Four hours straight
ESPN has announced that for the 19th straight year, it will broadcast the World Series of Poker Main Event. The 2020 WSOP Main Event coverage will run for four hours this coming Sunday, February 28, at 8pm ET on ESPN2.
ESPN and the WSOP switched things up
This one night of episodes is a change from previous years. Normally, ESPN airs the Main Event final table live for as long as it takes across three days and later shows some pre-packaged WSOP episodes. But with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting upheaval of the World Series of Poker, ESPN and the WSOP switched things up.
The episode will feature action from both the International and Domestic final tables and the heads-up championship battle between Damian Salas and Joseph Hebert.
Lon McEachern will once again be behind the microphone for ESPN, joined by poker pro Jamie Kerstetter. While she has not been one of the main commentators, Kerstetter has spent a lot of time providing her insights during the telecasts of previous WSOP Main Event broadcasts. McEachern’s long-time broadcast partner and fellow Poker Hall of Fame nominee Norman Chad is still recovering from COVID-19, which he contracted last summer, and had to pass on the festivities.
Hybrid online/live Main Event
World Series of Poker officials decided to postpone the traditional WSOP in April because of the pandemic. Thus, even though there was a Main Event, it was not business as usual.
The 2020 WSOP $10,000 Main Event was split into two parts, each starting online in December and finishing live. The International bracket began on GGPoker and contested its final table live at King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic. The Domestic bracket had a similar setup, playing online at WSOP.com – limited to those in New Jersey and Nevada – and finishing with the final table at the Rio in Las Vegas, the normal venue for the WSOP.
The winners of the two brackets, Salas and Hebert, faced off against each other at the Rio for the Main Event bracelet and an extra $1m. Each bracket’s tournament had its own prize pool, so they had each already won big. Damian Salas eventually prevailed and was named the 2020 WSOP Main Event champ.
Salas’s COVID-19 “certificate of exemption” to get into the United States was denied
Though it was the 2020 WSOP Main Event, the heads-up match wasn’t played until the beginning of 2021 because Salas’s COVID-19 “certificate of exemption” to get into the United States was denied, despite a negative test, forcing him to wait a few days beyond his original travel date.
Two players did not compete at their final tables because of the pandemic. Upeshka De Silva tested positive the day before the Domestic final table and was not allowed to play, having to settle for ninth place money. On the International side, China’s Peiyuan Sun opted not to travel to the Czech Republic and also accepted a ninth place payday.
85 bracelets awarded entirely online
Before what was considered the “official” 2020 World Series of Poker Main Event, there was also the 2020 WSOP Online, which awarded 85 total gold bracelets. In fact, the aforementioned Main Event came as a surprise to most, as it was assumed the WSOP Online was it for the year.
The 2020 WSOP Online was also split between GGPoker and WSOP.com. The WSOP.com portion ran every day of July, with one tournament going each day. Over on GGPoker, the Series ran July 19 through September 6, awarding 54 gold bracelets.
Though feelings about online bracelets and hybrid online/live events drew mixed reactions in the poker community, the biggest controversy revolved around WSOP Online Event #77, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Main Event. Stoyan Madanzhiev won it, thrilled to go down in the history books as a World Series of Poker Main Event champ. But when the later, $10,000 Main Event was deemed the “official” Main Event, Madanzhiev protested, feeling “tricked.” Among other complaints, he said he might not have entered the tournament at all, let alone risk a re-buy, if he knew it wasn’t the real Main Event.