Greek mythology tells of a famous adventurer called Jason, who sailed the ship Argo, searching for the "golden fleece." Here in the poker world, we have a Jason who has experienced many adventures of his own - I thought this would be a good time to stop and recount a bit of his tale.
It was April of 2008 - almost eight years ago (a lifetime in the compressed time scale of "modern" poker) - that Jason Mercier won the EPT event in San Remo, Italy. I was there, and it was awesome to watch a relatively unknown kid from Florida dominate the pro-heavy field of an early EPT. On the last day of play, Jason was dressed as if auditioning for a "Where's Waldo" movie, which may have lulled his opponents into underestimating him. He played brilliantly; fortunately, one of his best hands was immortalized on YouTube.
When the last card was dealt, Jason had the best hand, holding 95 on a J-5-6--8-8 board. His opponent, Eric Koskas, had bet big (larger than the pot) on the turn, and then shoved the river, holding exactly clear blue sky. Jason took off his sunglasses, and looked at Eric. In the commentary booth, James Hartigan (yes, James Hartigan, even back then) and EPT founder (and legit poker junkie) John Duthie were fascinated by the play.
Hartigan: "From what we've seen of Jason, do you think he can make the call?"
Duthie: "I have no idea."
You see, at the time, Jason was a virtual unknown. I'm sure he had his circle of friends who knew he was a beast, but at the time he was just "treysfull21", another kid with a dream grinding on PokerStars.. Anyway, that kid with a dream was about to show John Duthie, James Hartigan, me, and the rest of the poker world that he was more than that. After far less tank-time than we're now used to seeing (for far less momentous decisions), Jason simply said, "I call." Koskas dejectedly turned over his K3, and was out of the tournament.
Jason Mercier was on his way to greatness. But like the Jason of Greek mythology, he had to endure a trial or two before continuing on his journey. Though he probably didn't think that the first trial would come so quickly. Mere hours after he had been awarded the trophy (and $1.3 million) he was stabbed by a knife-wielding attacker in a nightclub in San Remo - simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He suffered an extremely serious injury and was in the hospital for days.
But when you're destined for greatness, you don't let a mere life-threatening attack and injury get in your way. Less than six months later, Jason made the final table of the EPT event in Barcelona, taking down almost $325,000.
And so it has continued ever since. For as long as anybody can remember, Jason Mercier has been a threat, at whatever poker table he chooses.
For instance, many well-known players are no-limit hold'em tournament specialists, and couldn't even tell you the rules of seven-card stud. Jason has reached WSOP final tables in pot-limit Omaha and deuce-to-seven triple draw. And won an EPT Open Face Chinese Poker (OFC) event.
Furthermore, he routinely plays in the biggest cash games around - at this year's PCA, I saw him playing heads-up OFC against Shaun Deeb for big money, which is kind of akin to asking Michael Jordan if he'd care for a game of HORSE (the basketball kind).
In short, despite his youth, Jason Mercier is a renaissance man of poker - a guy who excels at all aspects of the game, has been doing it for a very long time, yet continues to stretch and expand with the game (witness the high-stakes OFC expertise).
Finally, all that poker expertise and skill are wrapped up in a fine young man who is understated and genuinely fun to be around. Of course, we're proud to call him a member of PokerStars Team Pro, but that's not why I've written about Jason. This piece was really about noting somebody who exemplifies a true professional player - one who adapts to the game as it changes (often pulling those changes along behind him). Jason maintains a broad footing on the game (tournaments, cash, unusual variants) and lets his results speak for themselves.
Jason Mercier joined PokerStars in November of 2004 - eleven and half years ago - during the infancy of online poker and PokerStars. And since then, he's played millions of hands on PokerStars, against tens of thousands of opponents around the world. Jason is now one of the longer threads in this fabric of poker players we call PokerStars, and the thread grows with every hand he plays, both online and at live events.
Postscript: In January of this year, Jason finished 20th in the PCA main event (the highest finish of any PokerStars sponsored player) and then went to Melbourne, Australia and came third in the AU$100k event at the Aussie Millions, winning AU$602,700. He's talking about buying a sailing vessel and going in search of a golden fleece; don't bet against him.
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Lee Jones first joined PokerStars in 2003 and has been part of the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones