One of the longest final tables in WSOP Main Event history ended with Greg Merson (pictured above) crowned world champion for 2012. The 24-year-old professional poker player from Laurel, Maryland celebrated his ultimate moment of triumph at 6am (Vegas time) following a marathon all-night session.
What began last summer at the Rio Las Vegas with 6598 entrants, ranking as the fifth largest live poker tournament in history, concluded on Halloween morning.
Indeed, for Merson this was truly an experience of tricks and treats. He collected a whopping USD $8,531,853 in prize money for first place. Merson was also presented with the game’s ultimate symbol of achievement – the gold and platinum bracelet encrusted with diamonds, which was custom designed by Jason of Beverly Hills.
Merson received an added bonus by virtue of his victory. He locked up the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year title, which is a points-based system that rewards the player who posts the greatest accumulation of results over the course of all 68 gold bracelet events played in calendar year 2012. Merson edged out WSOP Europe champion Phil Hellmuth by a small margin.
This was Merson’s second gold bracelet victory this year. He previously won the $10,000 buy-in Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em championship, which concluded last July.
Merson’s path to glory was not easy. In fact, he was put to the test as is only fitting for a competition with as much intensity as the WSOP Main Event.
“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.”
Following a 103-day recess after making the final table, Merson gradually increased his chip count to the point where he had seized the chip lead away from early favourite – friend and rival Jesse Sylvia. By the end of the first of two final table sessions, which concluded late on Monday night, Merson had the chip lead when play was reduced to the final three.
But if Merson or anyone else thought the end was near or victory would be easy, they would be in for a long wait. The final trio of 20somethings consisting of Merson, Sylvia, and Jake Balsiger became deadlocked in the ultimate test of mental and physical endurance – played out before a worldwide viewing audience following the poker action on ESPN and partner networks.
The three finalists battled all night long, leaving even the most battle-tested observers weary and blurry-eyed. After each of the three traded off the chip lead more than a few times, Merson re-emerged as the dominant force throughout the 12-hour final session.
Once Balsiger was eliminated in third place, Merson enjoyed the advantage over his final opponent and finally closed out the victory on a hand that came unexpectedly just as the sun was rising over the Las Vegas valley.
The final hand took place when Merson had about a 3:1 chip lead. He was dealt K-5 offsuit versus Sylvia’s Q-J offsuit. Neither player made a pair, which meant Merson’s king-high played as the winning hand.
2012 WSOP Event 61: $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em World Championship (6598 players; 666 players paid; total prizepool USD $62,031,385) final table payouts
1 Greg Merson (USA) $8,531,853
2 Jesse Sylvia (USA) $5,295,149
3 Jacob Balsiger (USA) $3,799,073
4 Russell Thomas (USA) $2,851,537
5 Jeremy Ausmus (USA) $2,155,313
6 Andras Koroknai (Hungary) $1,640,902
7 Michael Esposito (USA) $1,258,040
8 Robert Salaburu (USA) $971,360
9 Steven Gee (USA) $754,798
• Additional reporting thanks to wsop.com