sabato 1 luglio 2023

Mercier reigns triumphant again for sixth WSOP title

On June 14th, 2016, Jason Mercier and Mike Watson crossed swords with the World Series of Poker $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Championship bracelet at stake. It was Mercier's fifth top-ten no-limit 2-7 finish in the previous five years, and Watson's third in three years. Watson had the chip lead several times heads up, but the relentless Mercier prevailed, earning his fourth WSOP bracelet. Watson would follow up that showing with a fourth-place in 2017's event, while Mercier's life took a different path. Then on Thursday, June 29th, 2023 in Horseshoe and Paris Las Vegas, improbably, it all happened again. Mercier and Watson faced each other heads up at Event #60: $1,500 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw with the $151,276 first place prize, another bracelet for Mercier, or the first for Watson on the line. And just like seven years ago, a relentless Mercier reigned triumphant. Mercier discussed the unlikely repeat matchup against Watson. "I've been three-handed with him four separate times in major events and I've won all four,” said Mercier. “So, he's gotten second twice and third twice. But in particular, we played heads up for the no-limit deuce bracelet in the $10K in 2016. So, it was definitely a bit of déja vu." "You know going into heads up, I was a little worried that he was finally going to get me. But luckily I ran hot and was able to beat him again." As lowball season kicks off in grand fashion at the WSOP, this event attracted a record-breaking field of 548, generating a prize pool of $731,580. Mercier burst on the scene in 2008, racking up at least a million dollars in earnings in nine of the ten years until 2017, ranking him at the time number 11 on the cash leaderboard to go with those five WSOP bracelets. Then he walked away, choosing to take a break from poker to focus on his family. "After my son was born, I knew things were going to be different," Mercier he wrote on the PokerStars blog at the time. "Becoming a parent brings about a complete transformation of who you are. I no longer let myself be so concerned with what I want, but more so the well-being of my wife and my child (and future children). Serving and leading my family is of utmost importance." In 2022 Mercier returned from his self-imposed exile (now with three children in his growing family), appearing to have not lost a single step from those five years off. He notched a 6th place finish in 2022's WSOP $50,000 High Roller Pot-Limit Omaha event, and 16th in the $10,000 Razz Championship, and earlier this year earned the first place prize in the PokerGO $25,000 10-Game Championship. In this event, Mercier added his first bracelet since the two he won in 2016, using his signature brash style to power through the field, time and again making bold calls to snap off bluffs and capitalize on thin value. Mercier discussed how he was able to continue where he left off when poker has changed so much in the intervening years. "Everyone's a lot better,” said Mercier. “The game is different. There's just not as many people that are drawing dead at the game." But he admitted he hasn't studied up to prepare for the new poker strategies, preferring to hone his skills through play. "I'm not much of a studier,” said Mercier. “I just kind of play and get my experience by playing more hands. "So, it's kind of like riding a bike, you know? I just hopped back on." Watson has grinded continuously since finishing second in that $10,000 no-limit 2-7 event in 2016. At that time, he was referred to as "one of the best poker players to not have won a bracelet". Although Watson continued to score cashes (he's currently 38th on the all-time money list), and multiple WPT, EPT, and Aussie Millions titles, he would be burdened with that appellation for another agonizing seven years. Unfortunately, in his return match with Mercier he was unable to remove the "not to have won a bracelet" part of that moniker, but he burnished the "one of the best players" aspect to a high sheen. For those who maybe hadn't seen him play until he made his second-place run in this event, his mastery of lowball was on full display. He fought back several times from being nearly felted on Day 3, started the Day 4 final table as the second short stack, and after blasting his way out of those jams, Watson proceeded to put on a lowball clinic. Several times he snowed when he had paired his high card, each time getting his opponents to fold their better hands. He mixed in those plays with ones where he seemed to find value every time, he made a premium hand. Erik Seidel was masterly in making a run at capturing his tenth-career WSOP bracelet and his second in no-limit 2-7, applying his many years of experience and wiles with a quiet deadliness that left a trail of busted players in his wake. On Day 3 Seidel amassed a dominating chip lead and seemed the prohibitive favorite to take the crown to join only Johnny Chan, Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson on that elite tier. But the loss of couple of crucial hands late on Day 3, and a double-up of Jon Turner to start Day 4 found him a sudden short stack. On the hand that would end that hunt for a tenth bracelet, he went all in and Watson, who had cagily flatted Mercier's button raise, called Seidel's all in with a pat ten-seven. Seidel, who all tournament had been devastating opponents by forcing them to make impossible decisions on whether or not to break their ten-low hands, was now faced with the exact same decision. He ultimately made the correct decision but was not rewarded by fate when he was dealt a fatal queen, knocking him out in fifth place. Jon Turner came into this event on the same list as Watson, as "one of the best to never win a bracelet.” At the beginning of Day 3 he was sitting at a table with Phil Hellmuth, Brian Hastings, Brad Ruben, and Andrew Kellsall that boasted a combined 27 bracelets. Turner was the only one to make it to the final table, showing patience and selective aggression, putting to work the experience he had gained from seven lowball and mixed event final tables to navigate through that field of Hall of Famers and multiple bracelet winners, further distinguishing himself among his more decorated peers. Turner began Day 4 as the shortest stack, and after an early double-up, he was once again forced to make a move. Unfortunately, on the particular hand he made that move he ran into Brad Ruben when Ruben had a pat ninety-eight, and Turner was unable to draw winning cards to his draw, ending his day in fourth place. Day 3 chip leader Brad Ruben came in looking for his sixth bracelet and second of the lowball variety. His discernment and reading ability put him on the winning side of hands time and again, and with Seidel eliminated, Ruben looked primed to grasp that bracelet. But after doubling up Watson in an incredibly close hand, he was suddenly the short stack. His third place bust out would come at the hands of Mercier, when the queen Ruben drew to an eighty-seven draw just missed the mark of Mercier's pat jack, and that sixth bracelet would have to wait until another day. And so, like it had it had 2016, it would all come down to Mercier and Watson. After ninety minutes of a back-and-forth heads-up battle, Mercier seized away the lead from Watson when, holding a ten-seven, he induced Watson to call with a jack-seven. Mercier extended that lead by taking advantage of Watson's history of deft bluffing, checking to him with a jack-nine, and snapping when Watson bet with a pair of queens. Mercier's relentless pressure soon backed Watson into a corner, and when Mercier bet to put Watson all in, he had no choice but to call. Watson still had a fighting chance when it was revealed each had a ten-eight draw, but Mercier drew better, hitting a five to Watson's one. Despite Mike Watson's exceptional play in this tournament, his bracelet dream is still yet unattained. But he proved conclusively it's not a matter of if he wins one, just a matter of when. With Day 1 of Event #69: $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Single Draw Championship having also started; Mercier was asked if he plans to join that illustrious field to take a run at back-to-back no-limit 2-7 bracelets. "Not right away, but I will,” said Mercier. “I'm going to get some food probably, and chill and then I'll hop in." With four days demonstrating to the world that he is still a force to be reckoned with, Jason Mercier's meteoric rise to poker dominance has written a second verse, same as the first. Look out poker, Jason Mercier is back.

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