Greg Merson spent the last year as a high profile ambassador for the game of poker after winning the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event. No player has won the back-to-back Main Event titles since Johnny Chan did it in the late 80′s – and it’s never been done in the post-Moneymaker era – but Merson kept the dream alive on Day 1A of the 2013 WSOP Main Event as he attempts to make history.
Merson conducted the ceremonial shuffle-up-and-deal to kick off the day’s action and then took his seat among 1,000 other players, determined to fight his way through the biggest field of the year for the second time. BLUFF followed Merson throughout Day 1A of the Main Event, where he put on an impressive performance to kick off his title defense. Below is a full account of Merson’s day as it happened.
12:05 – WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel takes to the stage to open the 2013 Main Event. He goes over the rules and the cedes the podium to Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the WSOP. Stewart says a few words about the defending champion, then a clip of the final hand of the 2012 WSOP Main Event is shown.
Stewart finishes his introduction. “He embraces everything the Main Event is about,” says Stewart. “The chance to live out your dreams, the chance to be great.” Merson takes the stage, ready to play. He keeps it short, then announces the official ‘Shuffle Up and Deal’ for Day 1A.
12:10 – Merson is mobbed by fans as he slowly makes his way over to his table. He spots 2011 WSOP Main Event Champion Pius Heinz one table over and gives him a fist bump. “A delayed congratulations,” says Heinz.
12:12 – Merson finally takes his seat. He’s sporting a dark grey Cal Ripken, Jr. Orioles jersey with the number eight on the back, similar but not identical to the one he wore at the Main Event final table. He’s also wearing Ivey Poker and PPA patches.
12:30 – Merson folds his first big blind. He’s yet to get involved in a pot. There aren’t many recognizable faces at the table, but Event 28 runner-up Majid Yahyaei is in Seat 8. Here’s what Merson’s first table looks like.
Seat 1: Vasil Medarov
Seat 2: Merson
Seat 3: David Israelite
Seat 4: Scott Roman
Seat 5: Empty
Seat 6: Babak Razi
Seat 7: Rich Cousineau
Seat 8: Yahyaei
Seat 9: Norman Wayer
12:41 – Yahyaei opens to 250 in middle position, Merson calls on the button and Israelite calls in the big big blind. It’s checked to Yahyaei, he bets 500, Merson raises to 1,125, Israelite folds and Yahyaei calls. The turn and river are checked through and Yahyaei tables 8 8, which causes Merson to muck.
12:45 – Merson takes down his first pot with an early position raise to 300, which is called by Israelite and Cousineau, and a continuation bet of 650 which folds both players out.
1:05 – Medarov raises to 300 in the small blind and Merson calls in the big blind. The flop is Q 6 6, Medarov checks, Merson bets 500 and Medarov calls. The 3 turn sees another check from Medarov, a 1,000 chip bet from Merson and another call from Medarov. The river is the T and Medarov checks once more. Merson turns up the heat with a bet of 7,500, causing Medarov to fold.
1:15 – Merson seems dug in for the long haul, with headphones on, an iPhone and an iPad.
1:18 – In between hands Merson is playing ‘Candy Crush Saga’ on the iPad. “Just beat a level of candy crush I was stuck on all week during level one of the main,” Tweets Merson. “This is hopefully a good sign of sharpness today.” BLUFF Editor-in-Chief Lance Bradley confirms Merson just cleared Level 88.
1:25 – With that out of the way, Merson looks like he’s getting down to business. The headphones and iPad are stowed away in his bag and put under his chair.
1:40 – Merson gets up to stretch his legs for a few hands and chats up a few people on the rail, with very little chatter going on at his table.
1:47 – A pungent odor has overcome an adjacent table to Merson’s and Jack Effel heads over to investigate. It’s emanating from the audience area set up around the four-table section that Merson’s sitting in. “Crawl under,” suggests Merson as Effel lifts up the curtain to take a look.
1:56 – The offending smell is traced to the linens of the chairs in the audience. The table is set to be moved to another section, but the smell has not yet reached either Merson’s or Heinz’s tables and they will remain for now.
2:05 – Wayer opens to 250 in the cutoff and Merson three-bets to 1,200 from the small blind. Wayer calls with an orange 5,000 chip and Merson breaks it with small chips from his stack. The flop is 6 3 2 and both players check. The turn is the 2, Merson leads out for 1,600 and Wayer quickly min-raises to 3,200. Merson cranes his neck to see Wayer’s remaining stack, but his angle is blocked by part of the rail of the table.
“I can’t see if you have any big chips,” remarks Merson and Wayer responds by sliding his stacks of chips one at a time. He starts with his three remaining 5,000 chips.
“That’s fine,” responds Merson. He rechecks his cards, then mucks.
2:10 – At the end of a mostly uneventful first level, Merson has 29,025 from his 30,000 starting stack.
2:37 – Level 2 is underway, with blinds going up to 100/200.
2:40 – JJ Liu sits down in Seat 5.
2:48 – Liu raises to 450 in middle position, Yahyaei three-bets to 1,050 from the cutoff and it folds around to Merson in the big blind. He four-bets to 3,100 and Liu goes deep into the tank. After four minutes, Liu gets rid of her hand an Yahyaei quickly does the same, giving Merson the pot.
3:26 – Merson raises to 500 in middle position, Razi calls on the button and Yahyaei three-bet to 2,300. “Four big chips?” asks Merson. Yahyaei cuts them out of his stack and shows them. Merson calls and the flop is T 6 5. Yahyaei bets 2,800, Merson calls and the turn is the 4. Yahyaei bets 5,000 and Merson calls again. The river is the K and Yahyaei puts out 9,000. Merson calls.
“You got it,” says Yahyaei, “Ace-High.” He shows A 2 and Merson takes his call back and puts it into his stack. He doesn’t immediately table his hand, but upon prompt shows his Q Q. He’s up to 50,500.
3:31 – Conversation about the hand continues. “I’m used to cash games,” says Merson, “Where you win and they just fire their cards into the muck.”
3:34 – Merson flips his chair around and starts to get a massage at the table.
3:54 – Merson takes down back-to-back small pots in the blinds.
3:57 – Merson makes it three in a row. He raises to 500 on the button and both blinds call. The flop is J 7 6, both players check and Merson bets 1,050. Israelite folds in the small blind but Roman comes along in the big blind. The turn is the A and both players check, bringing the J on the river. Merson bets 1,200 and Roman quickly folds.
4:08 – Yahyaei is the first player eliminated from the table.
4:20 – Casey Stewart assumes the empty Seat 8.
4:37 – Level 2 comes to a close. Merson wraps up his massage and heads to break with 50,800.
4:56 – Level 3 is underway with blinds of 150/300.
4:57 – Merson returns to the table after missing one hand, in the small blind.
5:13 – Merson heads over to the rail to discuss his dinner plans with a few of his friends – it’s been an uneventful 20 minutes to start the level.
5:22 – A few small pots with Roman go Merson’s way.
5:34 – Cousineau raises to 700, Merson calls in the cutoff and Israelite calls on the button. It’s rapidly checked down on all three streets, coming out Q J T Q 2, and Merson scoops a pot that takes less than 30 seconds from beginning to end.
5:38 – One Drop High Roller champion Tony Gregg stops by to chat with Merson.
5:42 – A couple of fans request a photo from Merson and he obliges them.
5:45 – Merson plays a big pot with Roman, but slows down and checks on the river. Roman checks behind and Merson tables A A. Roman responds by showing his A A.
6:05 – Most of the pots are small, but Merson’s taking more than his fair share.
6:16 – Israelite runs into Medarov’s pocket aces and he’s eliminated.
6:35 – David Tannenholz sits down in Seat 3.
6:43 – Merson raises to 800 in middle position, Razi three-bets to 2,500 in the small blind and it folds back to Merson. He calls, and the flop is A 6 5. Razi bets 2,600 and Merson calls again with the Q on the turn putting a four-flush on the board. Both players check and the river is the 3. Razi bets 5,000 and Merson quickly cuts a 16,000 chip bet from his stack. He shuffles all of his other chips using both hands, thinking over the decision. Eventually he drops five 1,000 chips to call and Razi tables K 7 for the nut flush.
6:55 – Merson wins two of the last three hands in Level 3.
6:57 – Even after the tough pot against Razi near the end of Level 3, Merson takes 46,150 into the 90-minute dinner break.
8:26 – The dinner break is over and antes are now in play – the blinds stay at 150/300 with a 25 ante.
8:28 – Merson returns to his seat
8:33 – Merson starts to chat with Liu. “New sunglasses?” asks Merson, as Liu has donned a pair of plastic turquoise shade. “No, very old ones,” she replies.
8:34 – Pius Heinz is eliminated from the Main Event he walks up behind Merson and slaps him on the shoulder. Merson, who has his noise cancelling head phones on, nearly jumps out of his chair. “Good luck,” says Heinz as he exits the tournament area.
8:42 – Cousineau opens to 800 in early position and Merson calls on the button. The flop is A J 5, Cousineau bets 1,300 and Merson calls. The turn is the 7 and both players check. The 3 hits on the river, Cousineau checks, Merson bets 2,800 and Cousineau calls. Merson tables 3 5 for two-pair and he takes the pot.
9:10 – Merson and Liu start to chat about China, and specifically Macau. The conversation turns to the Guangdong Millions event that was held back in June. “It was a three day tournament,” explains Merson, “But they were seven hour days. The buy-in was about $400,000 US. My roommate bubbled, but then he won the One Drop.”
9:17 – Four players see a flop of Q 9 3. Liu is first to act and bets 1,200, Razi folds, Medarov calls and Merson raises to 3,100. Only Medarov calls and the turn is the 3. Medarov checks, Merson bets 3,300 and Medarov quickly folds.
9:25 – Merson and Liu continue to chat back and forth. The topics range widely, from Macau, to PokerStars, to Ivey Poker and finally nosebleed cash games. “I’ve played against three billionaires – American billionaires – and they’re some of the tightest players I’ve ever played against.”
9:57 – Liu goes out amidst mild controversy. She gets all in against Cousineau on the turn but the dealer drops the deck before the river is dealt. The natural river is put out and Liu is eliminated, but she has some contention as to whether it was the right card. The floor is called, the cameras are checked, and everything is determined to have happened the right way.
10:04 – Play resumes after the discrepancy.
10:14 – Jack Schanbacher takes Liu’s place in Seat 5.
10:26 – After a mostly uneventful level, Merson has managed to build his stack to more than twice what he started with. He has 61,500 with two hours of poker left to play on Day 1A.
10:46 – The last level of the night begins. Blinds are up to 200/400 with a 50 ante. They’ll be bagging up the chips in two hours.
10:55 – Schanbacher is eliminated.
11:01 – Igor Dubinskyy sits down in Seat 5.
11:08 – Dubinskyy limps under the gun, Razi is next to act and he limps, Merson calls on the button and Roman checks in the big blind. The flop is 4 3 2, Dubinskyy checks, Razi bets 1,100, Merson calls, Roman folds and Dubinskyy calls. The turn is the T, Razi leads again for 2,500 and is called by both Merson and Dubinskyy. All three check the river and Razi tables 3 3 for a set to take the pot.
11:13 – Merson takes back-to-back pots and starts to take control of the table.
11:34 – Tannenholz is eliminated.
11:42 – Wayer opens to 1,100 from the hijack and he’s called by Merson on the button and Roman and Dubinskyy in the blinds. Dubinskyy leads for 1,500, Wayer folds, Merson raises to 4,800 and everyone else folds.
11:44 – Merson makes it back-to-back pots again, taking a pot from Razi on the river with no showdown.
11:47 – Mark Weitzman sits in Seat 3.
11:58 – Merson gets involved in yet another pot with Dubinskyy and Razi and takes it down with a bet on the flop.
12:02 – Merson raises to 1,000 in middle position and Dubinskyy calls on the button. The flop is K 8 8, Merson checks, Dubinskyy bets 1,800 and Merson calls. Both players check the K turn and Merson bets 5,000 on the river with a full house on board. Dubinskyy calls but Merson’s T T gives him a better full house and the pot.
12:28 – The long day is seeming to get to Merson a bit, as he lays his head down on his arms. It’s not affecting his ability to win pots, though, as he’s putting the pressure on his opponents as the day winds down.
12:35 – The clock is paused with 10 minutes on the clock. They’ll play four more hands.
12:42 – The final hand of the night is dealt at Merson’s table. A strong final level pushes Merson’s stack to 81,650. That’s better than he did on Day 1 in 2012, when he bagged 56,500 to end the night. He’ll be part of a group that comes back on Tuesday afternoon at 12 pm.