The October Nine: A Tale From The 2012 WSOP

Part of my story from the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event following my friend and winner Greg Merson. It's one hell of a story, with many valuable lessons that can help aspiring WSOP hopefuls gain insight into how this amazing event works.

Today had the potential to be the biggest day of Greg Merson’s life. Having worked closely with him for the last 12 months to get his life on track, today was also the biggest day of my life. I wanted to see if all the hard times we’d gone through, and the hard work we’d done to overcome those difficulties was going to pay off. Ironically just a week earlier had been the most important day in Gregy’s life. I had seen a grown man brought to tears of joy having achieved something he’d dreamed of for years, winning a WSOP bracelet. Today though was about more than just Gregy, it was about our entire team and showing the world that making the final table of the Main Event was more than just some pipe dream.

Normally a late riser, especially after a long day of drinking, it was weird that I woke up at 9am without an alarm clock. I woke up feeling fully energized, ready for the long day of cheering ahead. I wanted Gregy to know that he had my full support, along with that of everyone else who’d shared such a wonderful summer with us. Around 10am Gregy woke up and after packing all of my things and doing a sweep of the house I joined him in his room for some pre-game pumping up. We hopped on skype with his best friend from home, shared some laughs, and watched some PokerNews videos (Gregy’s favorite pastime off the felt). It was amazing how calm he was, I asked him if he was nervous to which he replied “just a little bit man, it’s hard to believe this is really happening, but no reason to feel any pressure, all I can do is play my best and hope that luck takes care of the rest”.

I did rounds to see who else wanted to come sweat the action at the start of the day. The house was pretty empty, only 2 of the roommates remained and Dr. Bell of course - our number one fan :) Mike and Eric said they’d come join us at the Rio around 3pm or so which worked for us. So Gregy, Dr. Bell and I hopped in our rental car and worked our way down to the Rio.

We made a stop at 7-11 to get Gregy his usual WSOP breakfast: A can of sugar-free redbull, a granola bar and a pack of petes. We hopped back in the car and drove down Desert Inn, bumping Tiesto’s Club Life (Vol 2) the whole way down. House music is amazing for getting pumped up and ready to play, we listened to most of the same tracks that we’d played on the drive down before Gregy won the 10k six-max.

Gregy made his way to his seat at the feature table in the Thunderdome. Dr. Bell and I scored ourselves some front row seats and to my surprise both of our cheering teams from yesterday had players on the feature table: There was Team Betfair supporting Elisabeth Hille, and team Montreal supporting Marc-Andre Ladouceur. Unfortunately, given that they’d be competing against Gregy for a spot on the final table today, friendship had to be put aside as we focused on the task at hand, cheering our buddy to victory.

Since I don’t want to ruin the broadcast, I won’t talk about any hands during this blog entry.

Tony and Christian showed up along with a couple of very fine ladies (easily 10's) next came the trays of beers and rum and cokes, usually 15-20 at a time. From our experiencing railing the 10k six-max, we knew that having a strong rail really helped to keep the player’s motivated and excited, so we made sure that Gregy and everyone else knew we were there, and that our chants would drown out anything from the competition.

The atmosphere in the Thunderdome was electric and our energy was overpowering. Honestly, I think that some of the other players were intimidated by our presence (it would work to our advantage). As our cheering section grew, there was Eric Wasserson, Andrew Lichtenberger, Mike Aron, Eric Ladny, Jake Toole, Shawn Busse, Theo Tran, and some other friends of the ladies as well, Gregy quickly acquired a ton of chips and found himself near the top of the leaderboard. At every level our chip stack grew, so did the size of Gregy’s support section. It was amazing to see.

I made friends with an older gentleman who was sitting in the front row. I told him about Gregy and I invited him to join us in cheering him on. He was very excited, “I've never actually known someone going so deep in the tournament, this is so amazing to have someone to cheer for.” As thanks for his support I answered some questions he had about hands he’d played recently in a tournament. Every time we went out on a break this guy saved us a minimum of 5 seats to make sure that Gregy would have that support he needed (there was no reserved seating and not being able to sit in our guy’s corner would have been devastating). I don’t remember his name, but I want to thank you sir for helping us supporters do our job! He even bought the fourth round of drinks for our section. I was so happy to have made this man’s experience watching the Main Event his best one ever.

As players got eliminated, tables broke, we got drunker and the chants started to being “P-O-Y, P-O-Y, P-O-Y.” Gregy smiled at us and continued to play his game. I could tell that he was savouring every second of the moment. Then something happened and Gregy broke away from the pack (I’ll let you wait to see it on TV), suddenly the octo-9 was no longer a hope, but was looking to be almost a reality and the stands were going nuts.

Down to 15 players with 2 women left in the field Eric wanted to bet me that a girl wouldn’t make the final table. “Listen bro, I’ve been watching Lizzie play and she’s got game, a hundred bucks at even money you’re throwing it away but I’ll take the bet.” I was pretty confident that I was gonna win the bet and be buying the round of drinks when everything was wrapped up.

14 players left, 13 players left, 12 players left, the booze was flowing and Gregy’s stack was growing. Occasionally he’d come over for some high fives or words of encouragement. The experience was better than I could’ve ever imagined. Tony grabbed me, “Evan, IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING!?!?” “You’re damn right it is Tony, we’re coming back in October bro.” 11 players left and I looked over to Eric, “wanna buy out bro?” “nah dude, I know how these things work, it’s not gonna happen…”

Unfortunately for my bet, Eric was right. Somehow the women went out in 11th and 10th place respectively, but I didn’t care, that was a small drop in the bucket. Gregy had made the final table of the Main Event! When the final card was dealt and it was official Gregy came over to our corner and we swarmed him, we were ecstatic! Tony asked me one more time, “Evan, is this REALLY happening?!?!” To which I simply smiled and nodded. Gregy had made our dreams come true. It was real.

Photoshoot and interviews took about 2 hours, so Tony and I hung around the Rio waiting for him while the other supporters made their way to the clubs for another wild night of celebration. I asked Gregy if he wanted to join them to which he replied, “I just wanna have a nice meal with my boys and call it a night.” Perfect I thought, 2 days of drinking all day I was pretty exhausted and I could wait until October for another night of partying. I walked the hallways to congratulate some of the players who had played great tournaments but had not found luck at the right times (Lizzie Hille and Marc-Andre Ladoucer). I shook hands with their supporters (my new and old friends) and said I hoped to see them on the next leg of the live poker tour. The payout process was going to take quite a while so Tony made his way to the Aria and reserved us rooms for the night. Our house rental was up and we needed a nice place to spend the night. We lay in the hallway of the Rio, we didn't care that the floor was dirty. Nothing mattered right now, between the mixed feelings of exhaustion and happiness everything felt right.

We ate at the Aria Cafe, the same place we’d eaten after bricking the World Series last year. It was somewhat poetic that while we’d ended up in the same place, we had come so far in our personal lives in just 12 months time. Instead of having dinner with a couple of reckless gamblers, we shared it with Tony Gregg (a real boss) and Christian Harder (also, a real boss). I was in awe that I’d ended up here, with these guys, sharing this experience, but I knew that it hadn’t been by pure chance. Through all the tough times I’d endured last year, I did my best to make the right decisions, even if they seemed more difficult. Gregy too had managed to overcome a lot of personal issues and had grown so much as a person. He’d made the right decision to move to Canada with a total stranger, and he’d chosen the right friends to have by his side, he deserved this moment.

After dinner Tony and Christian left, leaving Gregy and I to make our way up to our room for a night of well deserved rest. We hopped into our Queen Sized bed’s with 6 pillows each. After sleeping in a crappy bed at the house for 5 weeks, this felt amazing, like laying on a cloud. We turned off the lights and I looked over across the room at my buddy Gregy, a true role model who showed me that if you’re willing to work hard for it, you can make your dreams come true. “Congratulations bro, I’m really impressed with all the decisions you made this year, you never took the easy way out, you deserve this!”

“Thanks man,” and with that he drifted off to sleep, knowing that no matter how wild his dreams would be that night, they couldn’t compare with his new reality.

Photo Credit: Ray Dumas | Flickr