Laurel native Greg Merson is returning to Maryland $8.5 million richer than he was two weeks ago and plans to put his money to work for him.
Merson, 24, emerged victorious in the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas, playing 12 hours through the night Oct. 30 to defeat Arizona State University senior Jake Balsiger and professional poker player Jesse Sylvia of Massachusetts the next morning.
"I'm still a little tired," Merson told The Gazette on Nov. 1 as he recovered from the long competition. "It's all kind of a blur at this point. It'll become more real when I can watch the recording."
Earlier this year, Merson won $1.1 million after winning the Texas Hold'em World Championship in Las Vegas.
Prior to his most recent win, Merson said he had signed a lease for a home in the Washington, D.C., area. He said he plans to pursue some non-poker-related business ideas, including starting a real estate company in Maryland.
The win came with the $8.5 million prize and a championship bracelet, valued at $100,000, which Merson placed on his mother's wrist while cameras rolled.
Merson's path to fame and fortune has had its ups and downs.
A graduate of Reservoir High School in Fulton, Merson said his love of poker began at the age of 16 through online poker sites.
"The first time I played, I lost $10; it felt to me like I lost $100,000," Merson said. "But soon I figured out it was never the same game each time. Each situation was really different."
Merson left the University of Maryland, College Park, to play online poker full time, and said he moved to Toronto in 2011 after the U.S. banned online poker for cash.
Merson said he also struggled with drug addiction and said poker helped him finally get clean last year.
"I was passionate about poker; it was the only thing I was passionate about. I was bored with school. I wanted to change my life and pursue my dream of being a professional poker player. I realized how much earning potential I had, if only I remained sober," Merson said.
Despite the win, Merson said he isn't going to rest on his laurels.
"I want to continue playing cash games for a living. Poker has a lot of earning power for me, and I'll be traveling to play some games," Merson said.