And then there were nine.
And one of those nine is Greg Merson.
The University of Maryland dropout from Laurel qualified Monday night in Las Vegas for the finals of the World Series of Poker’s main event. He’ll play this October for the $8.5 million grand prize.
I got Merson on the phone to get his reaction — at 1:21 p.m. our time (10:21 a.m. Vegas time) — and I’m pretty sure I woke him up.
He sounded like he was still dreaming, which in a sense he probably was given that he also won $1.1 million in a WSOP tournament last week.
“I don’t even think I realize what’s happening,” he said in the voice of a typical 24-year-old trying to hold the phone to his head while laying horizontally and talking to someone calling from a 9-to-5 job. “I just feel super lucky.”
Merson’s play in the tournament Monday night, including an amazing straight-over-straight win early on, garnered headlines that used the word “legend.” Superstar Olympian Michael Phelps gave him props on Twitter. And ESPN color commentator Norman Chad told me, “This kid is pretty impressive.”
“He just seems to be in a zone,” Chad continued. “He’s on an incredible run, a once-in-a-lifetime run.”
Merson knows that. Earlier this week, he told me that winning the main event was a total “crapshoot.” In the crapshoot department, he joins a handful of Marylanders to pop into the final round on hot streaks, including Darvin Moon and Steve Dannenmann, who both finished second.
I asked Dannenmann earlier today whether there was something about Maryland that helps produce unbelievable, dramatic, come-from-nowhere streaks. He said, “It’s probably just dumb luck.”
Merson has been living in Toronto for most of the past year so he can play legally online. That’s how he makes his living. (His routine: Wake up, play poker, have lunch, work out, shower, play poker.) He is headed back here today — home.
“I’ve been super homesick this year,” he said, sounding a little perkier. “I think this will all sink in when I see my parents. I can’t wait to hug my mom. This is awesome for me, but it’s nice to make my parents proud.”
More from The Washington Post: