-- A Maryland poker professional won the World Series of Poker main event, outlasting his final opponents in a marathon card session of nearly 12 hours for the $8.53 million title on Wednesday.

Greg Merson emerged with the title before dawn in Las Vegas after a session that proved a showcase for his skills amid the unpredictability of tournament no-limit Texas Hold `em.

On the last hand, Merson put Las Vegas card pro Jesse Sylvia all-in with a king high. Sylvia thought hard, then called with a suited queen-jack.

"This whole stage is nothing you could ever prepare for," Merson said.

Merson's hand held through the community cards – two sixes, a three, a nine and a seven – to put his name alongside former champions including Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan.

After an exhausting session, he's ready to join them.

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

STORY CONTINUES BELOW

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  • Greg Merson

    Greg Merson holds up his new bracelet after winning the World Series of Poker No-Limit Hold'em Main Event, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean) LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LAS VEGAS SUN OUT

  • The championship bracelet sits on display on the side of the stage during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Robert Salaburu

    Robert Salaburu of San Antonio, replaces his sunglasses at the start of another hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Greg Merson

    Greg Merson, of Laurel, Md., handles his chips as play continues during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Robert Salaburu

    Robert Salaburu of San Antonio stacks his chips after winning a hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Russell Thomas

    Russell Thomas watches play from opponents during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Andras Koroknai

    Andras Koroknai of Debrecen, Hungary, stacks his chips between hands during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Michael Esposito

    Michael Esposito of Seaford, N.Y. watches play from opponents during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jesse Sylvia

    Jesse Sylvia of Las Vegas watches play from opponents during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Andras Koroknai

    Andras Koroknai, of Hungary, watches play from opponents during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Steve Gee

    Steve Gee of Sacramento, Calif., calls all in during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. Gee lost the hand and was the first to be eliminated from play. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jeremy Ausmus

    Jeremy Ausmus, of Las Vegas, watches play from opponents during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Steve Gee, Russell Thomas, Jeremy Ausmus

    Steve Gee, of Sacramento, Calif., right, looks up at the video screen as Russell Thomas, far left, of Hartford, Conn., calls him on his all-in bet during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. Gee lost the hand and was the first to be eliminated from play. Jeremy Ausmus, second from left, watches. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jeremy Ausmus, Steve Gee

    Jeremy Ausmus, left, of Las Vegas, checks his cards as Steve Gee watches play during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger of Tempe, Ariz. watches play from opponents during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger, center, is congratulated by friends after doubling up his earnings after raising all in and winning on a pair of Kings during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Greg Merson, Jeremy Ausmus, Jesse Sylvia

    Greg Merson, center, of Laurel, Md., pulls in his winnings on a hand as Jeremy Ausmus, left, of Las Vegas, and Jesse Sylvia, also of Las Vegas, watch during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger, Jeremy Ausmus

    Jake Balsiger, center, of Tempe, Ariz., reacts as the dealer shows the cards after raising all in against Jeremy Ausmus, right, of Las Vegas, during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. Balsiger won the hand and doubled up. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Play resumes in the second level during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jesse Sylvia, Robert Salaburu

    Jesse Sylvia, center, says goodbye to Robert Salaburu, right, after Sylvia raised all in and Salaburu called during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. Sylvia won the hand and Salaburu was eliminated. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Russell Thomas

    Russell Thomas of Hartford, Conn., smiles after winning a hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Greg Merson

    Greg Merson, left, of Laurel, Md., yawns during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jessey Sylvia

    Jesse Sylvia, bottom center, reacts after raising all in and winning a hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jesse Sylvia, Robert Salaburu

    Jesse Sylvia, right, looks back at friends and family after raising all in against Robert Salaburu, second from left, during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. Sylvia won the hand and Salaburu was eliminated. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Greg Merson, Andras Koroknai, Jesse Sylvia

    Greg Merson, left, Andras Koroknai, center, of Debrecen Hungary, and Jesse Sylvia watch the flop during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. Merson won the pot and Koroknai was eliminated. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Andras Koroknai

