Greg Merson: a positive story from poker

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It’s not every day you hear about poker saving someone’s life. If anything, anti-gaming voices usually are the loudest, lumping the skill of poker into the perils of mindless gambling and then professing how it ruins lives.

But for Greg Merson, his passion for poker is the shining light that guides him on the path of sobriety. The 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, just 24 years old, got hooked on drugs while attending the University of Maryland, but he credits the game of poker with providing him a life preserver and a career.

Now, he’s the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year, edging Phil Hellmuth for that honor, pocketing more than $8.5 million for his historic victory. Merson also won the $10K six-max no-limit hold’em bracelet over the summer for $1,136,197. That’s nearly $10 million won at this year’s WSOP, vaulting him into the upper echelon of career poker earnings.

The Maryland native has been playing poker professionally for about five years, and he’d be the first to tell you illegal drugs and poker don’t work well together.

His poker earnings actually funded his drug habit for a time, and he fell off the wagon once before. But a determined Merson locked himself in his room at the Aria in Las Vegas for three straight days last year and detoxified himself, and he’s been clean and sober ever since that difficult time.

So how did poker save his life? He realized poker was what he was meant to do for a living, but he also knew he couldn’t be a drug user at the same time, as his game and life suffered tremendously while he used. It was a matter of wanting to play poker more than getting high, so Merson made his choice.

This month, our poker psychologist, Dr. Stephen Bloomfield, sat down with Merson at the bestbet Jacksonville poker room (one of Merson’s sponsors, by the way) to chat with him about his road to recovery and the message he’d like to convey to other poker players.

We often write of charity poker events doing some good in our community, but isn’t it nice to know the actual game of poker can do some good as well? Congrats, Greg, you deserve it.
We’ll see you at the tables.

— Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long