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Greg Merson wins World Series of Poker title and $8.5m in Las Vegas 01/10/2012
Associated Press
Poker professional wins marathon tournament that began in July

A 24-year-old American has become the latest world poker champion after winning the annual marathon World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, snapping up $8.5m (£5.3m) for prevailing in a tournament that started back in July with 6,598 players vying for the title.

Greg Merson, a poker professional from Maryland, outdid his last opponents in a marathon final session that lasted nearly 12 hours. The last hand, in which Merson's king outranked the queen of rival Jesse Sylvia, was worth more than $3m to the champion. Sylvia walked away with $5.3m for finishing in second place.

"I feel pretty good – got all the tears out, so now I feel relaxed," Merson said.

Merson's victory over Sylvia, 26, came after the pair outlasted the last amateur at the table, 21-year-old Jake Balsiger. The Arizona state senior hoping to become the youngest World Series of Poker champion was eliminated in third place, more than 11 hours into the marathon.

The political science major, who has vowed to graduate, won $3.8m in third.

"I have some homework due tomorrow, my supreme court class," Balsiger said. "I didn't do it last week because I was in a final table simulation, so my professor's probably not the happiest with me."

Even before Balsiger was eliminated, the players set a series record by pushing beyond 364 hands at the final table. Balsiger lost on hand 382, while Sylvia lost on hand 399.

All three players traded chips, big bluffs and shocking hands during their marathon run.

"It was kind of swinging emotionally," Sylvia said. "Thinking that you're going to be heads-up and then to make something on the river, and think you're going to be heads up and someone else hits something."

They started play Tuesday night having already outlasted six others at a final table that began on Monday. But they refused to give in with roughly $4.8m on the line – the difference between first and third place.

"This is exciting," Balsiger told his tablemates as the game played out as part mental sparring, part plain luck.

The tournament was chopped down to nine players through seven sessions in 11 days. Play stopped after nearly 67 hours logged at the tables for each player, with minimum bets going up every two hours.

The finalists played Monday night until only three players remained to settle the title.

Greg Merson
World Series of Poker Champion - Greg Merson
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