Greg Merson has come a long way. From a 16-year-old playing cards in his parents’ basement to a drug addict who lost his way to the 2012 World Series of Poker champion. “It doesn’t seem like real life,” says Merson, who won $8.5 million. Merson, 25, developed his craft while attending the University of Maryland, playing 70 hours a week online, joining underground games, and traveling to New York to play. “I was taking boring pre-req classes,” he says. “Poker was so much more complex and interesting.” After sharpening his skills, Merson became addicted to marijuana and cocaine, and was spending all of his money on drugs. But now, he’s been sober for almost a year. “Part of being an addict is being a perfectionist,” he says. “If you can channel that into the right thing, you can be successful.” And he’s living proof. The WSOP tournament culminated in October at a final table, a marathon card session of nearly 12 hours. Merson has been practical about his winnings: He signed a lease for a D.C. apartment, is a silent partner in a real-estate firm, and wants to travel to Australia. “I could go around and have all the glamour and travel poker rooms, but that’s not who I am,” he says. “If I just go to the grocery store, no one recognizes me. It’s pretty nice.”
A Laurel native wins the World Series of Poker.
Issue date: January, 2013