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  1. If you haven't heard, Greg Merson (pictured), two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, was not at all happy with the World Poker Tour's decision to run a $500 buy-in, $1 million Guarantee at Aria in Las Vegas at the same time as this year's WSOP Main Event at the Rio. --- PocketFives' news coverage is brought to you by Betsafe, one of the leading suppliers of online gaming products worldwide and a major sponsor of Gumball 3000. Sign up now for great bonuses, €3,000,000 guaranteed monthly, and plenty of live events! --- "Can't breathe on PartyPoker/WPT trying to step on the toes of the WSOP Main Event. Of course you can play both, but very disrespectful IMO," he Tweeted to his 34,000 followers. The comparatively low buy-in WPT500 was an effort by organizers to take advantage of the many grinders hanging around town for the WSOP who could not afford the $10,000 Main Event. But Merson was having none of it and continued to voice his displeasure on Twitter: "Just a desperate attempt by a company trying to hold onto a glimmer of the spotlight as they have continued to slide since 2006 #showers." At that point, Matt Savage (pictured), Executive Tour Director of the WPT and organizer of the WPT500, tried to calm down the 2012 Main Event winner, replying, "Sorry for upsetting you, no one is more supportive of the WSOP than I am and wouldn't expect a single player to skip the ME for this." He also added, "In addition, we moved our dates from the 1-6th out of 'respect' for the 'Little One Drop,' as a $1K buy-in is too close to $500." On the forums, most agreed with Savage that the $500 event was unlikely to draw any players away from the prestigious five-figure buy-in Main Event and welcomed more competition for the WSOP. "Some people prefer a tourney where they can win $200k in 2 days instead of an entry to a $10k, 2 week+ tournament," chimed in Andy Bloch. "WPT is a competitor. Who really cares if there is a $500 at the Aria? Nice for people who fly in and want to play every day," said Russell Thomas. Merson was unmoved and kept up his tirade, calling the Main Event "our Super Bowl" and telling WPT execs to "save your five-day reentry money grab for another date." The pro's comments might have been spurred by a new sponsorship alliance with the WSOP, as pointed out by F5 Poker. In the middle of this year's Series, Merson was photographed wearing a WSOP.compatch after leaving Phil Ivey's training site. One Twitter observer was not impressed with the bracelet winner's behavior: "Astounded @WSOPcom would still consider @GregMerson as potential ambassador after tirade against #WPT500 @ARIAPoker event! #GreatValueEvent." Merson's Main Event run came to an end on Day 2AB, with the pro Tweeting, "I have been eliminated from this tournament." That didn't stop him from keeping up the jabs, though: "Debating going to play Day 1P of the [WPT500] tournament," he said facetiously. At that point, the WPT500 was already turning out to be a rousing success, smashing its guarantee with 3,599 entrants and generating a prize pool of $1.8 million. In the end, Sean Yu bested the field, defeating Kareem Marshall for a $260,000 first place prize. On Twitter, poker industry professionals were quick to complement Savage on the tournament. "Pretty impressive vision and even better execution. Congrats," said Parx Poker Ambassador Matt Glantz (pictured). "Congrats to @ARIAPoker @WPT for a hugely successful #WPT500," agreed Bellagio Poker Room Manager Sean McCormack. Merson seems to be standing by his remarks, but he made clear that the criticism wasn't directed toward Savage himself. "@SavagePoker wanted to let you know those comments were in no way directed toward you. You are one of the best in the business and we are lucky to have you in the poker world," he said. "They were my views stemming from frustration of poker companies not working together to schedule stuff that doesn't hurt numbers for major events." Want the latest poker headlines and interviews? Follow PocketFives on Twitterand Like PocketFives on Facebook. You can also subscribe to our RSS feed.
