LAS VEGAS -- New year. Same story.
Greg Merson arrived in the Amazon Room Tuesday morning with a smile on his face as he greeted the fans who went out of their way for a moment of the champ's time. After unbagging his well-above average stack, he settled in at his table in the Amazon Room, put on his headphones and went to work. Merson quietly picked up a couple of pots to start the day and broke six figures in a hurry. The trend continued with a little luck (A-Q>Q-Q) and he was over 150,000. After the first break his table broke and he found himself at a stacked table that included Dan Fleyschman, Olivier Busquet and a very familiar face: Wilfried Harig.
It was Merson's elimination of Harig on Day 7 of the 2012 WSOP main event that sparked his momentum last year and the two sat side-by-side for only an orbit before Merson took out the German once again. However, unlike last time when Merson trapped his opponent for his tournament life on the river, he needed to hit a two-outer. The defending champ did just that, eliminated Harig and began his surge to the top of the chip counts.
"I went up every single level today," said Merson. "It's very rare and I'm very happy with it. … Against Harig [that hand] is just insane. ... Honestly I was really surprised that he shook my hand. I don't think I would've been able to do that. I would've just frustratingly got up and left, especially with what happened last year."
Merson and the other survivors of Day 2 A/B will have a day off Wednesday before returning for Day 3 action Thursday. The defending champion is prepared to savor every moment during the off day as he is one of just a few who knows what it will take to make it through the following five consecutive days of competition.
"If anyone's gone to Day 5 or Day 6 [in this tournament], they understand how you have to play. How they have to shrug off losing big pots, understanding not to give up when you get down to 15 or 20 big [blinds] when you're playing two-hour levels."
Merson, Jason DeWitt and Kenny Tran highlighted the big stacks from Day 2A, but in Pavilion (Day 2B), even though he wasn't the chip leader at the end of the day, everyone took notice that Doyle Brunson was bagging a big stack once again.
"I feel like a truck ran over me," said a tired Brunson after the 10-hour day. "I don't even know any of these kids, but they're all really good players. I'm really impressed with the quality of the play."
The 79-year-old member of the Poker Hall of Fame finished the day seated next to another poker legend, Dewey Tomko, and will bring 224,000 into Thursday's action. His focus remains on the next day, but he couldn't help but imagine what would happen if everything goes his way.
"Another win for me in the main event would really be a climax to a long career. It's very unlikely, there are a lot of good players left, but I appreciate the chance."
Three former main event champions -- Merson, Brunson and Dan Harrington -- have kept their quest alive for a second title. However, 2009 WSOP champion Joe Cada and 2003 champ Chris Moneymaker could not and they were joined on the rail with Mike Matusow, Dan Smith, Mike Sexton, John Juanda, Matt Salsberg, Eugene Katchalov and Steve O'Dwyer. Three members of last year's final table, Russell Thomas, Steven Gee and Merson, advanced as well. Gee finished the night 14th overall.
Nick Schwarmann ended the day as the chip leader and was the only player over 400,000 in chips. The Florida native has four career WSOP cashes, including a runner-up finish earlier this WSOP in Event 38. A total of 800 players from the Day 2 A/B fields advanced to Day 3.
Here's a look at the chip leaders after Day 2A/B:
1. Nick Schwarmann (413,600)
2. Jason DeWitt (382,900)
3. Aage Ravn (370,900)
4. Sergio Castelluccio (360,500)
5. Rupert Elder (342,500)
6. Mikhail Petrov (328,000)
7. Felix Kurmayr (324,800)
8. Ian Gordon (324,600)
9. Nick Guagenti (322,600)
10. Raj Vohra (322,200)
Other notables moving on include 2013 bracelet winners Anthony Gregg, Cliff Josephy, Miguel Proulx, Jared Hamby and Jonathan Taylor, online icons Phil Galfond, Annette Obrestad and Daniel Cates, and former November Niners Matt Jarvis, Steve Begleiter, Kevin Schaffel, Ivan Demidov and Eoghan O'Dea.
The Rio will be full once again on Day 2C. Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Michael Mizrachi highlight the 2,000-plus player field that begins at noon PT Wednesday. Those who survive the day will join the players who made it through Day 2 A/B Thursday when the field comes together for the first time.
Small blinds: A good majority of Kenny Tran's chips came at the end of the night when he made a good call with bottom set against his opponent's top pair. Mike Matusow turned to him and asked why it took so long for him to call. Tran answered and Matusow sat back down at his table, where he'd be eliminated on the next hand. ... Actors Ray Romano and Kevin Pollak both advanced. Romano, with 90,000 in chips, had never made Day 3 prior to this effort. Pollak, with 36,000, made Day 5 last year. ... Wednesday's Poker Edge podcast features Brunson, Merson and Pollak. ... There was a much more lively feeling in the Brasilia Room compared to the Amazon Room. ... Former November Niner Matt Jarvis is getting married a few weeks after the main event. ... Kevin Schaffel told me today that tournaments just aren't fun to him anymore. He has stepped away from poker almost completely and spends his time playing golf and traveling the world. ... Eric Mizrachi was the only Mizrachi brother to play on Day 2 A/B and was eliminated. Michael and Rob return to action on Day 2C. ... There were only a couple of loud outbursts today at the tables. As the days go on, the emotions get higher and those become more common. While it may rub some players the wrong way, at least some players care about winning and losing, and they aren't just non-emotional robots at all times. I've seen players win seven figures and barely crack a smile. There's something about that sort of attitude that's frustrating to me as an observer. ... I'm constantly tweeting pictures from the WSOP floor. You can check them all out here.