Rovell: Career Waiter Joe Hebert Wins $1.5 Million at World Series of Poker Final Table

Rovell: Career Waiter Joe Hebert Wins $1.5 Million at World Series of Poker Final Table article feature image
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Jamie Thomson, World Series of Poker. Pictured: Joe Hebert

Early Tuesday morning, in Louisiana, the word traveled around fast to patrons of The Galley Seafood Restaurant. One of their own, Joe Hebert a waiter who has been at the restaurant for 23 years but disappears for weeks at a time to play in poker tournaments, finally hit it big.

As in as big as they come.

Hebert had won the domestic division of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

In a year that has been strange all around, the World Series of Poker was no different. It took form in two divisions — international and domestic – in two different parts of the world. The path to the Final Table for both tournaments involved a quarantine to make sure the in-person finale was safe.

And when all was done, the 38-year-old Hebert, who wore a sweatshirt with “a bear” on it so that people wouldn’t screw up his last name, took home $1,553,256.

Joe Hebert was always really good at poker, but he was never able to turn his passion into a living so that he could leave his post at The Galley Seafood, famous for its soft shell crab, for good.

Things started to turn around, however, when he finished with the most chips in three different events at the same tournament at the Beau Rivage in Mississippi earlier this year to the tune of $90,500 in winnings.

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Even still, it took Hebert qualifying in the final satellite tournament on a $320 entry fee to get the $10,000 ticket into the Main Event. He then had to hurry up and get to Vegas the next day, as all tournament players had to play online either in Sin City or in New Jersey.

“I prefer playing live actually,” Hebert said. “You can read people, you’re more in the moment, it’s just a different game. When you are playing online, you can see the size of the bet and when you are live, you are doing the calculations yourself.”

After Hebert made the final table, he got an Airbnb in Las Vegas and flew in his fiancée Vyktoria and his 8-year-old son Kole. They lived in the house for two weeks and Hebert barely saw the outside world besides one trip to Walmart for groceries.

All nine players who qualified for the final table were put on the same floor of the Rio  and had to to test negative for COVID-19. One player tested positive and was automatically given the No. 9 prize. The next day, the eight others had to test negative again.

“We were all on the same floor, pressing the same buttons,” Hebert said. “I was practically bathing in hand sanitizer.”

Hebert passed, as did the others, and in a Final Table that took at day to complete, he was the last man standing.

For a guy who had to work at a restaurant for cash to make a living, he said he didn’t once think about the money once it was down to the final two, knowing he’d be guaranteed $1 million. Instead his thoughts were somewhere more important.

His mom, Linda, died in July of a pulmonary embolism and he was thinking of her the whole time.

“I was just riddled with emotions,” Hebert said. “Before the heads up, I was crying in the corner because my mom was always my number one fan. And she was a super religious person and she told me, ‘what will be, will be.’ So the truth is, I didn’t think about the money once.”

Sitting at the final table, Hebert kept calm, thanks in part to the two Stellas he had before the Final Table and the three Coors Lights he actually drank in the final hours.

He felt comfort in thinking about doing this for his hometown, sitting at the Final Table in a Pelicans hat and a Marshon Lattimore Saints jersey under his sweatshirt.

Hebert will now quarantine at the Rio with Vyktoria and Kole so he can face the international winner, Damian Salas of Argentina on Jan. 3. He gets three meals a day and isn’t leaving the hotel. His goal is to catch up on sleep and to play a little poker to keep him fresh so he can win another $1M in prize money.

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Though he hasn’t worked through the taxes yet, Hebert is pretty sure he won’t be going back to his regular shift at The Galley. What he does know is he’d like to make one significant purchase with his prize money: A 1990 Mustang LX 5.0 Convertible.

It’s not for him.

For 15 years, a picture of that car has been taped to the refrigerator at his parents house with the words “RETIREMENT DREAM” under it.

At 74, Joe’s dad, Jules Hebert, is still working – as the host of The Galley, greeting people when they walk into the establishment located in Metarie, a New Orleans suburb.

Who knows whether his son’s money will retire him as well, but it will at least give him the car of his dreams.