WSOP 2016: Being there, a father and son story
Rick Mercier will see one of America's greatest majesties today. It will fill his heart with such awe, he will barely be able to hold back the tears. His heart will catch in his throat, and he will wonder just how his God could create something so breathtakingly unique.
But first he will go to the Grand Canyon.
This weekend, children around the world will celebrate their dads, offering up new ties and socks and hoping their old man knows how much they love him. This Father's Day weekend, Rick's son Jason will give his dad the greatest gift a father can imagine.
To understand how this will happen, you have to know a little about both men and how they came to a place where the Grand Canyon is the second-biggest thing Rick Mercier will experience this weekend.
Jason Mercier is in the middle of a dream summer. He has already won nearly half a million dollars in World Series of Poker prize money. That includes his fourth WSOP gold bracelet and a runner-up finish that saw him nearly claim a fifth title. That doesn't include whatever money (by his count approximately $750,000) he pulled in from side bets with his fellow players. Today, he has a chance to win again. He is among the final 14 players in the $10,000 HORSE championship. First place pays $422,874 and perhaps more importantly, another gold bracelet.
Bagged chiplead of 10k horse. 1,597,000 going to 15/30k stakes. 15 left. De ja vu— Jason Mercier (@JasonMercier) June 17, 2016
Sickest Wsop heater of all time for me. #AmIdreaming?
Mercier's summer is turning heads everywhere. His fans are clicking refresh on live WSOP updates all day long. His peers are staring in awe. Poker luminaries as bright as Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth are going out of their way to let the world know the kid from Florida has impressed them. Something is happening that few people can understand and even fewer people can explain.
Along the rails at the WSOP stands a man who is not nearly as surprised. Rick Mercier likely knows his son better than anyone. Jason is the youngest of Rick's four children, and in a way, is the most like his dad. Both are, in poker parlance, grinders.
Rick, a successful businessman, once said, "I'm a grinder by nature for work. I don't think about the hours. I just do what I have to do."
While the ability to harness success may come naturally to both the businessman and his self-taught poker prodigy, the effects of getting there have manifested themselves more profoundly in the son. That's what makes this Father's Day weekend so remarkable.
In late 2013, Jason Mercier was already a superstar. He had won a WSOP bracelet, European Poker Tour title, and millions of dollars. He was headed toward his 30s as a millionaire, but on a poker trip to Europe he found himself untethered, tired, and in danger of a crash few people saw coming. Famous for the long hours he put in, Mercier had to step away from the game.
"It's kind of like the old story where the frog doesn't know he's cooked until he's dead. They just keep slowly turning up the heat," Rick told us in 2014.
Mercier did the only thing he knew to do. He went home to his parents, declaring publicly, "I came home from Europe knowing that some things need to change."
What happened there was private but profound. Mercier emerged with a new look in his eye. There didn't seem to be a place where he couldn't win. Today he has more than $16 million in live poker winnings and at least $2 million more in online poker cashes.
It has not been without change, however. Mercier is playing his own game these days, but not without man's best friend at his side. His constant companion--prescribed for his anxiety issues--has seen nearly every hand Jason has played his summer. If the ribbing he gets about having his dog at the table bothers him, he's not letting on about it.
There's something else happening, though. When Jason won his fourth bracelet a few days ago, he dedicated it to Rick. Jason knew Father's Day was right around the corner, and he couldn't have guessed he'd have two more good chances of winning another bracelet before Sunday. Jason wanted to dedicate it to his biggest fan.
"He has always just been the biggest supporter of me. It's really incredible to have that kind of support," Jason told PokerNews' Sarah Herring after his bracelet ceremony.
Jason called his dad's support "incredible," a word that literally means unbelievable. It's funny, because what's happening between Jason and his father is the sort of thing that could inspire belief in fathers all over the world.
The biggest fan's greatest gift
This week, a news story declared that Americans would spend nearly $8 billion less on Father's Day than they did on Mother's Day.
"That hardly seems fair," my wife said.
I shrugged. I'm sure there will be Father's Day gifts waiting for me Sunday, but as I sit here on Friday, I'm looking forward to a 82° (F) weekend and watching my older son play baseball for two days. I can't think of many other ways I'd rather spend it. Like any father, a good day is one I see my boys happily pushing themselves to get better. The best gift I could receive is having them turn around to see if I'm watching them do it. They want me to be there, and sometimes they need me to be there. My gifts are a high five when things go well and a hug when they don't.
And the only thing I have to do to get these gifts every day?
I have to show up. That's all it takes.
Rick Mercier has shown up for his son time and time again. When Jason's 24/7 lifestyle beat him down, Rick and his wife Dottie were there to make sure Jason didn't fall. When Jason came back a couple of months later, Rick was there again to cheer him on.
Now, Rick has shown up again. The plan was to record an interview for an upcoming documentary about Jason and then to see the Grand Canyon. That plan changed when Jason finished last night with the chip lead in the $10,000 HORSE Championship.
Today, Rick has a chance to watch his son work again.
There is no perfect way to be a father. Each man who navigates fatherhood will fail as many times as he succeeds. There is no predicting what will happen, and the only way a father can make sure he is doing his best is by being there when he's needed.
When is that? Nobody knows. That's why a dad has to follow the two rules of fatherhood as often as he can.
They may sound like different things, but they are not. Figuring out how to do them both is the trick of being a good dad.
That's what Rick Mercier is doing, and for that he will get the best gift around: a father's unwavering pride.
No matter whether Jason slides another gold bracelet on his wrist this weekend, Rick Mercier will be proud, and that is a gift that no first place prize money could ever buy.
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis. WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com. PCA photo by Neil Stoddart.