An 87-year-old man in Florida walked into the bank to cash a check his grandson had written him. The teller looked at the signature on the check and did a double-take.
“Is this from Jason Mercier, the poker player?” he asked.
The man, Mercier’s maternal grandfather, smiled and said, “Yes, he’s my grandson.”
“Did you teach him to play poker?”
“No, he did that all by himself.”
Mercier–self-taught and one of the greatest players in the world–had written the check to cover his grandparents’ car service to the airport. All four of his grandparents are on their way to Paradise Island to–for the first time ever–watch their grandson play poker.
They, like Mercier’s parents who are on the rail today, will be watching a changed man. Mercier is fresh off a two-month break from poker, the first such respite he’s found since exploding on the poker scene more than five years ago.
Mercier felt the burnout coming in late October, and after an extended European trip, stepped away from the table in November.
“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 Mercier, Jason’s dad, said today as he watched his son from the rail.
It’s an amazingly tough position to be in as a parent: your child–the youngest of four siblings–turns himself into a poker machine worth millions but simultaneously works himself into the ground. It’s not so much a matter of burning the candle at both ends as it is throwing the candle into a campfire.
“He’d been doing that for five years really, really hard,” Rick said. “I don’t think we realized the effects of long-term sleep deprivation on him.”
There is so much obvious pride in his parents’ faces as they stand on the rail. Their son is short-stacked, but surviving. Best of all, he’s healthy, which is all that really matters to Mom and Dad.
“He’s 27, and he’s getting to that point where he’s realizing ‘my body can’t keep doing the same thing as when I was younger. So, it’s important that I balance the intense times with the downtimes,'” Rick said.
Rick Mercier says his son comes by the grind honestly. He’s his father’s son.
“I’m a grinder by nature for work,” Rick, a COO of a golf cart company, said. “I don’t think about the hours. I just do what I have to do.”
Mercier did the same thing. He would put in poker sessions that would see a sunset, sunrise, and another sunset. It made him a multi-millionaire, but before long, he just wasn’t seeing the sun very much at all.
“There’s a point where you have to step back and get your body reset, get your mind reset, and give yourself time to adjust,” Rick said.
Mercier did that in November, writing for this blog, “I came home from Europe knowing that some things need to change.” Mercier re-focused his life, his priorities, and his outlook on his career.
Jason’s mom, Dottie, said it took a few weeks for her son to adjust to the new life.
“I don’t think you see it when you’re in the midst of it. It’s when you step away and you go, ‘Wow, I really needed this,'” she said.
If one needed any proof of Mercier’s dedication to keeping himself centered, they only need to look at him as he walks back and forth between his chips and his parents today. He’s drawing strength from his family.
“He likes us being here, but it doesn’t affect the way he plays,” Dottie says.
“We help keep him grounded,” Rick said.
It’s important to point out, this is not something Mercier’s parents are forcing on him. He’s making sure he keeps the important support around him.
“Atlantis is great, and for us it’s so close to home to make that 33-minute flight. He’s really sweet about taking care of getting us over here. This is way above our pay grade, normally,” Rick said.
While Mercier is at the PCA, he’s following a fairly strict routine of breakfast, basketball, a shower, and his job: playing in this tournament. The old Mercier would’ve been staying up all night grinding away at the cash game tables. Not this time.
“When they’re done, he’s done,” Rick said.
It’s impossible to say what Mercier’s fortune will be today, this year, or a year from now. But one thing is clear: no matter how long he stays in this game, no matter how good or bad it gets, he will have the most important rail of all waiting on him.
“He’s one of the best players in the world. Everybody wants a piece of him. They can be deferential to him to the point he could get a big head,” Rick said. “As his parents, we make sure he knows, ‘you’re still the baby of the family.'”
For more, here’s Jason Mercier with his dad and Sarah Grant.
Our coverage of the 2014 PCA is comprehensive on PokerStars Blog, and it is simple to follow. The PCA 2014 Main Event page has a box at the top in which you’ll find hand-by-hand coverage and chip counts after the action commences at noon. Below that are feature pieces, interviews and analysis updated throughout the day. You can also follow the action on PCA Live.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging