A 24-year-old from Laurel will return to the state with $8.53 million after winning the World Series of Poker early Wednesday morning in Las Vegas.
Greg Merson, showing his native pride by wearing a Baltimore Orioles jersey, played in a marathon game of Texas Hold 'em on national television that went all night. After the 12-hour, 399-hand final round, Merson was crowned world champion about 6 a.m.
"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," the former University of Maryland student said after he won the longest final round in the tournament's history.
Merson, who has had plenty of online poker success, gained superstar status quickly, which led to an ESPN feature in which he told of his history as a drug user. He cites poker as the reason he has been able to overcome his addictions to Adderall and OxyContin in the last year. He previously was addicted to cocaine.
Merson is a graduate of Reservoir High School in Fulton. He also has a home in Toronto, where he can legally play online, according to reports.
Beyond the money prize, he also collected a gold and platinum bracelet encrusted with diamonds.And Merson was named the 2012 World Series of Poker's player of the year. The award is based on a points system that is accumulated over the course of 68 events at which competitor could win coveted gold bracelets.
Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps, a Baltimore native, gave Merson a few shout-outs on Twitter.
Merson had previously won a gold bracelet at a $10,000, buy-in six-handed, no-limit hold 'em championship tournament in July.
For the World Series,Merson's journey in the tournament began last summer in Las Vegas among a group of 6,598 entrants and ended on Halloween morning. After congratulating second-place finisher Jesse Sylvia, Merson celebrated with friends and family as tears filled his eyes.
"I couldn't feel better for everyone who I'm sharing this victory with," Merson said.