WSOP 2016: Romance at the Rio as Mercier pops the question to Barbour
All-in and dominated at the final table of a World Series bracelet event. You have A♣5♣, your opponent has A♦T♣. The dream is about to die.
Not necessarily. It may just be that a different dream is about to be kindled.
At around 2pm yesterday, on what was day 39 of the 2016 World Series of Poker, Natasha Barbour was in this precise position. Having outlasted 860 players in the $5,000 no limit hold'em event, Barbour saw only Michael Gentili and Yue Du between her and her maiden bracelet. But having shoved her short stack over Du's opening raise, then picking up a call, Barbour could also see that her prospects were bleak.
What she couldn't see, however, was what was concealed in the pocket of a pair of baggy, checked shorts on the rail. Her boyfriend Jason Mercier had railed Barbour from start to finish at the second World Series final table of her career. And in the pocket of his shorts he had a small box containing an engagement ring. He was waiting to pop the question the minute Barbour was either knocked out or won the tournament.
"She had played a few pots but none of them were all ins," Mercier said. "Then she had re-shoved on the chip leader and I was sitting there waiting, kind of hoping the guy would fold. Then he called and had her dominated and I was, like, 'OK, I guess this is probably the moment.' I was kind of rooting for her to win, obviously, but waiting so that I would be able to do it."
The run-out from the deck favoured Du, but that's when Mercier ran out from the stands to greet Barbour. They hugged and he congratulated her on on a $350,000 score, but then: "I just told her, 'Hey, I've got to ask you a question.' She looked up and said, 'Hmm, what?' And then I dropped to one knee."
Barbour never fully articulated the answer. But the hands clasped over her mouth, the tears and then the hug told Mercier all he needed to know.
So it was that the World Series saw its most high-profile marriage proposal ending in the engagement of arguably its most high-profile and successful couple. Mercier, the Team PokerStars Pro from Florida, is in pole position to win this season's World Series Player of the Year title, having already won two bracelets and also finished runner up in another. That took his career bracelet haul to five and his winnings in listed tournaments beyond $17 million.
Mercier revealed that he had planned the proposal for a couple of weeks, shortly after he won his second bracelet. "I had the idea that I should probably go get a ring, just in case I won a third one," Mercier said. "I thought that would be a perfect moment to do it. And then, when I had a few close calls, I was like 'I don't know if this is going to work out. I don't know when I'm going to be able to do it.'"
But Barbour provided the answer. After a near miss in the $3,000 shootout-- Barbour won her opening table, Mercier moved into position, but a 25th place finish thwarted the attempt--Mercier planned it again when Barbour was on another deep run in the $5,000 event.
"I kind of got the idea that if she made it to the final six, I would have the ring with me ready and as long as she didn't like go out kings to aces in sixth, then I would just do it when she got knocked out," he said. "Third place seemed like a perfect moment. I don't think she was really disappointed at all to go out, she was just really happy with the score, so it worked out perfectly that I was able to do the proposal right then and there."
Jayne Furman of PokerPhotoArchive.com. was on hand to get the photos. And the whole of the poker community, either here in the Rio or watching on the live stream, was there to watch it play out live. If it wasn't for Mercier's involvement in the $111,111 Big One for One Drop today, the party would likely have already started. As it is, no date is fixed yet for the big day, but it is sure to be poker's wedding of the century.
So, do you think the notoriously unflappable Jason Mercier was nervous asking his girlfriend of 18 months if they can spend the rest of their lives together? Few would have been surprised if he confessed to a heart beating through his PokerStars patch.
He said: "I wasn't really nervous very much, to be honest. I think it would be more nerve-wracking if I thought there was some chance she was going to say no. But I knew she was going to say yes. She had been kind of waiting for this for a little while. Yeah, it wasn't really nerve-wracking at all."
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WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.