Greg Merson, who enters the 2012 WSOP Main Event final table third in chips, has said that poker helped him overcome his addiction to drugs.
He has played millions of hands online, trying to perfect his game and spent long hours studying with fellow pros.
Merson said his discovery of the game is that of the “standard internet kid story.”
He started playing as a teenager after watching Chris Moneymaker win the Main Event in 2003. He briefly attended the University of Maryland before dropping out to play poker full time.
“Poker got me out of that funk,” Merson told ESPN. “It filled that void. Playing poker was a rush that replaced the cocaine rush … it filled that drug void. I would go to meetings, play poker and stay out of trouble. I treated it like a job.”
On October 10, he tweeted: “celebrating 10 months clean with a deep tissue massage down at the spa.”
Merson said on twitter that he would wear a patch for the Poker Players Alliance.
“Help bring Internet poker back to the US,” he said.
But he also was critical of Full Tilt, which was taken over by PokerStars and is expected to re-launch November 6.
“I think its really unethical of Full Tilt Poker to relaunch before the U.S players are paid back,” Merson tweeted.
The 24-year-old starts the final table 28,725,000 in chips.
In televised cooler spots, he has handled defeat calmly. On day 7, Merson turned a flush against chip leader Jesse Sylvia, who rivered a full house.
He has said that he simply wants to “take advantage of this opportunity.” At one point in the Main Event, he was down to just a few big blinds.
“I’m really blessed to be in this situation,” he said after making the cut. “As long as i play good poker at the final table, and don’t make any really big mistakes I’m going to be happy, even if i get unlucky. You just can’t be results oriented. … You can’t let emotion affect yourself when you’re playing for so much.”
Originally from Laurel, Maryland, Merson also owns a home in Toronto, where he continues to play online poker.
During the break before the October 9, Merson finished 35th in the PokerStars WCOOP event 22, a $10,300 buy-in NL hold’em event for $19,305.
He is the only player still eligible to overtake Phil Hellmuth for the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year. He sits in 10th place in that race, but could win if he takes down the Main Event.
Merson cashed in the 2009 Main Event, finishing 639th for $21,365.
This year, Merson won his first bracelet in Event 57, the $10,000 NL hold’em six-handed event that drew 474 players. He took home $1.1 million for the win. He also took 5th in the 750-player $2,500 four-handed event for $70,280 and 21st in the 924-player $3,000 six-handed event for $16,850.