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WSOP blog: Greg Merson crowned world champion after 12-hour session

Jesse Sylvia and Jake Balsiger finish in second and third, respectively


Steve Marcus

Greg Merson of Laurel, Md., with stacks of cash and his championship bracelet after winning the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event at The Rio on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Merson takes home the bracelet and $8.5 million.

Updated Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 | 6:59 a.m.

Greg Merson Wins 2012 WSOP Main Event

Greg Merson, 24, of Laurel, Md., holds up his championship bracelet after winning the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Merson takes home a championship bracelet and $8.5 million in prize money. Launch slideshow »

Final table chip counts

  • Greg Merson — 198,200,000
  • Jesse Sylvia — 0
  • Jake Balsiger — 0
  • Russell Thomas — 0
  • Jeremy Ausmus — 0
  • Andras Koroknai — 0
  • Michael Esposito — 0
  • Robert Salaburu — 0
  • Steve Gee — 0

2012 WSOP Main Event Final Table Payouts

  • Greg Merson (1st) — $8,531,853
  • Jesse Sylvia (2nd) — $5,295,149
  • Jake Balsiger (3rd) — $3,799,073
  • Russell Thomas (4th) — $2,851,537
  • Jeremy Ausmus (5th) — $2,155,313
  • Andras Koroknai (6th) — $1,640,902
  • Michael Esposito (7th) — $1,258,040
  • Robert Salaburu (8th) — $971,360
  • Steve Gee (9th) — $754,798

The best player won the grand prize in the end.

In a change from almost all of the World Series of Poker Main Event final tables in recent memories, the player who garnered the most attention out of the final nine vying for poker's world championship lived up to the hype. Greg Merson became the 2012 world champion of poker about 5:45 a.m. today at the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio.

Merson beat out Jesse Sylvia, the chip leader coming into the final table, heads-up for the $8.5 million prize. He did it by staying extremely stoic throughout the longest final table in WSOP history.

The final table lasted 399 hands, eclipsing the previous record by 35 hands. Merson held the chip lead multiple times, but bad luck kept knocking him down. Because of the way things had played out for 12 hours at the Rio, it almost felt like a surprise when his stronger hand held up against Sylvia's in the deciding encounter.

Merson applied pressure on Sylvia by forcing him to make a decision for all of his chips. Sylvia decided to call with Queen-Jack, which was slightly behind Merson's King-5.

Neither Merson nor Sylvia paired either of their hands with five community cards, so the 24-year old from Laurel, Md., became the 2012 WSOP champion. As Merson's friends rushed on the stage, he told them to stay back. He wanted to congratulate Sylvia and shake his hand first.

Merson becomes the first champion since 2001 to have already won a WSOP bracelet, as he won a tournament this summer before the Main Event. He also clinched WSOP Player of the Year honors with the victory, narrowly outpointing Phil Hellmuth.

Stay tuned to for full coverage of the World Series of Poker including a story that will be posted shortly. Look below for running coverage of the final day of play.

Balsiger finally out in third

He's going to get one heck of a payout, but it's not quite the one Jacob Balsiger set out for.

Balsiger just exited in third place for $3.79 million after more than 11 hours of three-handed play at the Penn & Teller Theater. Balsiger chipped up from eighth out of nine at the start of the final table and even briefly held the lead.

But he had less than 10 big blinds and was desperate to double up as the clock neared 5 AM. He found Queen-10 of diamonds and committed all of his chips. Unfortunately for Balsiger, Merson called and had the far superior King-Queen.

A flop of 6-6-6 looked ominous, but posed no danger to Merson. Neither did the turn card, a Jack, nor the river, a 5.

Merson possesses a slight chip lead over Sylvia for the start of heads-up play.

Another all-in player keeps trucking

Hope Jake Balsiger enjoyed his time at the top of the heap. It lasted all of five minutes before it was back to the bottom.

Jesse Sylvia flopped two-pair with 8-2 and got all of his chips in against Balsiger, who had top pair on the same board with King-9. Another 2 on the turn gave Sylvia a commanding lead in the hand that held up.

The three players are now the closest they've been for the last two days. The divide between the chip leader, Merson, and the short stack, Balsiger, is 18 million chips.

New man in charged

For the first time of this entire 16-hour World Series of Poker final table, Jake Balsiger has the chip lead.

Balsiger managed to get all of his chips in with pocket Kings on a flop of 9-3-3. Jesse Sylvia contemplated his options, but ultimately called with King-9 for top pair.

The turn, Jack, and river, Ace, assured Balsiger would win the hand. He now has 92 million chips, some 20 million more than Greg Merson.

Sylvia falls to last but everything that's taken place at the Rio has shown that doesn't always count for much.

Tenth hour golden for Sylvia

The tides are finally changing.

After feeling stuck in neutral for nearly three hours, a new player has rocketed to the top of the chip counts. Jesse Sylvia used the last hand before the current 15-minute break to win a 33 million chip pot against Greg Merson and swap positions.

Merson made the original raise before the flop, but Sylvia re-raised him out of the small blind. Instead of playing passively, Merson put in a fourth bet before the flop. Sylvia called and they saw the first three community cards come out King-9-3.

A Queen came out on the turn followed by another King on the river. Both players checked the pot down before Sylvia showed Queen-9 for a winning two-pair of Kings and Queens. Merson threw his hand away with a shake of his head.

Approaching the ninth hour of three-handed play

An alarmingly low amount of change has occurred in the last hour-and-a-half at the Penn & Teller Theater.

Merson has a comfortable, but not dominant chip lead. Sylvia wins enough pots to stay within close striking range in second. Balsiger never seems to have many chips, but wins every time he's put at risk of elimination.

Merson won perhaps the most notable pot of the recent frame. Dealt pocket Aces, he flopped a third to make three-of-a-kind. Sylvia called him down to the river with an open-ended straight draw that never hit.

When Merson bet 14.6 million chips on the river, it was an easy fold for Sylvia. Speculation ran rampant on what cards Merson and Sylvia were holding at the Rio before the ESPN telecast showed the hand on its customary 15-minute delay.

No end in sight

This is the tournament that never ends. It just goes on and on my friends.

Yet another player survived an all-in encounter with an inferior hand right before the most recent break. Jacob Balsiger committed what was left of his small chip stack with King-Jack.

Jesse Sylvia practically had to call with Ace-9. Not only did Balsiger hit a King on the flop, he added another one for insurance on the turn.

Sylvia commiserated the latest bad beat with his girlfriend on the side of the stage. He's now had Balsiger all-in twice with the worst hand and lost both times. In fairness, however, Sylvia has done the same thing against Greg Merson.

Balsiger's double-up didn't change the order of the leaderboard, but it gave the 21-year old more chips to work with. More than seven hours have passed at the Rio and no one has busted from the tournament.

Greg Merson once again the man to beat

No matter how many times bad luck knocks Greg Merson down, he keeps getting back up.

For the third time since play began seven hours ago, Merson has captured the chip lead after falling behind. He called a big river bet from Jesse Sylvia on a board of Jack-6-3-8-7 to eclipse the nine-figure mark moments ago.

After Merson checked on the river, Sylvia led out with a bet of 8.6 million chips. Merson called and his Jack-9, good for top pair, was better than Sylvia's 10-6.

Despite the big hit, Sylvia is still well ahead of Balsiger for second. He just knocked Balsiger down another notch, in fact, by re-raising a pre-flop bet to force a fold.

Balsiger lucks out, Sylvia follows

Heads-up play will have to wait.

On two different occasions, it looked like a battle between Greg Merson and an opponent was about to commence for the $8.5 million first-place prize at the World Series of Poker Main Event. Both times, the player on the verge of elimination got lucky with the worst hand.

The most dramatic one just took place, when Sylvia's Ace-King caught Merson's pocket Kings on the river in an 85 million chip pot. Sylvia has regained the chip lead after he made a straight on a board of 2-3-5-8-4 with his Ace-King.

Balsiger beat Sylvia with the worst hand less than a minute before that fateful encounter. All-in with Ace-10 against Sylvia's Ace-Queen, Balsiger spiked one of three 10s left in the deck on the turn to double up.

Balsiger probably shouldn't have been in that situation to begin with. Sylvia made a full house against him the hand before, but played it in a fashion that a well known poker professional described as "the worst ever".

Sylvia called a bet from Balsiger on the river instead of shoving all-in. Only two hands could have beaten him.

Settle in because the night is starting to look like it's going to last even longer.

Merson with the bluff of the year

Greg Merson may have just pulled off the greatest final table bluff since Chris Moneymaker infamously got Sammy Farha off of a hand a decade ago with what's known as "The Bluff of the Century".

Merson and Jake Balsiger battled all the way down to a river on a board of 9-8-3-4-6. Merson called big bets from Balsiger pre-flop and on the first two streets before making a move on the river.

Balsiger slid out a large 13 million chip bet. Merson wasn't intimidated and announced that he was all-in. Almost as quickly as Balsiger folded, Merson showed his cards — Queen-Jack for nothing more than Queen-high.

The Penn & Teller Theater erupted and even the world's best poker player, Phil Ivey, flashed a huge grin and clapped. Merson has regained control at the top with Balsiger falling to last.

How the 21-year old Arizona State student responds to this moment will tell the story of his 2012 World Series of Poker.

Even money

If the three players remaining the World Series of Poker Main Event decided to take all of the chips on the table and split them evenly, they'd have 65.99 million each.

They may as well with how close they are after three-and-a-half hours of play at the Rio. Merson, still sitting in first place, and Balsiger, the short stack, are only separated by 17 million chips.

Sylvia finds himself right in the middle of the two, trailing Merson by about 12 million but leading Balsiger by five million. One big pot could completely unravel everything.

