Greg Merson

Greg Merson, seated, and friends react after he won a preliminary World Series of Poker tournament July 5 in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Poker News / September 7, 2012)

Greg Merson has been known to dedicate 60 or 70 hours a week to his job. He's traveled all around the world for work and taken very little vacation time. And in just five years in his profession, he's become one of the best in the business.

Merson, a 24-year-old from North Laurel, is a professional poker player.

Merson became interested in the game after watching poker tournaments on ESPN as a teenager. Nearly a decade later, the 2005 Reservoir High School graduate is about to become one of the poker stars he used to watch.

On Oct. 29, Merson will compete against eight other players for the 2012 World Series of Poker title.

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The WSOP Main Event, the world's most celebrated poker tournament, started July 9 with 6,598 players. Anybody who puts up the $10,000 buy in can play, but it's usually the professionals who make it to the end, Merson said.

Over the course of 10 days of competition, each averaging about 13 hours, hundreds of games were played to narrow the field down to the final nine.

"It all just happened so fast," Merson said. "It seemed like a blur."

The nine finalists have a more than three-month break before they return to Las Vegas for the two-day final table event. Six of the finalists will be eliminated on the first day, Oct. 29. The final three will compete for the championship, which will be aired live on ESPN, Oct. 30.

Merson is currently in third place with $28.7 million in chips. The players in first and second have $43.9 million and $29.4 million in chips, respectively.

"If I win the tournament, my life is going to change so much," Merson said.

The winner will take home more than $8.5 million, a custom-designed WSOP gold-and-diamond bracelet, and all the fame that comes along with being named the world's best poker player.

"You're like a poster boy for poker forever," Merson said.

The winner also gets a one-year, seven-figure contract with Poker Stars, the world's largest online poker site.

Signed with an agent

But Merson doesn't have to win to open more doors in his career. He's recently signed with an agent, who will help him get sponsorships from companies that want to have him wear a patch to advertise for them during the two-day championship.

"There is a lot of sponsorship money up for grabs for the final table because it's going to be live on ESPN for hours," Merson said.

Regardless of what happens at the final table, Merson could be named WSOP Player of the Year, an honor designated from cumulative points earned during WSOP tournament play. He is currently leading the Player of the Year race, as he and other players head to London to compete in WSOP Europe tournaments, held Sept. 14-28.

Of the nine finalists in the main event, Merson is the only one to have already won a WSOP bracelet this year.

"If you play poker for a living, the ultimate dream is to have a World Series of Poker bracelet," Merson said.

"I don't chase the glory of poker," Merson added. "All the fame and stuff of doing well this summer is all new to me."