When I reached Greg Merson in Las Vegas last night, he sounded a little tired. “I’m a little sick right now,” he said, “but I can’t complain too much.”
I said, “Because you’re a millionaire?”
Merson laughed. So did I — in a jealous sort of way.
Merson, who grew up in Laurel, dropped out of the University of Maryland five years ago, at age 19, to play poker professionally. A former business major, he considered the move to be entrepreneurial. His parents did not. “They’re pretty old school, you know,” he said. “They are your pretty typical baby boomers. They thought it was crazy.”
The other day, Merson won $1.1 million and a gold bracelet in a World Series of Poker tournament. Asked what his parents thought now, Merson said: “They’re pretty excited.”
Merson is playing this week in the World Series of Poker’s main event. When he’s not in a Las Vegas tournament, he is usually in Toronto, where he moved with other poker players so he could legally play online poker 40 hours a week. He does not shower before work — it’s one of his superstitions. A typical day is: Wake up, play poker, have lunch, work out, shower, play poker.
“This is my job,” he said.
Merson’s career goal is not to go back to college. “A lot of people go to college to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and I was fortunate to figure that out pretty early,” Merson said. He’s hoping a poker Web site or entertainment property sponsors him to travel the world for poker tournaments. “That would be pretty legit,” he said.
Merson owns two cars and a fancy watch, but he’s saving his million bucks for a house back in the United States if and when online poker is federally legalized. “I’m tired of paying rent,” he said.
Merson rented a nine-bedroom house in Las Vegas with some other poker players in the WSOP events. It has a big pool and 30 TVs.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “But it’s nice to be away from the Strip.”
Today he will compete in Day 3 of the main event against the best players in the world. He’s up about $160,000. He is not cocky. He knows winning will be difficult.
“It’s a total crapshoot,” he said.