The trouble rests in finding that situation. With everyone so even, a long night is in store at the Penn & Teller Theater.

Merson's lead narrows

All great empires go through their ups and downs.

Greg Merson's kingdom of chips is currently in one of the down cycles. His stack has taken a number of small hits over the last hour. After reaching its peak with 105 million, Merson has dropped nearly 20 million chips to help Jake Balsiger and Jesse Sylvia close the gap on the leaderboard.

While no big pots have really knocked down Merson, he's lost a collection of small hands that have added up. Jesse Sylvia, for instance, just re-raised Merson before the flop to induce a fold in a pot that was already worth more than 6 million.

Sylvia and Balsiger couldn't stay out of each other's way an hour ago. They tangled in two of the largest pots so far, but haven't encountered each other much since then. All three players seem content to play a low-risk game where they try to chip up through small pots.

Who will be the first to stray from the strategy? It's tough to say because no one is desperate enough that they need to.

Speedy revenge for Balsiger

Jake Balsiger found one of the best hands he could ask for with his stack dwindling.

Moments after losing a big pot to Sylvia, details below, Balsiger found himself in a pre-flop raising war. It culminated with him going all-in and Sylvia calling.

Balsiger flipped up pocket Jacks. A saddened look spread across Sylvia's face, as he was well behind with pocket 9s. The community cards ran out 5-2-2-10-6 to give Balsiger the 60 million chip pot.

He essentially switches spots with Sylvia, who's now the short stack and in need of some help.

Sylvia no longer sinking

Jesse Sylvia gulped and waited another minute or so before making the biggest move of the night so far at the final table.

Facing a 10 million chip bet from Jake Balsiger on the turn of a board reading 9-7-6-6, Sylvia announced he was all-in. Balsiger surrendered seconds later.

That hand alone erased a rough start from Sylvia, as the former chip leader now has a tournament-high 66 million chips. Merson sat back behind his 105 million chip stack watching everything unfold calmly.

Balsiger now has less than 8 percent of the chips in play.

Fast start for Merson

Greg Merson claims he played rather conservatively during Monday's session of the World Series of Poker Main Event final table.

Either he's bucking that trend now that the tournament is down to three or he's picking up great hands. Merson has scooped in seven of the first eight pots tonight at the Rio. He's already added more than 5 million chips to his stack to further build on his lead.

Merson is a hand or two away from reaching the 100 million plateau after winning six straight. Jesse Sylvia won a small pot on the second hand of the night, which was the only one the dealer didn't push Merson's way so far.


The two favorites are still alive at the World Series of Poker Main Event final table with one long shot thrown in for good measure.

Before the “October Nine” got together for eight hours of play Monday at the Rio, oddsmakers listed Jesse Sylvia and Greg Merson as co-favorites to win the world championship bracelet at 3-to-1.

Sylvia and Merson made the sports books look sharp, as they enter with more than 75 percent of the chips in tonight’s final round of three-handed play. Merson holds 88.35 million chips, while Sylvia sits behind a stack of 62.75 million.

Jake Balsiger, who came from eighth to third Monday, has the other 44.87 million chips. One of the three will join poker’s elite and prestigious fraternity of world champions and receive a check worth $8.53 million.

Cards start flying in less than 30 minutes as friends and family of the final three have found their seats in the Penn & Teller Theater for tonight’s proceedings.

Balsiger’s rail of supporters was among the most vocal Monday, sounding off throughout the night in pleasant surprise. Balsiger was as high as 10-to-1 to win the Main Event before the final table.

He had a nice story, but wasn’t seen as one of the primary threats to win the whole tournament. A 21-year-old senior at Arizona State University, Balsiger was by far the least experienced player of the final nine.

While Merson and Sylvia have logged hours playing professionally for about a half-decade, Balsiger had never played in a tournament with a buy-in as high as $10,000 before this summer.

To say the least, he’s made the most of the opportunity. Balsiger looks to become the first amateur to win the Main Event since Peter Eastgate in 2008.

He would be the youngest champion in WSOP history. The last three winners — Pius Heinz last year, Jonathan Duhamel in 2010 and Joe Cada in 2009 — have profiles more similar to the 24-year-old Merson and 26-year-old Sylvia.

They learned the game by putting in exhaustive sessions online and built a bankroll sufficient enough to stake them in the live tournament realm.

They’ve all earned a minimum of $3.79 million for making it this far, so it’s safe to say they can mark down the 2012 WSOP as a success. Despite winning seven figures, at least a trace of disappointment will be spotted on the faces of two of these players tonight when they bust.

The Sun’s official pick to win the Main Event, as it was before play Monday, is Merson. It’s tough to pick against the man who’s not only the best player but also has the most chips.

We’ll call for a slight upset in the runner-up position, with Balsiger surpassing Sylvia.

Stay tuned for a live blog of the action, which will air on a 15-minute delay on ESPN2.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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