order of finish
1. Joseph Hebert;$1,553,256
2. Ron Jenkins;$1,002,340
3. Michael Cannon;$529,258
4. Ryan Hagerty;$387,130
5. Ye “Tony” Yuan;$286,963
6. Harrison Dobin;$215,222
7. Shawn Stroke;$163,786
8. Gershon Distenfeld;$125,885
9. Upeshka De Silva;$98,813