Following the World Series of Poker this year, Greg Merson(pictured), who won the Main Event in 2012, decided to go smoke-free. He has overcome several obstacles in his life already, but can he successfully squash smoking? PocketFives caught up with the two-time bracelet winner to talk about his challenge in hopes that it might inspire other poker players to follow suit.
PocketFives: Thank you for joining us. Tell us about going smoke-free. Why did you decide to do it?
Greg Merson: Going smoke-free is something I’ve been striving towards for a long time. I switched over to electronic about 18 months ago and lowered the nicotine levels down to about 20% of a cigarette before tossing all my stuff in the trash on July 15. I decided I wanted to quit before the Series, but didn’t think that would be a good idea, so I waited until after I got home to start the process.
PocketFives: How’s it going so far?
Greg Merson: My biggest struggle has been the triggers. Electronic is a great way to lower yourself off nicotine, but when you can smoke basically anywhere, it seemed like it was just in my mouth 24/7. I took five days off poker before getting back online with six tables of $1/$2 and $2/$4 and have now worked myself back to $10/$20 faster than expected. I thought I would have greater challenges with my mental game, but things have gone a lot smoother than I expected.
PocketFives: What are you doing to keep your mind off smoking?
Greg Merson: To keep my mind off smoking, I use the same strategy I use for my sobriety: I keep myself as busy as possible and try to never let my mind wander. Wandering is a very scary concept for any addict. I also remind myself daily how much better my life is going to be when I stay smoke-free.
PocketFives: We know you’ve overcome other obstacles in your life very successfully. How does this compare? Is there anything you’ve learned that carries over to stopping smoking?
Greg Merson: I’ve learned a lot about channeling certain willpower through my addiction to drugs and that definitely carries over to smoking. However, quitting electronic has been much more of a mental battle than a physical one. My most recent recovery was from opiates, where I had four days of horrendous physical withdrawal and then another three or four days of lingering issues. I haven’t dealt with a mental battle this hard since getting off cocaine at 19.
PocketFives: Thank you for sharing that. Let’s talk about poker now. You had two final tables at the WSOP this year. You finished fourth in a $5,000 NLHE event for $152,000 and then took fifth in the $10,000 PLO Championship for another $79,000. Evaluate your performance.
Greg Merson: I was happier with my second final table than my first. I didn’t play my A-game in the first one and it was the first final table of my career where I thought I made several mistakes. I also think I was gun-shy about taking some spots due to ICM and I hate thinking like that when I’m playing for bracelets.
I decided after that performance that I’m basically always going to be going for the win from now on unless it’s One Drop or Main Event-type payout jumps.
PocketFives: What do you think of the 2015 WSOP November Nine? Anyone you’re pulling for?
Greg Merson: I’m pulling for Tommy Canulli (pictured). We battle online a lot in New Jersey and I love his fearless style. I think people will enjoy watching him play and he would make a great champion because he wears his heart on his sleeve.
PocketFives: How would the presence of Daniel Negreanu in the November Nine have changed the excitement and interest in the November Nine, if at all? Were you pulling for him?
Greg Merson: Daniel would have been great for the final table. That being said, I still think it’s going to drive a lot of viewers each week with him being on all of the episodes and by the time he busts, viewers will be invested enough to watch the final table. There are always stories to be had from other people and sharing the spotlight with other guys is important. If we can’t develop new stars, it will be bad for the industry.
PocketFives: Did you experience any issues with the Modiano playing cards at the WSOP?
Greg Merson: The playing card issue was certainly a joke. I actually used a card protector that capped my cards nearly entirely when I had someone at the table who looked sketchy. It was the first time in my career I didn’t feel safe, from an integrity standpoint, playing in a tournament. I was extremely disappointed in the decision to approve these cards.
PocketFives: Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for the WSOP next year?
Greg Merson: A lot of people hate on the WSOP and I certainly have some issues with them as well, but no tour is perfect. All in all, I think they bring tons of amateurs to the field whom the pros get to play against. I think they are the softest $5K and $10K events in the world, yet everyone is always complaining about something. I wish they had more turbos and more PLO events. A turbo PLO event would be awesome and get a great turnout.