In recent years, Maryland has been known as the home of second-place finishers at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.
In 2005, Severn resident Steve Dannenmann finished second to Australia’s Joe Hachem. In 2009, Oakland logger Darvin Moon finished second to Michigan’s Joe Cada. But 2012 proved to be Maryland’s year, with Laurel’s Greg Merson, 24, capturing the gold bracelet and $8,531,853 this morning at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Merson outlasted a total Main Event field of 6,598 players who each ponied up $10,000 for the chance to win poker’s most prestigious tournament.
He also survived a marathon final session of play that spanned almost exactly 12 hours, beginning at 5:45pm Pacific time on Tuesday and concluding at 5:44am Pacific time on Thursday.
Merson, who attended the University of Maryland but did not graduate, is a professional poker player. He credits the game with saving his life after developing a drug habit while attending college.
The Main Event victory was Merson’s second seven-figure prize at this year’s WSOP. He also won a $10,000 6-handed No-Limit Hold’em tournament this summer that yielded him $1,136,197.
“I’ve played a lot of long cash games in my career, which helps you prepare for something like this, but this whole stage is something you can’t ever really prepare for,” Merson said shortly after winning the tournament and tearfully placing his gold bracelet on the wrist of his mother. “I couldn’t feel better for everyone who I’m sharing this victory with.”
In addition to breaking the “second place” curse for Maryland, Merson was the only player at the 2012 WSOP to win more than one coveted gold bracelet. Merson’s presence also attracted the attention of another Marylander, Olympic record-holder Michael Phelps. Phelps, who is a friend of Merson, wished his fellow Marylander good luck via Twitter: The 2012 Main Event began in July. As has been the custom in the past five years, play was suspended when the tournament reached its final table comprised of nine participants. Play resumed Monday afternoon; after more than seven hours of competition the field of remaining players was narrowed to three: Merson; Jake Balsiger, 21, of Tempe, Ariz.; and Jesse Sylvia, 26, of Las Vegas and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Three-handed play began Tuesday evening and lasted roughly 11 hours before Balsiger, who had an opportunity to become the youngest-ever Main Event champion, finally was eliminated in third place. Balsiger collected $3,799,073 for his efforts. Sylvia was eliminated in second place, winning $5,295,149. Rounding out the final table were:
4th place: Russell Thomas, 24, of Hartford, Conn., $2,851,537
5th place: Jeremy Ausmus, 33, of Las Vegas, $2,155,313
6th place: Andras Koroknai, 30, of Debrecen, Hungary, $1,640,902
7th place: Michael Esposito, 44, Seaford, N.Y., $1,258,040
8th place: Robert Salaburu, 27, of San Antonio, Texas, $971,360
9th place: Steve Gee, 57, of Sacramento, Calif., $754,798
Tuesday’s WSOP action was carried with a 15-minute delay on ESPN; Monday’s play was covered with a 15-minute delay on ESPN2. (The delay is per gaming regulations to protect the integrity of play)
The 2012 WSOP attracted 74,766 participants in a total of 61 events, generating a prize pool of more than $222 million. Participants in WSOP events hailed from 101 countries in 2012. For the first time in 13 years, no player won multiple bracelets during the 43rd annual WSOP.
PHOTO BY JOE GIRON/WSOP-POKER NEWS