No one ever said winning the $8.53 million prize would be easy.
That was certainly the case for 24-year-old pro Greg Merson, who completed one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory to win the 2012 World Series of Poker main event tournament.
Down to a mere 50,000 in chips at one point, Merson slowly battled his way back into contention. Doubling up consistently with his back against the wall, the short-handed cash game specialist showed the unbelievable skills he harnessed online.
Using that ability to play short-handed, Merson had improved his standing all the way to second place by the time the nine men had reached the final table, compiling 28,725,000 chips.
That comfortable position allowed the youngster to continue employing his skills, albeit in a different fashion. Merson mostly avoided crippling bad bets and moved his way through to the final three with relative ease.
From there, it was all about outlasting Jesse Sylvia and amateur Jake Balsiger in a 12-hour marathon that began Tuesday night and lasted well into Wednesday morning.
As most know, the WSOP has moved away from its normal tape-delayed broadcasts in recent years to bring live action to the final table, dubbing the event the October Nine.
Doing so gives fans the opportunity to see what a grueling process this never-ending stream of hands can be. No longer is every hand packed with scintillating action, but instead shows how mentally tough these players must be.
Granted, that change has caused some casual observers to turn away. Nonetheless, there was no one watching who did could not feel the unbridled joy that Merson displayed when the final river card was flipped.
For Merson, outside of the $8.53 million in prize money, the true takeaway is that he should be respected among the best poker players in the world. He had already won this year's $10,000 Texas Hold 'em six-handed World Championship and his victory at the main event puts him ahead of Phil Hellmuth for 2012 WSOP Player of the Year honors.
It's been a long road since Merson was a University of Maryland dropout who was struggling to make ends meet as a player. Now, he stands at or near the mountaintop.
Merson's comeback won't be remembered on the same level as Jack Strauss' comeback from just one chip to win the 1982 main event. However, Wednesday will serve as a banner win that may give Merson the confidence to become poker's next signature player.