The swings of life: Greg Merson on the best and worst moments of his poker career

He won the 2012 WSOP Main Event but it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Greg Merson

In 2012, when he was 24-years-old, Greg Merson became the World Series of Poker Main Event champion and the WSOP Player of the Year. He won $8,531,853 for the Main Event, but had already won $1.1 million for taking down the $10,000 NLHE six-handed title, becoming the first player since Chris Ferguson in 2000 to win the Main Event and another bracelet in the same year. It was a triumphant comeback for Merson who spent much of 2011 battling a serious drug addiction… 


The lowest point of my life was detoxing from Roxycontin in a Vegas hotel room on December 10, 2011. I’m a recovering drug addict. That was a little over 25 months ago, and was the lowest point of my life. [WSOP bracelet winner] Tony Gregg was with me at the hotel. I don’t really remember it that much but I don’t think I left the room for three days. I was sleeping, I’d have cold sweats and bad diarrhoea and all the side effects of detoxing from an opiate. It was really bad. I flew home on the fourth day and I still wasn’t feeling too great. And then I didn’t feel normal again for eight or nine days after I stopped. I had 15 pills left and I kept them next to the bed because I wasn’t sure how bad it was going to be. I was throwing up all this shit and then I flushed them. I was, like, I have to just get the fuck over this shit. 

I had a good childhood and I was a straight ‘A’ student in high school. I’d never had anything to complain about. And then I was just experimenting with drugs like a lot of young kids do and I got hooked on them. I became dependent on stimulants. And, after being three years clean, I was hooked on depressants.

Out of control
I had gotten clean at 18-years-old and had made a lot of money until I was 22. When I turned 23, I felt I had to be a grown-up so early. At 18 all I did was play poker. I wanted to enjoy life again. That’s part of being a drug addict. We trick ourselves into thinking it’s something we can do one time. That snowballed into drugs taking over my life.

Poker has saved me. It was definitely my main influence on getting clean in the first place. I didn’t get clean just to make money. I got clean because I had almost no hope in life anymore. I was so depressed. I wasn’t competing at a high level. I just like to compete more than the money. 

Money is good, but I wouldn’t trade my girlfriend, family and friends in for $20m. I had a different outlook on [life] the second time. Poker has been a good replacement for me. It keeps my mind stimulated and keeps me clean because it keeps me busy.

Life is so much better being clean, but it took a while. I was frustrated at first. The first time I was clean I went broke for the first time in my career. I had $30,000 when I got clean and I lost all of it in the first two months. I knew my mind was just going through the adjustment stage of thinking differently, [instead of] being fucked up all the time. I knew that it would turn around and it started clicking again in February of 2012.

Winning the six-max bracelet meant even more to Merson than the Main Event

Winning the six-max bracelet meant even more to Merson than the Main Event


2012 was the high point of my life. I met my girlfriend, who will probably be my wife one day, and I had my best year in poker. I was starting recovery all in the same year, so it was the sickest year ever. It’s hard to top the Main Event win, but if I had to pick one thing, I remember winning the six-max bracelet more. 

Six-max no-limit was all I played online. So it was the championship format of the game I’ve dedicated five straight years of my life to. That’s something that I always wanted to win at the WSOP. I never got to let that soak in really, because I just played the Main Event right after and won. A lot of people don’t even know that I won that tournament, so it means a lot to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever win something that means more. 

The Main Event is just crazy because it’s not realistic to think you’re going to win something with seven thousand players in it. But the $10k six-max only got around 200 people and so if I played it 40 times in a row, I can expect maybe to win it one time. It’s reasonable for me to have that goal. But the Main Event is such a crapshoot that no matter how good you are, you have to get lucky. 

Priceless friends 
It was crazy because I started 2011 expecting to be a millionaire by the end of the year, but I lost $400,000 by being messed up on drugs. I’ve always set high financial goals through poker for the year, because it’s the only way to keep score for a cash game player. I just knew when I hit that tournament that I got back all the money that I made a mistake losing, playing fucked up. It was really emotional for me. It was like a reset button. It put me back to where I was, which would have taken me normally 15 to 18 months to make that much money. 

Tony Gregg and I met in 2007 and he really took my game to the next level. All the tournament success I’ve had is credited towards him for sure. He actually had a piece of me in both bracelets that I won and writing him those cheques was the best feeling ever, because how could I ever repay someone that taught me to make millions of dollars. It’s the best feeling ever. I also had other friends who had pieces, who were having bad years after Black Friday, and had two per cent. So writing them cheques was an awesome feeling because I boosted their bankroll and got them back in action instead of them quitting poker or getting staked.

Get exclusive interviews with the world’s biggest and best poker players every month – subscribe to PokerPlayer magazine for just £12.99 a year! 

Pin It

Comments are closed.