Greg Merson took his role as a poker ambassador seriously after winning the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event and WSOP Player of the Year honors, and for a year after his victory he traveled the world to promote the game of poker and the WSOP brand.
Merson made a deep run in the 2013 WSOP Main Event as well, but after his year reigning as World Champion he felt he needed to take a step back from the bright lights and media crush to regroup. He returned with a vengeance at the 2014 PCA and took home over $1 million after chopping the $25,000 High Roller.
He cashed in six other tournaments in 2014, but in September Merson’s priorities shifted in a big way when he signed on as the first brand ambassador for WSOP.com. He moved to Hoboken, New Jersey with his girlfriend, and after heading to the other side of the world for WSOP Asia-Pacific and a few other destinations in October Merson’s settled in to his new home.
“I moved in September and I was there for a month before leaving the country for six weeks,” recalled Merson. “I went to Australia, Hong Kong, and Macau, and then I came back, and I haven’t traveled since.”
“I love it,” said Merson. “It’s nice because I’m right outside New York City. It’s a little ridiculous with the cost of living, but I picture it as a short-term thing for me. It’s been nice getting a break from traveling because that was never really a big thing I was very fond of, and now that things have slowed down, I’m really enjoying it.”
Merson agreed to a set period of time of living in New Jersey, but it has little to do with his contract with WSOP.com.
“I agreed to live there for two years,” said Merson, “Not with my sponsorship, just with my girlfriend, so she has a full-time job there.”
As you might expect, the biggest chunk of Merson’s time is dedicated to playing online poker. In the 30 hours a week he typically plays on WSOP.com it’s a balance between playing the kind of stakes that are most profitable to him and the kind of stakes where recreational players get a chance to tangle with a World Champion, but Merson strikes it well.
“Most of my volume is at $2/$4, but I’ll play $1/$2 to $10/$20,” said Merson. I’ve played some $25/$50 when it goes, but it doesn’t go that often. There’s a lot more traffic than I imagined before I moved there. I have a pretty solid window of being able to play from, let’s say, 10:00 am until 3:00 am. There’s usually enough games between all three sites to be able to get four to 10 tables.”
Putting in heavy volume has always been a priority for Merson, and it’s something he can do pretty easily across all of the various online platforms in New Jersey. Merson’s also started experimenting with Twitch, although some tech issues put a temporary halt to his brief live-streaming career.
“I usually try to only play when I can get at least six tables going,” said Merson. “I also started streaming a bit in February, but then I had a bunch of computer problems, which is still an issue. I’m living with the head of poker with Twitch this summer, though, so they’re supposed to provide some computers that I can stream on.”
To supplement what he plays online, Merson takes an 80 minute drive once a week to Sands Bethlehem in Pennsylvania. On Tuesdays, they run a $10/$25 game that Merson will play as long as it runs, which can often be for 12 hours or more.
Most of Merson’s attention has been dedicated to his role with WSOP.com, though, and he’s taken a great interest in the long-term health of the online poker industry as a whole. By all indications it appears PokerStars will be joining WSOP and others in New Jersey in the near-future, a move that would set them up as direct competitors.
While they’ll be competing in New Jersey, Caesars and PokerStars have formed an alliance in trying to get online poker into California – one of the most potentially profitable markets in the United States.
“That would be great,” Merson said of the likelihood of their arrival. “PokerStars coming to the US would be awesome, even though they’re a competitor of the company that I represent. It’s still in the best interest of the industry in general to have someone that’s going to come in and pump a shitload of money into the marketing side of the game and really just promote online poker itself.”
Even in the short term, a recognizable brand name like PokerStars getting into New Jersey will help raise awareness among potential customers in the state.
“There’s some crazy stat in New Jersey that over 50 percent of New Jersey residents don’t even know that online gambling is legal,” said Merson. “People are still in the dark and we need some more marketing dollars in there, so they would definitely help with that.”
For now, Merson’s focus has shifted to the task at hand – the 2015 World Series of Poker. He hasn’t been traveling at all in the last six months, but Merson’s planning on putting in some serious tournament volume while he’s out in Las Vegas.
“I have 15 or 16 that I’m going to play,” said Merson. “I’m excited for all the PLO tournaments, I think those are really good, and the One Drop should be fun. All the shorthand stuff is always awesome too.”
Merson hopped right into the first open event of the summer, $5,000 No Limit Hold’em, and he was still running strong near the midway point of Day 2 as of Thursday afternoon. Before he even got involved in that tournament, though, his long-time love of short-handed events was evident.
“I’m more excited for the $1,500 Six Max next week than I am for this tournament, to be honest with you,” said Merson. “Just playing four to six handed is my favorite form of No Limit. Anytime those tournaments come around regardless of buy-in, I’m excited to play them.”
While the Four Max event, which he nearly final tabled in his run to POY in 2012, fell off the schedule this year, Merson wasn’t too upset about it. He’s looking forward to an opportunity to play a lot of Omaha this summer.
“I like the fact that there’s five PLOs this year instead of there’s only been four in the past,” said Merson. “I don’t know if I’ll play [the $25K], but I think that’s cool, because that shows that they’re listening to the community itself. A lot of the high-stakes games are PLO these days, so it’s kind of silly to have higher roller or no limit tournaments when there’s a market for some big buying PLO stuff.”
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