In July, 6,598 people began the World Series of Poker’s Main Event with the dream of being crowned its champion months later. And after seven grueling sessions of play were completed over 11 days, only nine remained in competition for the title.
When play resumed in the Rio Hotel and Casino’s Penn and Teller Theater two days before Halloween after a long break, Steve Gee became the first player to be eliminated from the final table when Russell Thomas called Gee’s all-in bet after five minutes of contemplation. With his pocket eights beaten by Russell’s queens, Gee finished in ninth place and collected a paycheck of $754,798.
Robert Salaburu was the next player to be eliminated from the tournament. Having already lost a considerable number of chips when his queens lost to a pair of kings, Salaburu pushed all of his chips into the middle with a pair of sevens. Salaburu was knocked out in eighth place when Sylvia paired his queen on the river. Salaburu went home $971,360 richer for his performance.
Michael Esposito was sent home in seventh place with $1,258,040 in winnings when Greg Merson’s AK proved superior to Esposito’s AJ. Merson caught AK again in time to eliminate Andra Koroknai in sixth place. Koroknai collected $1,640,902 for his efforts.
When his bluff failed to fool professional player, Jesse Sylvia, Jeremy Ausmus found himself out of contention for the championship title. Ausmus collected $2,155,313 for finishing in fifth place. Russell Thomas was the final player eliminated from play last Monday when his A9 lost to Jake Balsiger’s AK. Thomas earned $2,851,537 for his stellar performance.
When the three remaining players reconvened at the final table on Tuesday, October 30th, Greg Merson had a commanding chip lead. With fellow professional, Sylvia, to his left, Merson was still forced to limp his way into various pots despite his lead, however. His position at the table didn’t stop Merson from eliminating the only amateur remaining among the tournament’s final three participants, Jake Balsiger. Balsiger, a senior studying political science at Arizona State, bet the last of his chips on Q10 and lost to Merson’s KQ. Balsiger collected $3.8 million for his exceptional finish.
Seventeen hands later, Merson eliminated the last of his competitors – 26 year-old, Jesse Sylvia. After getting re-raised by Sylvia, Merson went all-in with a suited K5. After considering his options for a few minutes, Sylvia called with his suited QJ. After the flop came out 6,3,9, the turn put a pair of sixes on the board. When the river failed to pair either of Sylvia’s hole cards, he was eliminated in second place.
Sylvia received $5,295,149 for his second place finish and the 24 year-old Merson collected $8,527,982 and a prized WSOP bracelet for claiming the championship title.
Shortly after he won the WSOP Main Event, Merson was interviewed. After admitting that he wants to be an ambassador of poker despite not enjoying playing in tournaments as much as cash games, Merson answered questions about his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
When asked about his past personal struggles with drugs and alcohol, WSOP.com reports that Mercer said, “I could possibly not even be alive right now – and that’s no exaggeration. I did not bring that story out to the public to get pity. I just felt comfortable releasing that information…sharing my story and trying to help other people. I have had a lot of people private message me. Anything I can do to help the community with this problem, because we live such a crazy lifestyle, it’s easy to get caught up in that stuff. So, this is something I look forward to – to helping more people with whatever I can do.”
When he was asked if he thought he might be susceptible to relapsing, WSOP.com reports that Merson responded, “No, not at all. That’s the first thing I think of every day when I wake up. I never want to do any of that again, ever. And now coming out in public about it makes me even have to act more responsibly. I mean, if I did something it would have to be in hiding and it’s going to be pretty hard to hide anything now. I feel very good about my recovery.”