After several years in the game, Mercier is getting back to what matters
Jason Mercier reached the top of the poker world at the young age of 27 years old. He has two World Series of Poker bracelets, $8.5 million in tournament winnings, was 2009 BLUFF Player of the Year and is one of the faces of the world’s most powerful poker company.
Mercier returned from a long trip to Europe in November and was on the brink of exhaustion after a slew of contractual obligations — photo shoots, commercial shoots, tournaments, etc. — had to be fulfilled in a whirlwind schedule. He decided it was time to face two of the biggest fears he had — taking a break from poker and revealing himself as a Christian after refinding his faith.
“I spent two months — 63 days to be exact — not playing poker,” he said. “I counted every one of them. It’s hard to even imagine not playing poker.”
Despite his astronomical success, Mercier was able to keep some parts of his life private — namely his faith. He took to his blog in late October 2013 revealing he had refound his faith, “To be honest, I was too scared of what people might think of me, and didn’t feel strong enough in my faith to be open about it.”
To an untrained eye Mercier blends in with other players of his generation wearing gym shorts, a T-shirt, a three-day-old beard and a ball cap. Recently though he’s worn something not normally associated with a poker player — a WWJD bracelet.
In a world where success is measured by bracelets, Mercier wears the only one that reminds him to think of others first. Living a Christian life in a community of gamblers, addicts and narcissistic personalities could present challenges — challenges Mercier didn’t want to face earlier his career.
Mercier admitted to being scared of taking time away from the felt.
“I’ve always kind of been afraid of taking time off. I had a fear of getting rusty or maybe forgetting how to play, he said. “So I always wanted to make sure I was always playing, staying in the game and staying up on what’s going on. Poker is always changing and the way people are playing. I kind of realized I’m going to be able to jump right back and know everything I’m doing.”
“The break I had was to have some time off to set some goals and have time off to hang out with my family and see what they need and what areas I can help them with,” Mercier said.
Mercier’s maturity revealed itself as he explained how some of his priorities have changed regarding his family.
“My oldest brother had a kid and he’s almost 18 months now. I wasn’t there for his birth — I was at the World Series and I didn’t get to meet him until he was about six weeks old,” he explained. “After that I kind of made it — decided in my head that I didn’t want to miss any births of my nieces or nephews. I will try to be there when they’re born.”
Not long ago Mercier was able to be by his family’s side when his newest niece was born and it validated his decision to focus on family.
“I was able to be there when my niece was born. That was a very exciting to see her in the little thing (bassinette) right after she was born,” Mercier said smiling. “It’s definitely something that is one of the most important things is to have a family of my own. I’m trying to not think about it too much, because everyone says that it will happen naturally, right? I’m trying to do the right thing in my personal life and kind of wait.”
“I’m in the process of helping my brother buy a house, which is incredibly exciting for them and me,” he continued. “I’ve been trying to help my family over the last few years. But a lot of the times, I’m focused on what I want to do — win money and win poker tournaments and stuff like that.”
Mercier’s focus on family led him to bring his parents, as well as both sets of grandparents to the Bahamas in January to see him play in the PCA. The trip was a real eye-opener for his grandparents.
His grandparents brought home rather unique souvenirs home from their trip — photograph after photograph of them posing with the larger-than-life-size PokerStars banners with their grandson’s face that adorned the hallway leading to the tournament room.
”I don’t think they really understood the magnitude of the world that I live in and been operating in the last six years,” he said of his grandparents as they roamed around the expansive tournament room. “It’s cool for me to see their eyes light up. They get to see people come up to me ask for interviews. I know that they’re very proud of me and it’s cool to see that.”
Mercier’s changes go beyond familial relationships — he has turned the mirror on himself.
“Well, outside of poker I’m trying to mostly focus on myself. Trying to make sure I get enough sleep and get physically healthy,” said Mercier. “I’m trying to maintain a healthy diet and exercise a lot. One of the goals I’ve been working on is being able to dunk a basketball.”
Mercier attracted a lot of attention around the holidays when he half-jokingly proposed a $100,000 no alcohol bet on social media. Some of it was blown out of proportion according to Mercier.
“That was more of a kind of an open request, but I wasn’t expecting to get any action on it. A lot of people responded and said they’d be interested in a heads-up bet where we both would not drink. But that’s not really something I’m interested in.”
“I was more frustrated with myself that I had too much to drink the night before. I don’t like the feeling from not getting a good night’s sleep from drinking too much the night before,” Mercier explained. “Generally, I’m trying to work on that habit and breaking it. It doesn’t really have anything to do with money necessarily.”
Mercier claimed that a bet like that wouldn’t be something he would have considered a couple years ago.
“I probably would not have done it because drinking was such a big part of my life. I drank a few times a week and more than just a couple drinks,” he said. “I had talked to people about not drinking and a couple of years ago the answer was no. So it’s kind of funny to think I could have gotten the action down a few years ago and didn’t want to do it, but now that I want to do it people know that I have the willpower to not drink and they’re not really interested in the bet.”
The biggest change in Mercier has been regaining his faith and his return to God. He admitted that the past year had an especially significant effect on him.
“Well basically in 2013, I had a lot of major things happen to me that kind of led me back to God I guess you could say. The shortest way I can put it is that I’ve been living this life and getting further and further away from the morals and values I was taught as a teenager,” Mercier said.
His meteoric rise to fame came with all the familiar trappings of success for someone at such a young age — money, parties and a lifestyle with few consequences. Six years of being on top of the poker world had exacted a toll on him
“I just realized I was so far away from who I wanted to be as a person and as a man that I kind of had to make some changes,” he continued. “One of the changes was that I felt like God was pulling on my heart that I need to live life in the right way and the way that I was taught.”
“Regaining my faith in God has been a process because of the issues I had,” he said. “The problems I was going through were off the table,” he said.
Mercier was quick to not blame everything on the game he loves so dearly.
“It wasn’t necessarily being a poker player; it was the partying, drinking, chasing women — not really having a relationship with God. When I would go to church I wouldn’t pray, I would go because my parents asked me to go or I felt like I needed to go — not wanting to,” Mercier said. “I found with God it’s more about your motive — not what you’re doing, but why you’re doing it.”
But along with Mercier’s newfound confidence in his faith, some in the community reached out to him.
“I haven’t really found too much negativity, if anything a lot of people have been really supportive. I got a lot of texts from poker players that say they believe in God too or they’re Christians,” said Mercier.
“I got a lot of great responses on social media,” he continued. “There were very few negative responses from random people that were obvious atheists and didn’t want to hear anything about God in any way. I realize you can’t control what people think or how they’re going to react. You just have to be yourself.”
Being his self is exactly what Mercier wants to continue to do.
“As a player, I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is winning,” he stated matter of factly. “I want to play the highest stakes tournaments there are and I’m excited to play $100,000 and $50,000 tournaments and events like the One Drop.”
Mercier revealed some goals for 2014 for both on and off the felt. In his personal life he just started a food delivery company and hopes to start writing a book about his life.
At the table he wants to win three tournaments this year — something he has done twice already (2009 and 2011) — and capture a major title. Another WSOP gold bracelet would give him three — one of youngest to accomplish to that feat, another EPT title would make him the first repeat champion in the tour’s history and a WPT win would complete the Triple Crown.
“I plan on opening up a charity in the next year or so and get some projects going,” said Mercier. “I’m thinking about starting a foundation, I know there is a lot of need out there and I’m hoping to help some people.”
“In my personal life, I want to keep becoming a better person,” he said. “Maybe go on some trips outside of poker and try to make a difference in the world.”