  2. Nearly three weeks after he issued a Twitter tirade against the World Poker Tour and its $500 buy-in Las Vegas tournament, the WPT500, 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event winner Greg Merson (pictured) has responded to critics who thought he took his criticism too far. --- PocketFives' news coverage is brought to you by Betsafe, one of the leading suppliers of online gaming products worldwide and a major sponsor of Gumball 3000. Sign up now for great bonuses, €3,000,000 guaranteed monthly, and plenty of live events! --- On his Twitter feed from July 6, Merson ripped into the WPT for holding its inaugural WPT500 at Aria in Las Vegas while the World Series of Poker Main Event was being conducted nearby at the Rio. "Can't breathe on partypoker/WPT trying to step on the toes of the WSOP Main Event," Merson wrote in his first Tweet. "Of course you can play both, but very disrespectful, in my opinion." Merson went on to Tweet, "The Main Event is our Super Bowl, save your 5 day re-entry money grab for another date." He concluded his scathing remarks by commenting, "Just a desperate attempt by a company trying to hold onto a glimmer of the spotlight as they have continued to slide since 2006." Players such as Christian charderHarder, Russell Thomas, and Brian Stinger885Hastings disagreed with Merson's original Twitter rant, while WPT Tournament Director Matt Savage (pictured below) addressed Merson directly. "We moved our dates from [July] 1-6 out of respect for the Little One for One Drop, as a $1K buy-in is too close to $500," Savage wrote on Twitter. "No one is more supportive of the WSOP than I am and wouldn't expect a single player to skip ME for this." Over the past weekend, Merson addressed those who disagreed with him in a lengthy statement on his Facebook page, in part saying, "I think it is very unlikely I would have fallen into poker without the boom in 2003, which was caused predominantly by the Main Event," Merson continued. "The Main Event blew up poker to another level and keeping the numbers strong for the Main Event is important for the industry as it continues to struggle without Federal legalized online poker in the States." "For partypoker/WPT to poach the traffic for the biggest event of the year was a little grimy," Merson stated. "Let's see how they would feel about WSOP putting a $500 bracelet event the same days and in the same city as their WPT Championship. It mostly comes down to the fact that the 3 major tours fight for the same players and should be working together and not against each other." The statements from Merson come on the heels of signing with the Nevada-based regulated online poker site WSOP.com as its first sponsored pro.
  3. It should be an entertaining finish to Event #2 ($5,000 NLHE) of the 2015 World Series of Poker. On Saturday, the field will play down to a winner. Twenty runners remain on Friday out of the starting grid of 422, including several PocketFivers and one former Main Event champion. Stay tuned to PocketFives for the latest WSOP coverage, brought to you by Tournament Poker Edge. --- Tournament Poker Edgeis the only poker training site dedicated exclusively to MTTs and features over 1,000 training videos, blogs, articles, podcasts and a dedicated strategy forum for members. Check Tournament Poker Edge out on Twitter. --- The tournament resumes on Friday at 2:00pm PT and its final table on Saturday will be streamed on WSOP.com on a 30-minute delay. Among those you'll see on Friday is David Doc SandsSands (pictured above), who sent Brian Altman to the rails in 23rd place after his A-K withstood A-Q. Sands moved up to 825,000 in chips, or 82 big blinds, and ended the day in fourth place with 704,000. Kevin ImaLuckSac MacPhee doubled up late on Thursday to make Day 3, although he's short on chips at 178,000. MacPhee won a race with K-Q against 3-3 after spiking a king on the river to survive. He's in search of his third career WSOP final table. Brian Stinger885 Hastings (pictured), who led the field during a break on Thursday, was bumped in 29th place after running pocket fours into pocket aces. No help came for Hastings, who was extremely active on Twitter leading up to Wednesday's kickoff of the WSOP and won a bracelet in 2012. Here's how the field of 20 looks entering Friday's restart. The chip leader, Carl Westcott, is one of the founders of 1800Flowers: 1. Carl Westcott - 1,066,000 2. Artur Koren - 1,062,000 3. Greg gregy20723 Merson - 800,000 4. David Doc Sands Sands - 704,000 5. Jason jdpc27 Wheeler - 683,000 6. Long Nguyen - 659,000 7. Michael Wang - 653,000 8. Barry Hutter - 609,000 9. Bryn BrynKenney Kenney - 596,000 10. Corrie Wunstel - 526,000 11. Rong Li - 477,000 12. Amir Lehavot - 473,000 13. Byron Kaverman - 372,000 14. Steve SteveyBallGame Merrifield - 337,000 15. Michael Brenden - 327,000 16. Jack Schanbacher - 318,000 17. Joe ender555 Ebanks - 301,000 18. Alex Bolotin - 271,000 19. Kevin ImaLuckSacMacPhee - 178,000 20. Nam Le - 155,000 Speaking of Friday, the Colossusbegins at 10:00am PT with Flight A. Flight B will kick off at 7:00pm PT. The will call line, according to various reports, was over two hours long at times on Thursday as players who pre-registered checked into the tournament (pictured). However, no wait times were reported around 7:00am PT on Friday. The moral: always procrastinate. There were 14,000 pre-registrations for the Colossus, which has a $565 buy-in and $5 million guaranteed prize pool, although it's unknown how many of those registrations are unique since players can register for more than one flight. Tables for the Colossus were being set up throughout the Rio, including in the Poker Kitchen. Play is scheduled to begin 10-handed and get down to nine-handed as quickly as possible. Stay tuned to PocketFives for the latest WSOP coverage, brought to you by Tournament Poker Edge.
  4. On Friday, Livingston, New Jersey's Michael miw210Wang (pictured) became the first open bracelet winner of the 2015 World Series of Poker (WSOP). He took down a $5,000 No Limit Hold'emevent for his first WSOP title. --- Tournament Poker Edgeis the only poker training site dedicated exclusively to MTTs and features over 1,000 training videos, blogs, articles, podcasts and a dedicated strategy forum for members. Check Tournament Poker Edge out on Twitter. --- Wang overcame a final table that had not one, not two, but three bracelet winners at it: Bryn BrynKenneyKenney, Greg gregy20723Merson, and Amir Lehavot. As coverage on WSOP.com dictated, "Kenney seemed easily on his way to victory, but then lost critical hands late which see-sawed the title over to Wang, who had been speechless and contemplative throughout until the final hand when he finally revealed emotion and relief." Coverage detailed the dramatic fashion in which the $5K ended: "The final hand occurred when both players completed a flush on the turn, but Wang's jack-high hearts topped Kenney's nine-high. Wang moved all-in on the river and after about a minute of thoughtful deliberation, Kenney(pictured) announced a call, thus ending the night in spectacular and unexpected fashion." Wang gave a shout-out to all of his railbirds on Twitter, saying, "Can't respond to everyone, but want to say I read all the messages and a big thank you for all the love!! #shipthebracelet" Ship the bracelet indeed. The tournament drew 422 players and Wang claimed $466,000 in prize money. Incredibly, the event had 415 males and just seven females (1%). Wang told WSOP officials after the $5K had ended, "I'm still trying to process it. This is the most prestigious prize in poker. This is the best thing in the game that's ever happened to me. It's going to take some time for this to sink in." Here's how the final nine cashed out: 1. Michael miw210Wang - $466,120 2. Bryn BrynKenneyKenney - $287,870 3. Artur Koren - $208,177 4. Greg Merson - $152,126 5. Jason jdpc27 Wheeler - $112,339 6. Amir Lehavot - $83,838 7. Joe ender555 Ebanks - $63,210 8. Long Nguyen - $48,137 9. Byron Kaverman - $37,030 Stay tuned to PocketFives for the latest WSOP coverage, brought to you by Tournament Poker Edge. Want the latest poker headlines and interviews? Follow PocketFives on Twitterand Like PocketFives on Facebook.
  5. At the time of writing, there are seven players left in the $10,000 Pot Limit Hold'em Championship at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Your leader by a sizable margin right now: longtime PocketFiver Shaun shaundeeb Deeb (pictured). --- Tournament Poker Edgeis the only poker training site dedicated exclusively to MTTs and features over 1,000 training videos, blogs, articles, podcasts and a dedicated strategy forum for members. Check Tournament Poker Edge out on Twitter. --- In a monster hand early at Saturday's final table, Deeb 4bet before the flop and fellow PocketFiver Jason JAKoon1985 Koon called all-in. When the cards were revealed, it was Deeb's cowboys against Koon's A-Q, and Deeb hit top set on the flop to extend his lead. Koon had a Broadway draw that didn't hit and he busted in ninth place after Deeb ultimately hit a full house despite beginning the day as the chip leader. Deeb extended his lead after betting 104,000 in chips on a board of K-6-2-J-J. Paul paulgees81 Volpe, who had initially checked, tanked and called only to see Deeb show another full house. That hand sank Volpe's stack, but he rebounded shortly thereafter by sending Ismael Bojang to the rail with kings against A-K. The board came queen-high and Volpe stacked a half-million in chips, good for third on the leaderboard behind Deeb and high-stakes pro Jason Les. Here's how the chip stacks looked at the time of writing. The blinds were at 10,000-20,000: 1. Shaun shaundeebDeeb - 1,250,000 2. Jason Les - 860,000 3. Paul paulgees81Volpe - 800,000 4. Sam KingKobeMVP Stein - 430,000 5. Greg gregy20723 Merson - 325,000 6. Dario Sammartino - 225,000 7. Ismael Bojang - 225,000 This group is pretty sick. Merson is a former WSOP Main Event winner and has two bracelets. Deeb and Volpe are both former #1 players in the PocketFives Rankings. Stein owns a PLO bracelet and Les is one of the top high-stakes players around. Sammartino is #5 on the all-time money list for Italy, according to the Hendon Mob. Good luck, everyone. The winner is slated to get $318,000 and the final seven are guaranteed at least $47,000. Stay tuned to PocketFives for the latest WSOP coverage, brought to you by Tournament Poker Edge. Want the latest poker headlines and interviews? Follow PocketFives on Twitterand Like PocketFives on Facebook.
  6. For much of the final table, Shaun shaundeebDeeb (pictured) was the chip leader of the $10,000 Pot Limit Hold'em Championship at the World Series of Poker. The 29-year-old father of one ended up triumphing over arguably the most talented final nine at the 2015 WSOP thus far to claim his first bracelet. --- Tournament Poker Edgeis the only poker training site dedicated exclusively to MTTs and features over 1,000 training videos, blogs, articles, podcasts and a dedicated strategy forum for members. Check Tournament Poker Edge out on Twitter. --- Deeb told WSOP officials after the final gong, "This was one of the toughest final tables I've ever played against. This was the second time I've made the final in this $10K PLHE event and to come out on top against these caliber of players was just great." Heads-up, Deeb squared off against Paul paulgees81 Volpe, who was the chip leader at the start of heads-up. Deeb said, "It was really special to get this against Paul because we play together all the time. I know he wanted to win, but to get my first against him was just amazing the way it all happened." Deeb and Volpe are both former #1 playersin the PocketFives Rankings. Deeb was last ranked #1 in 2009, while Volpe was last on top in 2011. Deeb added, "This is the biggest stage of all, where it's at in poker and where you have to win to prove yourself. I wanted to cross this off my bucket list for quite some time and I finally took it down." Volpe had a slight edge entering heads-up play, but Deeb took a 2:1 lead three hands in and never relinquished it. In a rather interesting hand, on a board of A-5-2-7-5, Volpe bet pot and Deeb insta-shoved over the top. Despite being left with less than one small blind, Volpe folded and Deeb showed pocket aces. He was eliminated three hands later. Deeb took a picture of the massive difference in chip stacks, captioning the image "LOL." It's pictured to the left. Volpe collected his third cash of the 2015 WSOP. Incredibly, he has already recorded two runner-up finishes, as he took second to Keith Lehr in the $10,000 Heads-Up No Limit Hold'em Championship as well. Volpe won a bracelet last year in a No Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball event. The final table of the $10,000 Pot Limit Hold'em event had three bracelet winners, including Greg gregy20723Merson, who won the Main Event in 2012. The tournament was the first on the 2015 WSOP schedule that did not have a female in it. As we said at the top, the New Yorker is now married with a kid, which has apparently changed his poker game. Deeb explained, "I got married and had a child within the last couple of years. That changes things. I'm a family man, now. I play a little tighter than I used to. I have a better time playing now." Here's how the final table shook out: 1. Shaun shaundeebDeeb - $318,857 2. Paul paulgees81Volpe - $197,048 3. Jason Les - $142,747 4. Sam KingKobeMVP Stein - $105,364 5. Greg gregy20723Merson - $79,182 6. Dario Sammartino - $60,545 7. Kristijonas Andrulis - $47,081 8. Ismael Bojang - $37,227 9. Jason JAKoon1985 Koon - $29,911 PocketFivers are up to four WSOP bracelets this year. Stay tuned to PocketFives for the latest WSOP coverage, brought to you by Tournament Poker Edge. Want the latest poker headlines and interviews? Follow PocketFives on Twitterand Like PocketFives on Facebook.
  7. 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. Want the latest poker headlines and interviews? Follow PocketFives on Twitterand Like PocketFives on Facebook.
  8. Five years ago, Greg Merson won two World Series of Poker Bracelets, $9.75 million and WSOP Player of the Year, but the things that happened to him off the felt just before and after that summer have had a bigger impact on his life. As people go through life, they mentally circle important dates on the calendar in permanent ink. Memories pile up as each calendar page turns, but celebrating or remembering the important ones is only half of the process. Adding new dates as you reach new milestones makes up the other half and over the last five and half years, Greg Merson has built up an impressive collection. Five years ago, Greg Merson was one of thousands of online poker players who made their living – and built their reputation – sitting in front of a computer screen. The 2012 World Series of Poker changed all of that for Merson, but not before a far more important milestone began his path to poker stardom and ultimately saved his life. December 10, 2011 It was early December 2011, and a lot of poker players were in Las Vegas for the World Poker Tour Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio. Merson was sharing a room at Aria with two of his better friends, Tony Gregg and Christian Harder. Merson was in the room alone when his two friends returned to find him sitting upright in the bed, unconscious. “I really don’t remember that much. Last thing I really remember is eating goldfish (crackers),” said Merson. “I just remember being scared and then immediately being like, ‘Alright, he’s alive’, and then telling him, ‘Greg, you can’t do this bro’ and then just him having a breakdown,” said Harder, who realized his friend and fellow Maryland poker pro had come ridiculously close to dying of an overdose in that hotel room. “I just completely nodded out, which is somewhat close to overdosing, where you just kind of fade out, and if your heart stops beating, then you’re going to die,” said Merson. “I don’t remember nodding out, but I just remember them telling me that I was positioned like that, like I was dead. So that was a big wake up call for me.” As Harder remembers that day, Merson got himself together, grabbed his phone and headed for the hallway where he called his mom, in tears. He had just turned 24 years old, but Merson was smart enough to recognize he needed to get his life together in a hurry. He took the unusual step of locking himself in his hotel room for three days to get the drugs out of his system and start over. It worked, but it certainly wasn’t easy. “I remember the depression being by far the worst, like ten times worst than anything I had ever experienced, and how sick I was,” said Merson. “But for all that, I can only imagine what it would have been like if I continued to use for a long time.” A little less than a month ago, on June 10, Merson quietly celebrated 5.5 years of sobriety. His life is very different