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Poker’s biggest annual event will have a 2020 winner — COVID-19 be damned.
Usually held over the summer, the 2020 World Series of Poker main event began Sunday with online play after the tournament at the Rio in Las Vegas was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A poker tournament, especially one the size of the WSOP main event which draws thousands of people from all over the world, isn’t exactly an ideal pandemic activity. But the WSOP is finding a way to make its $10,000-per-entry signature event work.
“I look at this like, hey, the NBA found a way to have a championship, the NFL found a way to have a season. Even college football eventually came around,” Phil Hellmuth, a 15-time bracelet winner who won the WSOP main event in 1989, told USA Today. “So I’d hate to see a World Series board where there was no champion in 2020.”
The World Series of Poker broke up the start of its main event into two online tournaments, one in the US and one in Europe. Each tournament’s final nine players will gather in person, get tested for COVID-19 and play out the final table in what USA Today reports will be a “bubble-type environment.”
The European final table is set to commence Tuesday in the Czech Republic, while the US final table is set for Dec. 28 at the Rio. The two winners will meet in Vegas on Dec. 30 in a head-to-head battle to crown a world champion.
“We felt like it’s our responsibility to not have an asterisk in 2020 into the history of the World Series of Poker,” WSOP executive director Ty Stewart told the paper. “I think people understand that and players applaud the fact we’re in this for the long haul and we’re trying to provide opportunities and interest in the game and the Main Event is really the only event that creates national interest and international interest.”
Upeshka De Silva, a three-time bracelet winner, was leading the US tournament after the first day.