As the 2022 World Series of Poker (WSOP) inches closer, PokerNews is looking back at all the past WSOP Main Event champions since the turn of the century.
While previous installments of this series have focused on the likes of 2000-02 winners Chris Ferguson, Carlos Mortensen and Robert Varkonyi or 2003-05 winners Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem, this installment will look at 2012-14 champions Greg Merson, Ryan Riess and Martin Jacobson.
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Greg Merson: 2012 Main Event Champion ($8,531,853)
At 24 years old, Greg Merson took down the 2012 Main Event for $8,531,853 after battling through a field of 6,598 players. It wasn’t even the first seven-figure score of the year for Merson, who had earned his first bracelet earlier in the series when he took down the $10,000 six-handed no-limit hold’em event for $1.1 million.
Merson, a Maryland resident who had about a dozen cashes heading into the Main Event, battled through a final table that lasted 398 hands, making it the longest-ever at the WSOP up to that point. Merson’s opponents at the final table included high-stakes pro Jeremy Ausmus (5th – $2,155,313), Hungary’s Andras Koroknai (6th – $1,640,902) and 21-year old Jake Balsiger (3rd – $3,799,073), who was looking to become the youngest Main Event champion in history.
Balsiger bowed out in third when he three-bet shoved his short stack with queen-ten, only to be called by the dominating king-queen of Merson. The runout of didn’t help the Balsiger and he was eliminated to begin a heads-up battle between Merson and 26-year-old Jesse Sylvia.
In the final hand of the tournament, Merson had about a two-to-one chip lead and opened to four million with . Sylvia looked down at in the big blind and three-bet to 9.5 million.
Merson, sitting quietly behind a pair of aviators, announced a four-bet all-in with Sylvia covered. Sylvia sighed and shuffled his chips before putting in his remaining 60 million. Cameras panned to Vanessa Selbst on Sylvia’s rail, who did not look happy with the way the hand went down.
The flop of was no help to Sylvia and the on the turn didn’t change things. Sylvia was drawing to just a queen or a jack before the bricked off on the river and Merson became the 2012 champion. The victory made Merson the first player since Chris Ferguson in 2000 to win a preliminary bracelet and the Main Event in the same year and propelled him over Phil Hellmuth to be the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year.
2012 Main Event Final Table Results
|1||Greg Merson||United States||$8,531,853|
|2||Jesse Sylvia||United States||$5,295,149|
|3||Jake Balsiger||United States||$3,799,073|
|4||Russell Thomas||United States||$2,851,537|
|5||Jeremy Ausmus||United States||$2,155,313|
|7||Michael Esposito||United States||$1,258,040|
|8||Robert Salaburu||United States||$971,360|
|9||Steve Gee||United States||$754,798|
Road to Recovery
Merson’s Main Event victory and earlier bracelet win would be incredible feats for any poker player. But Merson’s 2012 run was particularly amazing as it occurred while he was 11 months sober from an earlier drug relapse after his online poker career was stripped away on Black Friday.
Merson’s two victories at the 2012 WSOP remain his biggest cashes to date, though he had a near-seven-figure score in 2014 when he finished second in the $25,000 buy-in PokerStars Carribbean Adventure No-Limit Hold’em High Roller for $948,996. The next year, Merson finished fourth in the WSOP Event #2: No-Limit Hold’em for $152,126.
All said and done, Merson currently has $11.4 million in live tournament earnings, according to The Hendon Mob, showing that his incredible run in 2012 wasn’t just a fluke.
Merson sits second on Maryland’s all-time money list, behind Anthony Gregg with just under $12 million. Another big score at the World Series could push Merson ahead as the all-time money money leader of the Old Line State.
Greg Merson’s Top 5 Cashes Since WSOP Main Event Win
|January 2014||$25,000||PokerStars Carribbean Adventure No Limit Hold’em High Roller||2nd||$948,996|
|May 2015||$5,000||WSOP Event #2: No Limit Hold’em||4th||$152,126|
|January 2016||$25,000||PokerStars Caribbean Adventure No Limit Hold’em – High Roller||13th||$88,020|
|June 2015||$10,000||WSOP Event #15: Pot Limit Hold’em Championship||5th||$79,182|
|September 2015||$3,200||World Poker Tour Maryland Main Event||4th||$78,449|
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Ryan Riess: 2013 Main Event Champion ($8,361,570)
Ryan Riess emerged as the 2013 Main Event champion to win $8,361,570, just shy of what Merson earned for his victory the previous year.
The 23-year-old Riess, a resident of Michigan, became the 45th Main Event champion after getting through a field of 6,352 and battling at a final table with Sylvain Loosli (4th – $2,792,533), two-time bracelet winner JC Tran (5th – $2,106,893) and David Benefield (8th – $944,650).
Riess entered heads-up play against runner-up Jay Farber with a chip deficit, though Riess was able to battle and pick up pots to take the lead. Farber was almost sent home when he got it in with a straight draw to the top pair of Riess, but a gin turn card extended his Main Event life.
