In poker, women have already proved that they could easily challenge men, however, poker stays as a majority a male's world and only few women have been internationally recognized yet. One of them is a charismatic and charming girl who has already drawn attention to herself because of her talent and some impressive results. As a matter of fact, a lot of people know Isabelle Mercier since she won the "Ladies Night Out II" World Poker Tour tournament, which took place last year in Los Angeles. Despite a fully booked schedule, she was really kind enough to answer our questions:
PN: Where are you now?
My « home » at the moment is the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas where I am staying for six weeks in order to play in a number of poker tournaments at the WSOP. I am proud to be the roving Ambassador of PokerStars.com and have the opportunity to participate in so many international poker festivals.
PN: How do you feel during these WSOP?
I am doing my best to go grab a bracelet, but I have to admit the fields of players are enormous so it is very challenging. I have four days off at the moment before my next tournament so I will use that time to study my game and work on it. I have cashed-in in two events so far, but most importantly, making it "deep" into those tournaments gave me the opportunity to play with some GREAT poker players. Plenty more to come, so it obligates me to push my own limits further, if I want to do much better in the next events.
PN: During these huge poker tournaments, you have to stay seated for hours, sometimes days, what do you usually do to relax? Do you have a special way to prepare yourself?
It takes me quite a while to get ready for a tournament, I would say about two hours. By the time I wake up, get out of bed, drink a juice, have coffee, take a bath with candles (yes, I do that in the morning!), do the hair, the make-up, and get dressed, have a quick look at my emails, get down at Starbucks and start to walk the mile between my room and the poker room located at the extreme extremity of Rio's convention centre hallway, two hours have evaporated. I listen to loud music in my earphones on my way to the tournament, I find it helps stimulating my preparation to play. It takes quite a drive to go sit down in a tournament and fight for hours to build your way up to victory.
At night, I find it constructive to talk about my play of the day with other poker players, discussing hands and strategies, and so many other elements you can analyse in poker. I think it's a rather important part of the learning process
PN: How did you get to the point to leave a very comfortable position and devote yourself to poker only?
I had a wonderful job as the manager of the poker room in the ACF in Paris, but after five years, it was time to move on to the next step, and this was playing poker professionally. As soon the game exploded on TV and it became possible to be a professional player with sponsorship, poker was a natural for me. I have played all my life and the game has been my passion forever. So, I quit the ACF management and organised an open-door sales weekend, during which I sold everything I owned. Since that day, I have been living out of my suitcase and travelling the world. There is not one person who did not tell me that I was a complete idiot when I made my mind and decided to live my new poker life with my big bankroll of $10,000. LOL! Oh well, I guess I'm a big believer in myself and in my dreams. With reasons. It was not the first time I made that kind of drastic changes in my life. Indeed, in my previous-previous life, I have been a lawyer for the biggest portfolio manager in North America. I had a wonderful career starting and a great office in downtown Montreal. But what the hell, what I really wanted was to travel the world, and the law firm would only give me 2-3 weeks off per year. Again, at the time, I did not own much, so I sold my car, paid my debts, and moved to Paris with about $50 in my pocket. It's when I turn around and look back at myself that I realize what I have become and how much I have learned.
PN: Barbara Enright said: "Women may have a basic advantage over their male counterparts. Psychologists tell us that women possess a sixth sense, and this instinctiveness can be a valuable asset at the poker table." Do you really believe that being a woman could be a strong advantage at a poker table?
I tend to agree with Barbara's quote and I think indeed, having a fine instinct appears to be one major feminine attribute. Not only that, it is also a big quality for a poker player. After knowing the math, reading people is a considerable part of the game, and knowing the math comes to anybody who works on it. Reading your opponents is a harder skill to develop, and it does make a big difference when you possess this weapon within your game. It seems women in general have the delicacy of feeling for others, and therefore, have a greater ability to see through them at the table. As long as they don't let the men intimidate them!
PN:You took part into many televised poker events, recently at the British Poker Open televised by the English Channel ..., how do you feel to play in front of camera?
Playing « live » was a tremendous experience, I really loved it and would do it again anytime! First of all, I love to play on TV with the hole card cameras, in fact, it's the best part of my job. The featured tables usually have a crazy energy coming from all the players at the table, and it's very energizing! Second of all, knowing that the cameras are actually filming your hole cards is a surprising stimulus. You can find yourself doing things you didn't know you were able to do! And third, playing "live" was even more interesting than all the other televised tables I played at, simply because in this one, the spectator is allowed to see every single card you are dealt and how you decide to play a hand, or not to play a hand. Because of that, I think those live televised tables will highly contribute to elevate the level of the game.
