“I’m going to feel like I want to throw up before,” Greg Merson says of his upcoming appearance at the 2012 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. Merson knows he will be nervous before he takes his seat because that is how he felt on Day 7, when Merson was one of 27 players vying for a spot at the biggest final table of the year.
Even though Merson is one of the poker pros at the final table, he understands the life-changing nature of this final table. Just making the final nine has Merson doing all sorts of things he never thought would be part of his life. He calls it “normal people stuff” and it is the price he has to pay for the chance at both the Main Event bracelet and the WSOP Player of the Year honors.
The interest in Merson has been strong ever since he followed up his win in the $10,000 Six-Handed No Limit bracelet event with a final table appearance. As a result, Merson had to go from checking his email once a week to checking it every day. He checks in with an agent twice a week and conducts countless interviews with both mainstream and poker press.
Many of these outlets want to talk to Merson about his battle with drug addiction in addition to his impressive run at the tables. “I don’t mind it,” Merson said of the media obligations. While he embraces the attention, he does find that the poker media interviews are much easier than the major newspapers.
“Any interview that has to do with poker, it is so much easier to talk about, because they kind of understand it a little bit more. The mainstream media is so ignorant to both sides of poker and the drug thing. They don’t know much about either, so it is kind of difficult to explain myself without sounding crazy. I’m a professional gambler who is a drug addict, you know what I mean?”
It is a difficult dichotomy to explain and, thought Merson appears to have found a good sense of balance in his life even with his pro poker player status, he finds that non-poker folks are much more skeptical of his long term success.
“When I go to meetings I never share that I play poker because they look at me like I have four heads,” he explains.
Lately though, some of the second glances and strange looks might not be because people don’t understand what Merson is saying. Merson ended up on the television coverage of the Main Event on ESPN much more than several of the other players at the final table. As a result, people are starting to pick him out of a crowd.
“I bought three drinks at a bar for my friends in Baltimore and I went to hand the guy money and I guess he knew who I was because he said, ‘Don’t worry about it man, good luck.’"
If Merson wants a shot at Player of the Year, he will need a little luck. When the final table was set in July, Merson became the frontrunner in the annual contest. Last month’s World Series of Poker Europe changed that in a flash though. During the two-week series, Merson couldn’t get any deep runs going, while Antonio Esfandiari and, later, Phil Hellmuth both passed him in the standings. When Esfandiari passed him, Merson learned he needed to take fourth or better to win POY. Now that Hellmuth won the WSOPE Main Event, the only way for Merson to pass him is to win the biggest poker payday of the year.
“I didn’t really mind Esfandiari winning, because I think I can get top four a lot of the time,” Merson admits. “It kinda sucks that I have to win though, but Tony Gregg pointed out as a positive that at least now when I get five or six-handed it won’t be creeping into my head or get in my way. I shouldn’t even be worrying about that, I should be playing to win.”
Merson is focused on winning, but unlike some of his final table competitors, he is not going out of his way to prepare for the big day. “I don’t really think about too much strategy. We’ve had some discussions, but everything is just going to change so quickly that discussing things too much is going to be overload.”
So Merson plans to go with the flow come Monday. One thing he does have picked out though, is his outfit. The guy who wore jerseys every day of the Main Event will be breaking out the black Adam Jones Baltimore Orioles jersey for his big night at the Penn and Teller Theater.