now than that day where he woke up in a hotel room with uneaten Goldfish crackers all over his shirt. Not long after detoxing himself in his hotel room, Merson made the decision to move to Toronto to get back to doing the thing he loved more than anything. “He got clean, he went through some stuff and he was like, ‘alright, I’m going to bury my head and play online constantly’,” said Harder. “So he went to Canada, it was post-Black Friday and he just played online a million hours a day.” It wasn’t the only thing he did though. While in Toronto, Merson took up yoga and began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings. When he wasn’t doing that, he was playing upwards of 24 tables of No Limit cash games with stakes as high as $5/$10. Through all of that, Merson never forgot one very important fact that he was going to have deal with the rest of his life. “You have to stay focused on the fact that you are an addict and you are not going to ever be cured of this. So you just have to constantly remind yourself that one bad decision could mean falling back into some bad habits,” said Merson. It might be over 5.5 years ago now that two of his closest friends walked in on him and probably saved his life, but Merson still looks back once in a while at the way he was before he got clean. “I think about it sometimes. I don’t dwell on the past, but I am also not embarrassed about my past, because similar to poker, you just need to keep moving on,” said Merson. “I don’t really regret anything that happened. I’m not super spiritual or think that everything happens for a reason, but for me, it ended up working out so I could not really change anything if I wanted to.” July 6, 2012 As the 2012 was drawing closer to the Main Event, Merson had a cashed a couple of times, including bubbling a final table, when the event Merson describes as his personal “Super Bowl”, the $10,000 Six Max No Limit Hold'em Championship began. After three days of play, Merson had just one opponent standing in between himself and a WSOP bracelet; Keith Lehr. Merson woke up on July 6, knowing he had to be at the Rio for 1 PM. Only 11 hours earlier, Merson had bagged up a 2-1 chip lead over Lehr. The event was scheduled to end that night, but tournament staff wouldn’t allow the pair to finish it out. Merson and Lehr played exactly one hand on the extra day, with Merson beating Lehr to win the first bracelet of his career and $1,136,197. The previous six months had been a long journey, but seeing the fruits of his labor was more than enough for Merson to break down in tears during his post-win interview. It was just his fifth career WSOP cash and third that year. Harder didn’t even know how many WSOP events Merson, who prefers to play high stakes cash games, had planned to play that summer, but definitely saw a much-improved version of his friend before the WSOP began. “I just knew that he was in a better place and was playing everyday. That’s the best thing for him, if you ask him, just getting in a groove of playing all the time. That’s when he’s playing his best,” said Harder. “Then the World Series came around. I didn’t know he was going to play any tournaments because Greg barely played any tournaments.” Merson wasn’t done there though. Ten days later he made his way through the Main Event field to make the final table. Thanks to the U.S. Presidential Election, the November Nine was moved up a week and became the October Nine, but Merson still had a 3.5-month break before the final table began, so he did what any online grinder would have done; he went back to Toronto and went to work. After two months of that life though, Merson headed back to his hometown of Laurel, Maryland. The drive should have taken just about nine hours, but Merson had a planned stop to see a friend that he’d known since he was in high school, Julie Sosenko. Greg and Julie had met at the beach years earlier and stayed in touch via Facebook and email. They hadn’t seen each other since 2005, but Julie’s hometown was the halfway point of the trip, so Greg messaged her on Facebook to see if she’d want to grab dinner as he drove through town. Even though they’d been friends on Facebook for a while, Julie didn’t really know much about what Greg was up to. She knew he was into poker, but not much beyond that. And she knew nothing of his addiction issues. The pair had first met before Merson was doing drugs and this reconnection was coming almost a full year after he’d cleaned up. “At dinner I was kind of waiting for her to bring up either one, and it was not happening and then I brought up the poker thing without trying to sound like I was bragging,” said Merson. “She was like, ‘Yeah, I saw some stuff on Facebook, but I didn’t know what that meant’.” The poker side of his story was the easy one to tell, the other part came up after dinner when Julie suggested they go to a bar for drinks. Greg told her he didn’t drink and next thing he knew, he was explaining the rest of the story to her. “I didn’t really flag it as anything concerning, mostly because I’ve been around it here and there before,” Julie said. “Of course, there were concerns, it’s scary. Nothing you ever want to think about, but me personally, I don’t know him as that. I hope to never know him as that.” Not long after that reconnection, the pair began dating. It went against what Merson was looking for at the time as he was solely focused on preparing for the Main Event final table and wanted to avoid any possible unnecessary distractions. “I can’t be falling in love and then have the girl break up with me two days before,” said Greg. “But it just kind of happened.” “We kind of both dove in pretty quickly. We were both very hesitant to get into a relationship at all,” said Julie. “We both assumed, ‘Oh, we’re just gonna be friends,’ which is kind of funny because immediately our friends could tell we were inseparable. Something about him made me trust him a lot and I think he felt the same way.” Six weeks later, Merson sat down on stage at the Penn & Teller Theatre to play the WSOP Main Event final table while he and Julie, who was studying to be a physical therapist at the time, were well into a relationship. October 31, 2012 With poker fans around the world watching, Merson plowed through the other eight Main Event final table players to win his second bracelet of the year, $8,531,853 and WSOP Player of the Year. His