Greg Merson survived a brutally long battle between two other players, continued fighting until dawn on Wednesday morning and eventually won himself an $8.53 million purse as this year's winner of the World Series of Poker's Main Event.
The win helped Merson take home the series Player of the Year award. Clearly, he saved his best for last.
Merson defeated 26-year-old poker pro Jesse Sylvia to win the championship, but it was the three-way battle between the pair and 21-year-old Arizona Sate senior Jake Balsiger that stole the show.
The three engaged in a lengthy standoff that eventually took the final table up to 382 hands on the night (the previous record was 364) before Balsiger was eliminated, nearly 11 hours into the battle. It was a final three to remember.
Merson came into the final table behind Sylvia in chips, but it was Merson who held a chip lead coming into the lengthy duel between the final three players. Each player rotated pulling off gutsy bluffs, surviving all-in hands and switching the chip lead.
But Merson's instincts won the day. He sniffed opportunity, calling Balsiger's all-in gamble with a queen-10. Merson's king-queen was enough to get him through all five community cards—though he had a king-high, it was a gutsy call nonetheless—and Balsiger's evening was done.
Balsiger would take home $3.8 million for third place.
King-high was kind to Merson again with the title on the line. He put Sylvia all in holding a king-high hand, and it again held up through all five community cards against Sylvia's suited queen-jack.
Sylvia took home just under $5.3 million for taking second place.
Merson's victory is a comeback tale, both in the final event and in his life. Consider the following from Andrew Feldman of ESPN (written before the final showdown between Merson, Balsiger and Sylvia):
Forget the fact that he was down to only two big blinds during Day 5 and take the comeback in a much greater meaning. Merson has been outspoken about his personal battle with drugs. He claims poker has helped keep him on the right path and, win or lose, everyone is hoping that he stays there. His rise to poker dominance seemed expected from his close group of friends and now, only two players stand in his way from cementing a true legacy.
I think we can consider that legacy cemented, and Merson a true up-and-comer in the poker world. It's good to see poker has helped him get his life back on track as well.
And his bank account, for that matter.
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