Updated January 2, 2021 - 4:53 pm
Joseph Hebert spent New Year’s Eve in a hotel room looking out at the Strip, but he couldn’t join the party.
His celebration could come Sunday night if he claims the World Series of Poker Main Event title at the Rio. Hebert, who won the U.S. portion of the Main Event on Monday, is playing international winner Damian Salas heads-up for $1 million, the trophy bracelet and a place in poker history.
So having to stay in his hotel room because of COVID protocols is no problem.
“This is something and a goal that I’ve always tried to attain, so it’s worth every isolation possible,” Hebert said Friday. “I would isolate myself for a year if I had to to have this opportunity.”
Hebert, a 38-year-old poker pro from Metairie, Louisiana, already guaranteed himself $1,553,256 by prevailing at the U.S. final table. The heads-up match with Salas was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but was delayed because of travel issues caused by coronavirus protocols.
That meant Hebert’s stay at the Rio was extended. He spent a couple of days with his fiancee and son before isolating.
“I got to celebrate New Year’s with them on a video chat,” he said.
“You win $1.5 million, and you think maybe you can celebrate a little bit,” he added. “It’s kind of strange having to hold off, but it’s a good thing.”
Hebert said he has spent the time responding to all the text messages and calls he received after his victory, which he dedicated to his mother, Linda, who died unexpectedly in July from a pulmonary embolism.
“All the congrats, and feeling all the love is just absolutely amazing, especially for my mom,” Hebert said. “Everybody’s reaching out and saying, ‘What a wonderful story. She’s super happy for you, and she’s dancing up there.’”
Hebert said he was also spending his time studying Salas and talking to players who were familiar with his game. The Argentine won the international final table Dec. 15 in Rozvadov, Czech Republic. He finished seventh in the 2017 Main Event and drew notice for taking a long time to make his decisions.
“He’s very methodical about his approach to the game,” Hebert said. “It’s going to be a duel. It’s going to be a battle.”
Salas was not available for an interview. PokerNews confirmed that he has arrived for the match.
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.
“We’ve seen memorable moments you can’t believe and discovered two central characters you can’t help but root for,” WSOP executive director Ty Stewart said in a statement. “A dream will be dealt on Jan. 3, and that’s exactly what we need heading into 2021.”
Hebert has been in Las Vegas for nearly a month after arriving to play tournaments leading up to the Main Event. He said he hopes to finally head back to Louisiana to celebrate — with an extra $1 million in tow.
“I changed my flight for the fourth time — which is a good thing,” he said, laughing. “I’m not complaining.”
WSOP Main Event
What: Heads-up battle for $10,000 buy-in No-limit Hold’em Championship
Who: U.S. winner Joseph Hebert vs. international winner Damian Salas
When: 5 p.m. at the Rio
Prize: $1 million and WSOP bracelet