total earnings for the 2012 WSOP topped $9.75 million. That type of windfall boost to somebody’s net worth can change people at their core. Those closest to Merson don’t see him acting any differently today than he did before he won those two bracelets and the money. ‘I don’t know if he’s that different, honestly. He loves the game. He loves poker more than anyone. People don’t know because they don’t see him out in tournaments, but no one plays more than Greg,” said Harder. “I talk to him almost everyday, he’s just playing on New Jersey sites. He’s content to just grind.” Obviously winning nearly eight figures in a single year affords one a different type of lifestyle, but Merson doesn’t feel like he can sit back and not continue to work hard. “The financial freedom is awesome. I struggle with being afraid of not being able to make money. I have no degree. I have no backup plan. I want to take advantage of my skill set in the industry as much as I can,” said Merson. “It’s a good thing and a bad thing because it makes me work a little too hard sometimes if you ask people close to me.” Now 29 years old, Merson still loves the game as much as he did when he was in his early 20s, playing online after dropping out of college. That passion is something only those closest to him get to see on a regular basis. “He plays a lot, wins at a high rate, at stakes where people would not expect somebody with that much money, that many accomplishments,” said Harder. “That’s the Greg I first met and he was off drugs, then he relapsed and he wasn’t the same Greg. Then before the (2012) Main he was in the zone. It still crazy that until this day, not one sliver has he let up.” September 25, 2017 In just under three months, Merson is heading into surgery to fix both of his hips, a degenerative issue that has caused him a lot of pain the last couple of years – so much so that it’s actually prevented him from playing live for the better part of the last 12 months. “I would have had the surgery earlier, but with the Series … I just wanted to deal with the pain and then get the surgery in the fall,” said Merson. While he delayed the surgery in part to be able to play the WSOP this summer, he didn’t come out to Las Vegas until mid-June. “I literally cannot sit for more than a couple of hours without being in a lot of discomfort. That’s why I haven’t been playing any live poker for the last year,” said Merson. “I’m just going to deal with the pain for the tournaments.” Having both hips operated on at the same time – a rarity for somebody as young as Merson – also presents a challenge that is simply just a fact of life for any former addict. He’s going to come out of surgery and have a lot of pain to deal with and he’s going to be prescribed painkillers. A few years ago, he had his Achilles operated on and went through that recovery process without any prescription medicine. “I just have no idea what kind of pain I’m going to be in, and my Achilles was fucking awful for two days of not having anything. So, if I need them, I’m not going to hold back from using them,” said Merson. He won’t have easy access to them though. Julie will be the one responsible for giving Greg the drugs and keeping them out of reach when he doesn’t need them. Julie is happy to act as the checks and balances for Greg, but she thinks he’s more than capable of recognizing any potential problems himself. “He tells me, ‘Hey, do you mind taking care of these? Give them to me if I ask for them and we’ll go from there’,” said Julie. “I don’t see it being an issue. If I were concerned, I would address it with him, but I also feel like he would see that.” July 22, 2017 Earlier this year the WSOP announced that the November Nine concept was being retired and that the 2017 WSOP Main Event would play out live on ESPN in late July. Every poker player made note of the new scheduled date of the final table and told friends and to expect to be busy that day. Except Merson. He panicked. July 22 – the day that the 2017 Main Event champion will be crowned – is the same day that Greg and Julie are getting married in Morristown, New Jersey. After dating for just over four years, Greg popped the question and the two picked a date they though wouldn’t conflict with the already-announced dates for Main Event. “It’s not even just me though, it’s half of my groomsmen are going to be in the tournament,” said Merson. The new schedule calls for the final nine players to begin play on July 20 and play down to six. Those six return on July 21 and play down to three. The final three return on July 22 and play down to a winner. The announcement from the WSOP came early one morning in mid-May. Harder jokingly texted Merson, but he’d already seen the news and was reading it to his soon-to-be-wife who wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. She just reassured herself that the chances Greg or any of his friends made it to the final table were slim. “Once I got past the confusion and taking the whole idea in, I was like ‘Wow, that sucks’. From there I thought, ‘You know what? It’s like one in a billion chance that he’ll get to the final table again,” Julie said. “Then people tried to make me feel better. He was like ‘Really? It’s like 1 in 900.’ and I thought ‘Oh, great’.” “It’s not even just me though, it’s half of my groomsmen are going to be in the tournament, and then other close friends,” said Greg. “If one of our super close friends make the final three, she just feels like it takes away from our wedding, since people are going to be watching (the final table) on their phones.” Even with the wedding planned and everything already paid for, Merson is a poker player and can’t help but dream about the possibility of repeating his performance from five years ago. “It’s so unlikely to affect anything and I think it would just be such an awesome thing if I were in the final three, obviously,” said Merson. “Who the fuck cares that I’m punting all of this money we spent on the wedding because it’s just not going to matter.” Julie might not be a poker player, but she understands the odds are actually in her favor. Still, she’s come up with a contingency plan should Greg still be in the tournament on July 22. “The wedding is probably get canceled or put on hold for however long,” said Julie. “I fly to Vegas with my wedding dress and probably sit behind him in my wedding dress until he’s done.”
