Greg Merson, a 24-year-old poker professional from Maryland, lasted through a 12-hour final session to capture the World Series of Poker’s main event and its $8.5 million first prize.
The win, after 399 hands were dealt, also gave Merson Player of the Year honors at the event in Las Vegas, a 61-event competition that concluded with the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em World Championship, otherwise known as the main event.
“I’ve played a lot of long cash games in my career, which helps you prepare for something like this, but this whole stage is something you can’t ever really prepare for,” Merson said, placing the champion’s gold bracelet on his mother’s wrist. “I couldn’t feel better for everyone who I’m sharing this victory with.”
The main event was the fifth-largest live poker tournament in history, with a starting field in July of 6,598 entrants. They played down to nine contestants at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino on July 17 and restarted competition two days ago.
Merson, a Laurel, Maryland, native who attended the University of Maryland, was the chip leader heading into the final day of competition, ahead of 26-year-old Jesse Sylvia and 21-year-old Jake Balsiger.
With only Merson and Sylvia remaining after Balsiger was eliminated on the 382nd hand, Sylvia committed all his chips while holding a suited queen-jack. Merson was holding a king in his hand, which held up after the community cards were revealed: two sixes, a three, a nine and a seven. Sylvia earned $5.3 million as runner-up.
Merson also won a $10,000 buy-in six-handed no-limit hold’em event at this year’s event.