Poker Moments: Mercier's Hero Call in San Remo
In this latest classic poker moment, we go all the way back to a tournament that took place over ten years ago. In the last decade, Jason Mercier has turned into one of the game’s most respected professionals, becoming a crucial part of Team PokerStars for many years before departing earlier this year.
In 2008, however, he was unheralded Floridian who was appearing in his first final table on the European Poker Tour. James Hartigan, famed presenter and commentator of the EPT, remembers it well. Although, oddly, not at the time.
"Living that call in real time was as good as seeing it live"
“It was back in 2008, season 4 of the EPT and around the time of it being the first full season to be streamed,” says Hartigan, “I didn’t do all of the live streams, so I didn’t get to go to San Remo and witness it live. I went out to Monte Carlo a week later, because it was San Remo and Monte Carlo back to back as part of a Riviera festival. Everyone was still talking about San Remo because it had been the shortest final table anyone had ever covered. The whole thing lasted three hours, blink, and you’d miss it. They said there was this guy who won it, an online qualifier, but it was clear he was an online pro.”
Jason Mercier was that qualifier. The Floridian became EPT champion in the Italian coastal that is strung along the Mediterranean shoreline. But it was a hero call he made at the final table in a hand against Eric Koskas rather than the final hand itself that made waves in the poker world. Hartigan would have to wait months to witness it.
“It was two or three months later that I did those San Remo shows with John Duthie. The first time I got to experience Jason in action playing poker, was when we did the TV shows. Back then, we very much recorded it as an as-live experience. I was seeing the action for the first time when we did the TV commentary. Living that call in real time was as good as seeing it live, because I hadn’t read any blog updates, watched any of the live stream and all I knew was that Jason Mercier went on to win.”
After going all the way to the river with just a pair of fives, holding on a board of , he was raised when Erik Koskas moved all-in, putting himself at risk of going out of the tournament to Mercier. Mercier thought and thought, going deep into the tank. All the time Mercier is taking makes Koskas - holding a complete bluff with - more and more uncomfortable by the second.
"I had no idea he was going to make that call, and it still stuns me to this day that he did."
“The nature of trying to cut together a show where you can only showcase 13 to 14 hands is that the first thing that gets cuts out is the thinking time. It’s so important to show that in this hand. To this day, if someone has a huge decision to make, you want to be able to showcase that. This is one of those situations; we wanted to show what Jason’s doing, what that calculation process is. We still see that to this day, when someone makes a phenomenal bluff like that, the realization that the longer it takes their opponent to take that decision, they’re thinking about it, and they really don’t want them to call.”
Therein lay the drama of the hand. All the process was Mercier, all the agony of waiting belonged to Koskas. Watching that pressure switch from one man to the other is what makes the hand so fascinating to watch. Koskas’ giveaway tell, his agony manifested into physical action, is the drink he tries to take from the empty water bottle in his hand. He raises it to his lips, little knowing that, much like his chances of winning that EPT San Remo Main Event, what he is after has already disappeared.
“Until you mentioned it just then, I never even realised that! To me, as a mediocre poker player, it’s an insta-fold. I’m never dreaming in a million years that my hand is good, that someone is going to be shoving with absolutely nothing.”
Mercier, of course, had other ideas. Figuring the glorious truth, the American in the white beanie hat makes the gutsiest of calls and shows his bottom pair. Koskas, defeated, turns over his bluff. Mercier and his raucous rail go crazy.
“I had no idea he was going to make that call, and it still stuns me to this day that he did. It’s really easy to look at that now in the year 2018 and bang on about polarised bets, and capped ranged, but to see a call like that in 2008 was very rare. It had more of an impact then than maybe it would do now. We see people hero call a lot thinner than one pair now.”
From that moment on, it was a matter of when not if Mercier would close it out and win his first major event in what was his first-ever Hendon Mob live tournament result.
“Clearly a lot of people who knew of Jason from his online reputation. I didn’t know him at that point, but he had a reputation for a reason. Normally when you showcase a hand from a live event, the big hand that made the difference was the final hand. In this instance, it wasn’t but it’s certainly the hand that put him on the road to victory. How quick that final table was. After he made that call, eliminated Koskas and won all those chips, he was then in a very commanding position to seal the deal afterward.”
Mercier would move on to Monte Carlo too, where he would meet James Hartigan in the commentary booth. At that point, it was Hartigan’s first time of meeting the man who would go on to become possibly PokerStars most popular Team Pro.
“We were doing the Monte Carlo final table stream and the production team asked us if we wanted the guy who won San Remo to come into the booth and do some guest commentary. I said ‘Yeah, that’d be great.’ They brought in this quiet sulky American guy who basically sat there and made monosyllabic sounds into the microphone for a level. I thought ‘Jesus Christ, they talk about the classic online poker player cliché and this guy is it down to a tee.’ I literally said ‘This is a guy we’ll never see or hear from ever again’. And of course, he then had the career that Jason Mercier went on to have. Shows what I know.”
"I never thought in a million years that we would see Mercier again, but actually, we saw him very soon after."
If San Remo was huge for Jason Mercier, both in terms of the player and the man he became, he used the impetus of his golden moment to push himself in the immediate aftermath.
“It’s very difficult to identify the players who are going to have longevity. I never thought in a million years that we would see Mercier again, but actually, we saw him very soon after. The very next season, we saw him at the final table in the first stop at Barcelona. Then, in London, he final tabled the first ever High Roller and then he won it. We realized that this guy was clearly a very, very strong player. The fact that around the time of Black Friday, he got signed by PokerStars at a time when the U.S. market was a little bit saturated and there weren’t a lot of Americans being given deals, says it all about him. It’s been incredible to watch his journey, what he became and the success he’s had.”
Jason Mercier’s poker moment was a classic hero call to win an EPT Main Event against a player drinking from an empty bottle. The devout Christian has continued to be a hero to millions long after his hour in the glare of the flashbulbs. Since winning his maiden event for €869,000 in the Italian city of San Remo, Mercier has won over $18 million in tournament poker alone.
The Stars Group owns a majority shareholding in iBus Media.