  9. Everyone in poker knows what January brings. It brings a fresh start to the poker year, it brings the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, and it brings a big result for Tony Gregg. This year, the PokerStars Players NL Hold’em Championship may have added an exciting new element to the poker world, but much was the same in regards to Gregg making a big splash in the Bahamas. Entering the 2019 edition of the PCA, Gregg had earned $3.096 million from the stop and sat third on the festival’s all-time money list. He added another $86,400 to his total haul from PCA after placing 36th from a field of 1,039 entries in the record-setting PSPC. “I guess it’s just one of those things that when you have continued success you’re going to have that much better of a feeling playing here,” Gregg said of his string of big results from the Bahamas. Gregg’s first result from PCA was also his largest. In 2009, he placed second in the PCA Main Event from a field of 1,347 entries to win $1.7 million. A few years later, in 2012, Gregg was back at the PCA Main Event final table from a field of 1,072 entries. This time around, he took sixth place and brought home $364,000. “I don’t think it specifically has anything to do with the Bahamas, I just think Tony is a fantastic poker player and some places you run good and some places you run bad,” Christian Harder, 2017 PokerStars Championship Bahamas winner and good friend of Gregg, commented. Another six-figure score from a sixth-place finish came in 2014 with Gregg earning $347,720 in the PCA $100,000 Super High Roller. Then in 2015, he took third in a $5,300 side event for $72,800. As if those results weren’t impressive enough, in 2016 Gregg reached the final table of the PCA Main Event for the third time. Again, he found himself heads-up. Again, he finished in second place. Although he didn’t land in the winner’s circle, Gregg added another $612,175 to his bankroll. “For me, living in the mid-Atlantic most of the time, getting out of that area in January and getting to come here, it just feels so good to be here that I guess it just motivates me to play better, be more patient, or have more faith in myself that things are going to work out,” Gregg said. “Any number of those things.” “It’s awesome,” Harder said of seeing Gregg’s continued success. “Tony deserves all the success he has. He’s a student of the game and always keeps himself sharp even when he’s not playing live much. He’s always watching live feeds, or videos, or playing online. I’m not surprised one bit he went deep in PSPC.” Prior to his PSPC result this year, Gregg’s last cash was in December 2017. He took a bit of a break from the poker grind, but it doesn’t appear to have caused any sort of drop-off in his play. Gregg was right back, true to form in the Bahamas, and making a deep run. “Seeing Tony go deep in something big again hopefully inspires him to play some more poker,” Greg Merson, 2012 WSOP Main Event champion and another good friend of Gregg, said. “Not for the financial gains, but to imprint his legacy on the game as one of the all-time legends that he is.” If it wasn’t for Louis Boutin hitting an ace on the flop with ace-king against Gregg’s pocket sevens, another final table run at this stop could have been in the cards. Ultimately, he’ll settle for the $86,400 score and look for the next tournament at Atlantis to crush. “It’s nice,” Gregg said of Merson’s comments. “He’s one of my best friends, so of course he’s going to say that (laughs). I’ve been around for a while and it’s always good to have respect from your peers.”