PN: Some poker hands are unforgettable. In your opinion what is your best victory? Your worst bad beat?
The victory that is the closest to my heart is my win at the World Poker Tour Ladies Night Out II, last September in Los Angeles. It is my first major title, and it's a tournament in which I played soooooo aggressively, that the legendary commentator Mike Sexton automatically nick-named me Isabelle "No Mercy" Mercier. Moreover, this is the performance that actually started my life as a tournament player and representative of PokerStars.com.
As for my worst bad beat, it's the first one I had that is the closest to my souvenir. LOL! It was at the WSOP 2004 and I was playing a single table satellite for the main event. I did not have my ticket yet, and this was the very last night before the event. I played my best game ever and got heads-up with another guy. I battle for my life, and finally flopped a set with my pocket 4s. The flop was K64, and my opponent had AK. Our stacks were about equal, and all the money went in on the flop. Yes! I was so happy to get to play in the WSOP Championship!!!!!..... Until the turn brought a 6, and the river brought another deadly 6. This one hurt so much at the time, partly because it was my first real tournament bad beat, and partly because I did not know better. I was depressed for an entire week, ruining my life and the life of others around me. Overall, it was a good lesson and today I stay happy if I bust out of a tournament on a bad beat. As long as I play good, the rest is not up to me and I cannot get mad about something I have no control over.
PN: What kind of players are you afraid of at a poker table?
I believe you should fear no one if you want to succeed in this game. Only you can really scare yourself out, and in that sense, it is true to say that you and your own fears are your worst enemy in poker. However, I must admit that sometimes you face a player who seem to play perfectly and super strongly every hand ! It becomes hard to defend yourself, he's putting pressure consistently, and he's clearly the chief of the table. Those situations are very uncomfortable, and the souvenir you keep from such a player is often one you will fear in the future. This situation happened to me in the WPT $25 000 at Bellagio last April with David "The Dragon" Pham. So last week, when he arrived and sat directly on my right in one of the WSOP events, I felt baaad. But hey, poker is a very challenging game and that's why it's so fun and difficult. Happily for me, I succeeded in overcoming my fear and I played my A-game against Pham in the WSOP event.
PN: Life of a professional poker player is not easy, what are the advantages and the inconvenients for it?
Personally, I see only upsides of playing poker professionally on the international circuit. I am COMPLETELY free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. I travel the world and possess no such thing as an apartment, a car, bills, etc. I feel my mind is free. I don't have a watch, I go to bed when I'm tired, I wake up when my eyes open, I eat when I'm hungry, I call room-service if I'm too lazy, press the bell-man button if I have laundry to send, somebody cleans my room every day, brings new sheets and towels, wash my bath, etc. All in all, it does it for me. I see no downsides of playing poker as a living. But everybody is different, and I am sure this insecure and itinerant life would not suit at all many people!
PN: What are your projects for the few next months?
Those days, I am working hard on my new website isabellemercier.com that should be online within the next days. As soon as this is over, I feel I will find again a little free time and freedom for myself! I am taking a Trans-Atlantic cruise returning to Europe after the WSOP in order to play in the WPT in Paris, and this will be my last tournament before fall. I am taking August for vacation, and will spend the first third of the month on a ship in the Caribbean with my best girl friends. We've known each other for 20 years, and we are all turning 30 this summer. This cruise is our celebration and I feel like it's a movie, this can't be happening for real!!! Woohoo! After that, I'll spend some time in Quebec, and will return to Los Angeles at the end of August to defend my title as WPT Ladies Champ.
You are playing mostly tournaments, but what about cash games? Are you playing a lot online?
I am indeed a tournament player more than a cash game player. I enjoyed the action and the aggressiveness I find in tournaments, as opposed to cash games, where you have to be more patient and disciplined. I like the competition, so tournaments suit my game very well. The chips have no value, everybody is financially equal, there's a beginning, an end, and a winner! But tournaments are very challenging and you have to put in hours and days and weeks and years of experience to become real good. So I try to play as often as I can, ideally one tournament a day. When it's not live, I like to train on PokerStars.com. It's my online poker home, and PokerStars.com is the Number One site for online tournaments. I like the fact that I can connect at any time and start a tournament within the next 15 minutes in which a thousand players compete! This is incredibly good value!
Note: If you want to play with Isabelle on Poker Stars her screen name is Mercedez.