Greg Merson’s place in the poker history books includes one of the all-time greatest runs at the World Series of Poker. Merson took down the 2012 WSOP Main Event and won the Player of the Year award, becoming the only player to ever do both in the same year.
Merson’s incredible success at the 2012 series came on the heels of an equally amazing back story. Addicted to drugs just six months earlier, Merson stands as one of poker’s true examples of redemtion.
Let’s take a look at life and poker career of Greg Merson, including two big hands from his 2012 WSOP Main Event run.
Greg Merson’s Tournament Results and Biggest Cashes
As of June 2021, Greg Merson’s career poker tournament earnings total $11,428,359. Merson’s five biggest tournament scores include:
- 2012 World Series of Poker $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship (1st – $8,531,853)
- 2012 World Series of Poker $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six Handed (1st – $1,136,197)
- 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $25,000 No-Limit Hold’em High Roller (2nd – $948,996)
- 2015 World Series of Poker $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em (4th – $152,126)
- 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $25,000 No-Limit Hold’em High Roller 8-Handed (13th – $88,020)
Take a look at Merson’s entire history of tournament poker results at his Hendon Mob page.
Greg Merson’s Memorable Hands
The following hand takes place at the 2012 WSOP Main Event. Merson and Jesse Sylvia are heads-up for the title, with an $8.5 million first-place prize at stake. Merson has nearly a two-to-one chip lead on Sylvia when this hand begins:
The blinds are at 1,000,000/2,000,000 when Merson looks down at K♦ 5♦. Merson opens to 4,000,000, and Sylvia three-bets to 9,500,000 with Q♠ J♠.
Merson rips it in response, declaring an all-in four-bet. Merson’s larger stack puts Sylvia’s tournament life on the line, with Sylvia pondering the decision to commit the remaining 60 million in his stack.
Sylvia has the right pot odds to make a profitable call in terms of chips, but the difference between first and second place in the Main Event is more than $3 million. Silvia decides on a call, and the Main Event heads-up finale is off to the races.
Merson goes into the hand as a 55 percent favorite. The flop comes 6♣ 3♥ 9♦, bringing no help to Silvia. The 6♠ comes on the turn, putting Merson one card away from Main Event glory.
The river 7♣ clinches the championship for Merson, who walks away from the 2012 WSOP with the Main Event title and two bracelets overall. Sylvia takes home $5,295,149 for the runner-up finish.
Merson’s Main Event Final Table Bluff
Another big hand from Merson’s poker highlight reel comes from earlier at the Main Event final table from the 2012 WSOP (hand begins at 12:32):
With three players remaining, Merson limps from the button with Q♥ J♥. The blinds are at 400,000/800,000 at the time, and Sylvia completes from the small blind with T♠ 9♣.
Jacob Balsinger raises to 3,700,000 from the big blind, and Merson calls. Sylvia folds, leaving Balsinger and Merson to go heads-up to the flop.
That flops brings 3♣ 9♥ 8♠ to the board. Balsinger continuation bets for 4,500,000, and Merson calls.
The turn comes 4♥, bringing in a heart flush draw for Merson. Balsinger fires a second barrel, putting 7,500,000 into the 17,500,000 pot. Merson calls, bringing the pot to 32,500,000.
The river comes 6♠, putting Merson ahead with his queen-high and jack kicker. He might not know he’s ahead though, and Balsinger puts that to the test with a 13,000,000 bet on the river.
Merson elects to go all-in, committing 54,475,000 to the pot. He presumably does so as a bluff, not knowing he actually has Balsigner beat in this spot. Balsigner immediately folds, and Phil Ivey applauds Merson’s bold river move from the rail.
Overcoming Addiction on the Way to Poker Immortality
Merson began playing in neighborhood poker games with friends at the age of 16, in his home state of Maryland. A straight-A student at Reservoir High School, Merson started attending the University of Maryland after high school graduation.
At 17 years old, however, Merson began a series of battles with cocaine addiction. That addiction followed him through his short stay in college.
Merson told the Washington Post that he would use cocaine regularly during his freshman year of college, including in between classes and before tests. The drug addiction led to a 25-pound weight loss for Merson while in his first year at the University of Maryland.
His grades and overall health suffered as a result, but all the while Merson continued to pursue poker. In 2007, in the middle of his third semester in college, Merson decided to chase his dream of becoming a poker pro.
Merson moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey to play online poker, and started living a drug-free life. Poker’s Black Friday forced the biggest online poker sites out of the US in 2011, precluding a move to Toronto for Merson.
In February 2011, Merson relapsed. That latest struggle with addiction lasted through the remainder of 2011, until Merson detoxed alone in a Las Vegas hotel room.
All-Time Great Run at the 2012 WSOP
Just six months removed from that detox, Merson set his sights on the 2012 World Series of Poker. While he’s best known for his Main Event win, Merson put together one of the best overall runs across any single WSOP in history.
Merson’s likeness adorns the halls of the Rio Las Vegas as the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year. In addition to the Main Event win, Merson also scored a bracelet in the $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event (1st – $1,136,197).
Another final table appearance for Merson came in the $2,500 Four-Handed No-Limit Hold’em event (5th – $70,280). Merson cashed four times at the 2012 WSOP, including the Main Event win, two bracelets, three final tables, and $9,755,180 in total winnings from the series.
Merson added another big payday at the 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $25,000 High Roller (2nd – $948,996), which still stands as the third-largest tournament cash of his career.
The Maryland native hasn’t made too many live tournament appearances since then, with his last live cash coming at the 2019 WSOP. His run at the 2012 series lives on in poker lore, however, with Merson making the ultimate life turnaround to win poker’s ultimate prize.