Photo Credit:  Joe Giron

Note:  Moments after Greg Merson won the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event Championship, he was interviewed on the ESPN stage, just steps away from the year's crowning achievement in poker.  Here is the transcript of that interview:

On his feelings upon taking the stage during the start of the second final table session when play was at three-handed:

When I first got onto the stage (tonight) I wasn't comfortable, but then I just settled in and started making the right adjustments.

On the final 11-hour playing session:

I just thought I had to keep to grinding it out, you know?  People either play too tight or too loose short-handed, but for the most part, this three-handed match was pretty solid.  I mean, Jake (Balsiger) struggled in certain spots, perhaps from lack of experience.  But Jesse (Sylvia) played really well.  I couldn't really do much because Jake was having problems in certain spots, and I was out of position with Jesse (to my left) so I couldn't really do anything.  That made me have to go in limping, and so, from there, I just started grinding away.    I picked my spots and ran good when I needed to.  I built up a stack on a key hand where I had K-K to A-K.  I was winning a bunch of pots before that.  You just can't give up.
On the swings he endured at the final table, being third at one point when play was at three-handed, but other times having a big chip lead – in addition to his views on Jake Balsiger's play:

Yeah, there was a lot of grinding.  I think you saw that in Jesse's play, as well.  I'm not saying that Jake played bad.  I told him over the whole experience that not being a professional poker player and a college student with no real experience, I thought he handled himself so well on this type of stage.  But there were spots where his hand reading was off.  He probably made some calls he wish he didn't, where I don't think Jesse and I would have necessarily done that.  He came in low in chips and still got third, so I mean he has to be stoked.

On being out of position during most of the finale to early chip leader Jesse Sylvia:

It wasn't as frustrating as I pictured it being, but it was about 90 percent of how tough it would be.  Actually, I thought it would be brutal....that he would be three-betting more than he normally would, since he's a cash-game player.

On the fatigue factor at the final table:

You can't let fatigue get in the way.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  I have pushed myself through tons of hours of poker in the past.  Obviously, you have to get through it somehow and don't do anything dumb because odds are – you're never going to have an opportunity like this again.

On his strategy for heads-up play once it came down to himself and Jesse Sylvia:

The first few hands, I knew I was going to play really tight and passive.  And then I was going to start blasting at him.  Then, if I got a 2 to 1 chip lead, I was going to take a shot at winning the tournament....when I saw his hand at the end I couldn't believe I had the best hand.   

On what winning the world champions and WSOP Player of the Year means:

(Pause)....I don't know.  I'm ready to go to Macau.  I had already planned on going there.  Obviously, this gives me some more opportunities.  That's what I am looking forward to the most, which is getting into the biggest cash games in the world and not  blowing all my money.  I'll piece myself out if I have to.

On his emotional reaction to the victory:

I cried after I won my first gold bracelet.  But this is even more incredible, because my whole family is here, my friends...it's just (expletive deleted) amazing.

On if reality matches his dreams of winning:  

I never had a dream during the entire layoff that I won.  I did have one dream where I came in eighth place.  It was like four days before the tournament came back, so when I started off doing so bad – I lost like seen million right away – I was like (expletive deleted).

On calls and congratulations from friends and well-wishers:

I haven't turned my phone on since 2 o'clock yesterday.  I had it off all day during day one.  Now, I don't even want to turn it on.  I'll probably have to change my number, anyway.  

On being coached by other players and how that might have been a game changer:

I got some good coaching.  It really was helpful when w were at three-handed.  I don't think I needed it so much when we were four, five, or six handed.

On the prospect of becoming an ambassador for the game of poker:

Yes.  But I really don't like playing tournaments.  It sounds crazy.  

On overcoming some personal demons of the past and being outspoken on the subject of drug and alcohol addiction and recovery:

That's where a lot of emotion comes from.  I could possibly not even be alive right now – and that's no exaggeration.  I did not bring that story out to the public to get pity.  I just felt comfortable releasing that information....sharing my story and trying to help other people.  I have had a lot of people private message me.  Anything I can do to help the community with this problem, because we live such a crazy lifestyle, it's easy to get caught up in that stuff.  So, this is something I look forward to – to helping more people with whatever I can do.

On if he thinks there's any chance for a relapse:

No, not at all.  That's the first thing I think of every day when I wake up.  I never want to do any of that again, ever.  And now coming out in public about it makes me even have to act more responsibly.  I mean, if I did something it would have to be in hiding and it's going to be pretty hard to hide anything now.  I feel very good about my recovery.