    Andras Koroknai, of Debrecen, Hungary, walks off the stage after being eliminated from play during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jesse Sylvia

    Jesse Sylvia, right, watches early play from opponents during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Greg Merson

    Greg Merson stacks his chips during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Fans for player Jesse Sylvia cheer him on during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger, Greg Merson, Jesse Sylvia

    From left, Jake Balsiger, Greg Merson and Jesse Sylvia begin play during the World Series of Poker final table Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger pulls in the pot after winning a hand during the World Series of Poker final table Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger, Greg Merson, Jesse Sylvia

    From left, Jake Balsiger, Greg Merson and Jesse Sylvia begin play during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Greg Merson

    Greg Merson contemplates his next move during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger, Greg Merson, Jesse Sylvia

    From left, Jake Balsiger, Greg Merson, and Jesse Sylvia watch the flop after Balsiger bet all in on a hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. Balsiger won the pot on the hand. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger reacts to supporters after betting all in and winning the pot on a hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jesse Sylvia

    Jesse Sylvia watches play from his opponents during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Fans cheer for Jesse Sylvia during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jesse Sylvia, Vanessa Selbst

    Jesse Sylvia, left, talks with his coach Vanessa Selbst during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger, right, smiles as he pulls in the pot after winning a hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Play continues at the World Series of Poker final table, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Greg Merson

    Greg Merson, left, and Jesse Sylvia watch play during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Greg Merson, Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger, left, reacts as Greg Merson pulls in the pot after snap folding on an all in bet by Merson during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • A jack-o-lantern sits on the stage during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger watches the flop after an all-in bet during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. Balsiger won the hand and spiked his double. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger is congratulated by friends after doubling his earnings on an all in bet during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger watches the flop after an all in-bet during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. Balsiger won the hand and spiked his double.

  • Jesse Sylvia

    Jesse Sylvia, second from right, watches with his coach, Vanessa Solbst, second from left, as the dealer prepares to deliver the river card during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jesse Sylvia

    Jesse Sylvia, center, reacts with his coach Vanessa Selbst, second from left, and friends as the river card is dealt showing a four of hearts giving him a straight to win the hand and avoid elimination during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • A security guard keeps watch over a stack of money backstage during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jesse Sylvia, Nica Sylvia, Vanessa Selbst

    Jesse Sylvia, his sister Nica Sylvia and as his coach Vanessa Selbst react as they watch the flop on the 289th hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Las Vegas. Sylvia lost the hand to Jake Balsiger who doubled up. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Jake Balsiger

    Jake Balsiger reacts as the flop falls in his favor on an all in bet on the 289th hand during the World Series of Poker Final Table event, early Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)


The 24-year-old Merson pushed past Hellmuth for the series' Player of the Year honors, proving himself the top performer throughout this year's series of card tournaments in Las Vegas and Europe. Merson also won a tournament bracelet this summer in Las Vegas for a no-limit Texas Hold `em 6-handed tournament.

The 26-year-old Sylvia won $5.3 million for second place.

"That was nuts, man," he said.

Merson's victory 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.

Balsiger gambled his last chips with a queen-10 and was dominated by Merson's king-queen. Merson's hand held through five community cards, forcing Balsiger to exit no richer than when he started the finale on Tuesday.

The political science major, who has vowed to graduate, won $3.8 million.

"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."

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 wild hands during their marathon run.

"It was kind of swinging, emotionally," Sylvia said.

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

"This is exciting," Balsiger told his tablemates.

Merson took a commanding chip lead early with a gutsy move – sensing weakness in Balsiger and re-raising a 10 million chip bet all-in with just queen high. Balsiger couldn't call, and Merson moved up to more than 100 million in chips.

Sylvia went all-in against Merson, his ace-king against Merson's pocket kings. An ace through five vaulted Sylvia to the chip lead, temporarily sending his supporters at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino into a frenzy.

Chips have no real monetary value in tournament poker. Each player at the final table must lose all his chips to lose the tournament and win all the chips to be crowned champion.

The tournament began in July with 6,598 players and was whittled to nine 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 remained for the title.

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