In the final hand, Riess opened to 2.5 million holding and Farber moved all-in for 14 million with . Riess snap-called with his Big Slick and both players headed to their rails for support and hyping up.
The flop came to take away Farber’s queen outs as Riess picked up a broadway draw. The on the turn was a brick and Riess had tears in his eyes before the peeled off on the river to seal him the victory.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time,” Riess said after the win. “Ever since I was 14 and saw [Chris] Moneymaker win it. I just had a great feeling about it.”
2013 Main Event Final Table Results
|1||Ryan Riess||United States||$8,361,570|
|2||Jay Farber||United States||$5,174,357|
|5||JC Tran||United States||$2,106,893|
|8||David Benefield||United States||$944,650|
|9||Mark Newhouse||United States||$733,224|
Continued Poker Success
While Riess has yet to win another WSOP bracelet or take home another seven-figure score, he has managed to rack up $6.8 million in tournament winnings in addition to the $8.4 million he won in the Main Event, according to The Hendon Mob.
Riess’ second biggest score came in 2017 when he took down the $10,000 buy-in WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown Finale for $716,088, giving himself a WPT title to add to his poker accolades.
In 2019, Riess finished second in the a $50,000 buy-in US Poker Open No-Limit Hold’em event for $492,000, his third biggest score to date. Riess has also done quite well on the European circuit, including a fourth-place finish in the 2018 WSOPE Main Event for €337,778.
Riess had a few deep runs during the 2021 WSOP but wasn’t able to win another bracelet. He could do so if he plays an active schedule at the 2022 WSOP.
Ryan Riess’ Top 5 Cashes Since WSOP Main Event Win
|April 2017||$10,000||WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown Finale||1st||$716,088|
|February 2019||$50,000||US Poker Open Event #9: No-Limit Hold’em||2nd||$492,000|
|August 2018||€50,000||European Poker Tour Barcelona Event #17: No-Limit Hold’em||4th||€344,700|
|October 2018||€10,000||WSOPE Main Event||4th||€337,778|
|December 2017||25500||PokerStars Prague Event #21: No-Limit Hold’em||2nd||€278,475|
Martin Jacobson: 2014 Main Event Champion ($10,000,000)
Martin Jacobson defied all odds when he took down the 2014 Main Event for $10 million. He had never won a major live tournament, he had entered the final table as a short stack and no player from Sweden had ever won the WSOP Main Event.
Amazingly, Jacobson was able to take down the event and make history in the process. The Swedish player naviaged through a field of 6,683 entrants and a final table that included fellow northern Europeans Felix Vincent Stephensen of Norway ($5,147,911) and Jorryt van Hoof of the Netherlands.
Jacobson entered heads-up play with 142 million chips to Stephensen’s 58.5 million, a significant chip advantage over his Norwegian opponent. In the final hand, Stephensen opened to 3.5 million with and Jacobson moved all-in in the big blind with . Stephensen quickly called as the effective stack.
Jacobson was ahead with his pocket pair and the flop came to give him a set and have Stephensen drawing practically dead. The on the turn sealed the victory for Jacobson before the came on the river.
Jacobson had started Day 1a as chip leader and, after the victory, became the first player since Joe Cada in 2009 to go from beginning chip leader to champion.
2014 Main Event Final Table Results
|3||Jorryt van Hoof||Netherlands||$3,806,402|
|4||William Tonking||United States||$2,848,833|
|5||Billy Pappas||United States||$2,143,174|
|7||Dan Sindelar||United States||$1,235,862|
|9||Mark Newhouse||United States||$730,725|
Jacobson has yet to win another WSOP bracelet yet, but he has racked up a total of $17.1 million in live earnings throughout his career, according to The Hendon Mob.
Jacobson had his second-biggest live score to date the year before the $111,111 One Drop High Roller at the 2013 WSOP, where he finished in sixth for $807,427.
Since his eight-figure score in the Main Event, Jacobson has had a number of large six-figure cashes, including a sixth-place finish in the 2017 WSOP High Roller for One Drop for $641,382 and a runner-up finish in a 2018 Card Player Poker Tour Deep Stack Extravaganza II event for $398,303.
The Swedish pro’s last cash came in the 2022 WPTDeepStacks Sydney Main Event in April, where he finished in 186th-place for $2,073.
Martin Jacobson’s Top 5 Cashes Since WSOP Main Event Win
|June 2017||$111,111||WSOP Event #6: High Roller for One Drop||6th||$641,382|
|July 2017||$5,000||Card Player Poker Tour Deep Stack Extravaganza III Event #103||2nd||$398,303|
|June 2018||$2,620||WSOP Event #24: The Marathon||5th||$155,062|
|May 2015||€25,000||EPT Monte Carlo Event #61: High Roller||10th||€96,300|
|October 2019||C$3,000||WPT Montreal Main Event||6th||C$110,000|