WSOP Event #9: Isabelle Mercier makes final table

The places you'll find Isabelle

In the morning, if you're looking for Isabelle, you'll have to wait. She meditates when she gets out of bed. It's a quiet, personal time. You'll find her later, though, at Starbucks. Every morning it's a mocha and a banana. It's the breakfast for a champion.

It's during the day that Isabelle goes to work. She sits with her feet pulled underneath her, alternating between wearing socks to keep her feet warm, or going barefoot so she can slip into her multi-colored sandals. She drinks green tea with honey, alternating the drink with water, and diving into a giant handbag to pull out a dollar bill to tip the cocktail waitress. She laughs with her opponents, then stares into them with a look so icy, the hot tea in front of her gets cold.

During this day, we found her in day two of the $5,000 no-limit hold'em event. She started the afternoon with few chips, but a determination to make them work for her. This was an event that many people here consider to be among the most prestigious of the tournaments. The players who started Day 2 were some of the best in the world. What's more, the money involved was no small amount. Even as it all started, though, the event was about one thing for Isabelle.

"It's about the bracelet," she said.

Just an hour into play, Isabelle's stack had been all over the table.

Anyone could hear Mercier laughing from across the room. She was relaxed, allowing herself to belly-laugh at the table's jokes and silliness. A reporter's quick slip inside the rail and she looks up, tears in her eyes from laughing so hard.

"You're checking up on me?"

"Just your stack," I say. "You've doubled up."

"Won it, lost it back, won it again." And then she is back to laughing, stretched out, and relaxed as the money got bigger, and the bracelet drew closer. She still had some work to do to get deep-stacked, but she was bound and determined to get there.

At the dinner break, Isabelle had around 150,000 in chips and was anxiously bouncing around in PokerStars hospitality suite.

"I'm stressed," she said through a tight smile.

"You get stressed when you play?"

"I get stressed when I'm not playing."

Isabelle bounced out of the room.

"Time to go to work," she said, and pulled her hat down over her eyes.

Photo copyright Rob Gracie -- IMDPI

The stress seemed to lift as she sat back down. As tables broke, she went from table to table with barely time to slip off her shoes. In the one-seat of a back-corner table, she sat across from Marcel Luske, waiting with pocket jacks as a short-stack pushed all-in and got called by a shorter stack. Isabelle had them both covered, but seemed to agonize. She, too, needed chips and winning the hand would put her in the top five chip leaders. She made the call to see KQ and...pocket aces. The aces held up and forced Isabelle into push-or-fold mode. When she found A7s in diamonds in late position, she jammed her stack in the middle and ran right into pocket kings.

Those who don't follow Isabelle's career may not know how close she has come to greatness in recent years. It has been more than a few times that bad beats have knocked her out of contention late into big tournaments. Finally, it was her turn to lay a bad beat. She flopped a pair of sevens, turned a set of sevens, and rivered sevens full of aces for good measure.

Photo copyright Rob Gracie -- IMDPI

"I made a bad call with the jacks," she said. Even after doubling up, she was still kicking herself. "Marcel said it was a beginner's mistake."

She was torturing herself. I started to protest and find a reason that the call wasn't bad.

"I'm going to beat two people with jacks?" she said. "It was a bad call."

Still, she once again had chips. Twice more she would put them all in the middle. Once she held queens against pocket deuces. The next, she jammed from the big blind to an under-the-gun raise. Her opponent mucked AQ face-up. Even before she saw his cards, I got the impression she wanted the call. Then again, maybe not.

It took an hour to play from ten players down to nine. Finally, Luske laid a bad beat on a short-stacked opponent, and suddenly, Mercier was at the first WSOP final table of her poker career.

Tonight, Isabelle had four phone calls to return. Anyone looking for her will find her in her room, doing yoga, and getting ready for the biggest day of her poker career.

See, that's where we all want to find Isabelle. Thursday at 2pm, we'll find her at the final table of the 2006 World Series of Poker, Event #9. Here's how the players will stack up going into the final nine.

1. Vinnie Vinh 784,000
2. Phil Hellmuth 461,000
3. Marcel Luske 458,000
4. Isabelle Mercier 301,000
5. Jeff Cabanillas 275,000
6. Douglas Carli 273,000
7. Eugene Todd 240,000
8. Thomas Schreiber 200,000
9. Dan Smith 117,000

Isabelle fills out her bio sheet for the final table

Isabelle consults with a French TV producer

Interviewed by Bluff Radio

All smiles heading to the final nine