Just a year and a half ago, Greg Merson was mired in a deep depression after Black Friday seriously hampered his online poker career. The Laurel, Maryland native eventually turned to drugs in order to cope with the problem. However, he was able to kick the drug habit and get his poker career back on track again. Thanks to his ability to refocus on poker, Merson has now joined the likes of Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth as a World Series of Poker Main Event champion.
The road to the $8,531,853 top prize certainly wasn’t an easy one because Merson had to overcome a field of 6,598 players. Furthermore, he survived the longest Main Event final table ever as the 9-player table grinded for 398 hands before one player remained. Speaking of the final table, here’s a quick look at the chip counts heading into the first day:
1. Jesse Sylvia (United States) – 43,875,000
2. Andras Koroknai (Hungary) – 29,375,000
3. Greg Merson (United States) – 28,725,000
4. Russell Thomas (United States) – 24,800,000
5. Steven Gee (United States) – 16,860,000
6. Michael Esposito (United States) – 16,260,000
7. Robert Salaburu (United States) – 15,155,000
8. Jacob Balsiger (United States) – 13,115,000
9. Jeremy Ausmus (United States) – 9,805,000
WSOP Main Event Final Table – Day 1
One rare aspect of this year’s final table is that the short stacks weren’t really so short due to the blinds being comparatively low to previous Main Events. Even Jeremy Ausmus had around 33 big blinds to play with so there was less of an urgency to force action. Because of this, the 2012 final table played for a grueling 20 hours over two days.
Steven Gee spent the shortest amount of time on the felt since he was eliminated in 9th place. Gee (8c-8d) shoved his stack in on a board of 7c-4h-5d-Jc-3d; Michael Esposito called with Qd-Qc to win the hand. Next to go was Robert Salaburu who called Jesse Sylvia’s raise from the big blind with 7d-7h. The board was looking pretty good for Salaburu by the turn as it read Ad-As-4c-2d; but a Qh on the river gave Sylvia the pot.
A short-stacked Michael Esposito (10.7m chips) was looking for a way to get back into things by going all-in with As-Jh. Greg Merson called him with a superior Ac-Ks combo and captured the pot with a better kicker as the board blanked. Amid a preflop raising war, Andras Koroknai shoved his remaining stack into the middle with Kh-Qd. But Merson was on top of things again after calling with As-Ks and winning when the board showed 8h-3s-2c-7s-7h.
Jeremy Ausmus made his beginning short stack work for him up until this point. However, the Cinderella run ended when he shoved with Ts-7h on a board of 3s-8s-9c-3d; Sylvia called with Ac-9h and won with a two pair as the 5s river ended Ausmus’ straight draw hopes.
With just four players remaining, Russell Thomas called Jacob Balsiger’s (As-Kc) all-in move with Ah-9d. The board showed 8c-Qh-5h-5d-7h to end the hand and eliminate Thomas in fourth place. Below you can see how the chip counts looked after Day 1 of the final table:
1. Greg Merson – 88,350,000
2. Jesse Sylvia – 62,750,000
3. Jacob Balsiger – 46,875,000
WSOP Main Event Final Table – Day 2
Merson quickly pushed his chip lead as he won eight out of the first nine pots to start the day. He would remain here for a while as Balsiger and Sylvia spent time battling back and forth for huge pots. The two players switched from second and third place several times over the next few hours.
Well over a hundred hands later, Balsiger (20.3m chips) moved all-in with Qh-Td and was called by Merson and his Kc-Qs hand. The flop was a rare 6s-6d-6c, which gave Balsiger some chances to chop or win the pot. However, a turn of Jc and a river of 5h didn’t help the 21-year-old’s cause and he busted out in third.
As heads-up play began, Merson (117.6m) and Sylvia (80.6m) were relatively even in chips. This didn’t last long though since Merson continued to win small pots and increase his stack to 130 million after 16 hands. On the next and final hand, Merson (Kd-5d) 3bet shoved his stack in while Sylvia called (Qs-Js) after thinking for a while. The board came out 6c-3h-9s-6s-7c and Greg Merson was officially the victor.
What’s really impressive in all of this is that he also won WSOP Event #57 ($1.1 million) and captured the 2012 Player of the Year title as well. Taking everything into account, Merson has completely turned his life around from just over one year ago.
Here’s a look at the final table results:
1. Greg Merson – $8,531,853
2. Jesse Sylvia – $5,295,149
3. Jake Balsiger – $3,799,073
4. Russell Thomas – $2,851,537
5. Jeremy Ausmus – $2,155,313
6. Andras Koroknai – $1,640,902
7. Michael Esposito – $1,258,040
8. Rob Salaburu – $971,360
9. Steve Gee – $754,798