  10. Pennsylvania is preparing for a much-anticipated launch of regulated online poker. Once it does, it will make regulated online poker play available to the population a nearly 13 million people that live in the Keystone State. With its population, Pennsylvania will be the largest state to legally offer online poker in the United States, eclipsing that of New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, and adding a welcomed boost to the regulated US online poker market. Whether you're an experienced online poker player or someone that's new to the virtual felt, you likely have questions surrounding what to expect when real-money online poker finally becomes live in Pennsylvania. To help provide you with some answers, PocketFives tapped into the community and spoke to those with experience playing online poker in the new regulated landscape. We spoke with some of the top players from New Jersey, where online poker is legal, regulated, and growing. Here's what Michael 'Gags30' Gagliano, Daniel 'centrfieldr' Lupo, Jon 'itsmejon' Borenstein, and 2012 WSOP Main Event champion Greg Merson had to say. What can Pennsylvania players expect when online poker launches in the state? Michael 'Gags30' Gagliano: "Like others, I'm not positive what we'll see, but I think players can expect a nice mix of cash games and tournaments from the various sites. Players need to remember, though: these sites won't be like you remember them from 2011 - they are going to be much smaller. That means fewer games at off-peak hours and less liquidity when it comes to things like sit-n-gos. But this shouldn't' discourage Pennsylvania players. Just because you can't win $100,000 on a Sunday doesn't mean that there won't be good tournaments. Don't let a ‘small' first-place prize turn you off. A smaller field means you have a much higher chance of winning that tournament. So sure, $10,000 isn't as alluring as $100,000, but having a real shot at winning a tournament instead of buying into what can sometimes feel like a lottery ticket is a positive in my book!" Daniel 'centrfieldr' Lupo: "Based upon experiences with New Jersey's intro and when the Nevada merger came on board, there were some initial hiccups around the launch times. So I would recommend signing up early and preparing yourself for some early bumps in the road, such as potential software or geo-location issues, but not to be deterred by them as they tend to be short-lived. But the initial 'bumpy road period' will have its perks, too. I'm assuming (hoping) there will be a number of welcome bonuses, new-player bonuses, welcome freerolls, as well as some sort of initial online tournament series to celebrate the expansion... so signing up early would definitely be to a player's benefit to take advantage of these timely promotions. "I would also recommend that Pennsylvania players make sure they have viable internet connections, and back-up options like some sort of mobile hotspot option, as well as a strong wifi signal which will help alleviate a lot of the early potential geo-location headaches." Jon 'itsmejon' Borenstein: "Pennsylvania players can expect to have a new poker outlet in addition to the many casinos in the Pennsylvania area, which should only help grow the game and draw new players in that wouldn’t otherwise be able to make it to a casino regularly." Greg Merson: "I think when Pennsylvania launches there will be a decent amount of traffic to start, but unfortunately with only approximately 12 million people, I don’t think it will be all that special in the long run." What are the benefits of regulated online poker and why should players in Pennsylvania be excited about it? Gagliano: "The by far biggest benefit of regulated Pennsylvania online poker is safety and peace of mind in playing online poker again. Legal and regulated sites mean that players won't have to worry about having to deposit using cryptocurrencies, or worrying that a site won't pay out their cash-out. It means that players won't have to worry if a site is ‘rigged’ and can come to expect the same level of game security that they get when they play in Pennsylvania brick-and-mortar casinos." Lupo: "Having a regulated site where your money is safe has been a huge peace of mind for me versus playing on unregulated sites, which always give you a sense of worry. Payouts are fast and secure and there are numerous safe deposit options. But overall, the best thing about online poker in my experience has been the convenience of it. With a family, it allows me to be home more, versus spending time in a casino, and work around my family's schedule so I can have dinner with them every night and put the kids to bed. And if you're playing a cash session and just not feeling it, you can comfortably stop playing and do something else, whereas a casino trip has a lot more overhead and commitment time-wise." Borenstein: "It's nice to play online without worrying about shady practice or the sites getting shut down out of nowhere. You know your money is safe. I think that for anyone who is serious about poker or wants to get serious about poker, regulated online sites are a great tool to have as a way to practice and get in exponentially more hands than you would if you were playing live, and being able to do it all from the comfort of your own home." Merson: "The benefits of playing in a regulated industry mean you know your money is safe, the play is secure, and there are no ways for outside countries to VPN the system." With the anticipation of Pennsylvania online poker being very high, what are you most looking forward to when thinking about having Pennsylvania on board for online poker? Gagliano: "The thing I look most forward to with Pennsylvania poker is just another state coming online, thus giving more players in the Northeast a chance to play online poker again. It also brings the U.S. one state closer to allowing everyone the ability to once again play poker from the comfort of their homes." Lupo: "Being primarily a tournament player, it's always nice when the increased player pools can generate larger prize pools. These larger prize pools are like a domino effect and not only encourage players from Pennsylvania to join the action but will also increase the traffic in other states that previously may have been skipping some tournaments due to smaller guarantees than they would like. "I'm also looking forward to a new influx of players. After playing in a small market like New Jersey for the past 4-5 years, some fresh faces would be a welcomed change." Borenstein: "I'm looking forward to increased prize pools, player traffic, and more multi-table tournaments to play each night. I’m also looking forward to what it means to overall growth of online poker in the US. Hopefully, more and more states will follow suit and begin legalizing online poker." Merson: "I actually don’t think Pennsylvania will join the New Jersey pool anytime soon, if at all. This Wire Act issue may cause Nevada to pull out of New Jersey and if that happens I think the hopes of more states joining in are bleak. If they do join, I gladly welcome the liquidity as volume has dropped a good bit in New Jersey over the years."

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