Greg Merson will have an extremely polarizing figure in his corner tonight when he competes at the Rio for the World Series of Poker Main Event title.
Poker standout Phil Ivey, who has been both ostracized and revered by the poker community, is backing Merson, 24, of Laurel, Md., who is the chip leader as the action enters three-handed play, which will determine the winner of the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em World Championship.
Merson wore a patch for Iveypoker.com Monday night, which appears to be a free-play poker website. Ivey showed up at the Rio early Monday evening and sat in Merson’s rooting section on the Penn & Teller Theater’s stage, flanked by a bodyguard. He stayed less than an hour.
Earlier in the day, an interview with Ivey was posted on espn.com. He praised Merson, saying, “I love his demeanor and I think he’ll be calm. He’ll know when to put the pressure on and he’ll know when to back off. I’m expecting him to win, hopefully.”
Ivey, who has earned eight career World Series of Poker bracelets, was shunned by a large swath of the poker community after the April 2011 “Black Friday” government crackdown on Internet poker. Ivey had close ties to the Full Tilt Poker website that stiffed its U.S. customers an estimated $150 million. PokerStars has since acquired Full Tilt and agreed to pay back money owed to U.S. gamblers.
Ivey sued Full Tilt, avoided the World Series of Poker in 2010 and dropped largely out of site during that year. He also had a messy divorce that played out in Las Vegas Review-Journal headlines.
Earlier this month, news surfaced concerning Crockfords, a casino in London's Mayfair that is withholding an $11.7 million payout Ivey earned in August playing the game Punto Banco, which is a variation of baccarat. The casino, which is owned by Malaysia-based Genting, informed Britain gaming authorities it is investigating circumstances surrounding Ivey’s gambling.
Ivey returned to the World Series of Poker last summer. He reached five final tables at the tournament and added to his career World Series of Poker winnings of $5.8 million.
Merson said Monday he welcomed Ivey’s support, saying the player had always been his idol.
“At this point in my career, there are not a lot of guys I really look up to,” Merson said. “I respect a lot of players, but I try to mold myself after him.”