The Washington Post

Laurel’s Greg Merson wins World Series of Poker

Greg Merson poses with $8.5 million in cash.(Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus)

He did it.

Laurel’s Greg Merson, who dropped out of the University of Maryland and beat a drug addiction to find himself at the final table of the World Series of Poker, outlasted eight other players and won the championship early Wednesday morning.

His take: $8.5 million, a $100,000 gold bracelet, and Player of the Year honors.

Merson battled against the final two players all night, in a record 12 hours of play — first sending home amateur Jake Balsiger early this morning, and then, finally, his constant nemesis at the table Jesse Sylvia.

Confetti rained down on Merson as his family and friends rushed from the audience to congratulate him. He exchanged a long hug with his parents Stan and Donna, who weren’t altogether thrilled that their straight-A son gave up school after just three semesters for professional poker.

But they came around, and now their son is about to put $8.5 million in his pocket. Merson, in tears, put the $100,000 gold bracelet on his mom’s wrist.

“It’s absurd,” Merson told ESPN, tears in his eyes. “It doesn’t even feel like real life.” And then he shook his head back and forth.

Merson, Balsiger and Sylvia had dueled all night, taking a 10-minute break every two hours. The hours started adding up and, little by little, Sylvia and Merson, both pro players, chipped away at Balsiger’s stack.

Merson was nearly inscrutable all night, barely moving in his seat, the Washington Monument of poker players. Balsiger, a political science major at Arizona State, was eliminated around 8 a.m.

That left Merson and Sylvia, with Merson up about 2-to-1 in chips.

About a half-hour into one-on-one play, Merson went all in with a king high on the 399th hand of the finals. Sylvia called with a queen-jack. Merson won.

Keep checking back here for updates.

Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.


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