Born in Quebec, Canada, Isabelle Mercier began working as a blackjack dealer while earning a law degree from the University of Montreal. After completing her degree, she worked as a commercial lawyer for a year and whisked away to Paris to continue her education both as a lawyer as well as in poker.
In 2004, just after receiving her master’s degree in International Law Mercier quit her job at the prestigious Aviation Club and took off to find her dream of being a professional poker player. "I sold everything except some clothes and a suitcase and I went for it, for fulfilling my dreams. I don't want to die and regret that I didn't even try," she said.
Mercier made her introduction on the professional circuit in 2004, quickly gaining respect in the poker world. So far in her tournament career she has won more than $500,000. This includes her 2006 WSOP No limit hold ‘em 5th place and the September 2004 WPT Ladies Night Out Invitational II win, where Mike Sexton dubbed her "No Mercy" Mercier for her aggressive style of play.
WPP: How did you get started in poker?
Isabelle: Oh, I was very young when I started playing poker. I was like three or four years old. It was the first game I learned and played with my parents and we played poker a lot. So I guess you could say that I have been playing all my life.
WPP: What made you decide that it was the career for you?
Isabelle: Because I have been playing since I was so young it was just natural for me. When I first started playing there were not many opportunities especially for women. It has changed so much. Now poker has so much more to offer.
WPP: Do you gamble at all? Like slots and Black Jack?
Isabelle: (Laughs) I live in hotels my living room is filled with Black Jack tables. People think I must be a huge gambler because of that lifestyle. But I am really not a gambler. I have always felt that poker is skill more than luck. I will sit with friends for a while and gamble while I socialize or the occasion that I am waiting for a tournament to start, but not as a rule and I don’t spend much money if I do. I will spend maybe a hundred dollars but that is all I am willing to gamble.
WPP: I know you play on line quite a bit. Do you feel that it is important to play online to prepare yourself for live tournaments?
Isabelle I have been really busy lately so I don’t play online as much as I did in the beginning. I really try to play every Sunday. There is a great tournament with a large prize pool on Poker Stars. It is no limit and has a prize pool of over $1 million. There are a lot of players and it is nice to be able to be comfortable and play for that kind of money. Normally the only way to play for big money is in the live events. I always try to at least make that one tournament. When I started playing online there were very few players. There were like two thousand players and it was comfortable. I learned a lot playing online. I can try new techniques like bluffing in certain positions. And I can also try a few stupid things and see if the work before taking it to a live table and doing something that I cannot pull off.
I also learned new games online. I have always been very comfortable with hold’em but started playing games like HORSE and Omaha online. The internet is an excellent tool to learn and practice. It is good to see the cards that others are playing. It gives me some insight into what cards others might play and how to handle different situations. I also met a lot of friends on the online. It is nice to chat with them and get to know new people.
The best thing about online is that I can be comfortable and just sit and relax. I don’t feel as much pressure when I am in front of the computer in comfortable clothes and in a comfortable chair.
WPP: How do you feel online play differs from live?
Isabelle: I play a lot of the European circuit tournaments. I find that Europeans, Scandinavians, in particular, play very aggressive and try to go the path of players like Gus Hanson. They are super aggressive. Most of them are young and once they turn of age walk into a casino and try to play the same as they have played online. Eventually they realize that it is not so easy to do when you are sitting at a table with the other players. They realize that they cannot play that aggressive through out a tournament and win.
WPP: You have a law degree. Does that type of training and education affect how you play poker?
Isabelle: I don’t know. I do have a law degree and I practiced for a very short time. But I am not sure that it helps my game. I never really thought about it. There are stories around that I was a big international lawyer. That is not the case. While I was attending law school I was also working full time in a casino as a Black Jack dealer. Then I left and went to Paris to get my Masters Degree in international law. I really didn’t have the intention of being a lawyer. I knew even then that poker was what I wanted to do. I worked at the Aviation Club in Paris as the card room manager. I barely went to class. I am smart and most of the tests were open book. I can pass just about anything that is open book. There was very little challenge. Law school just made it easier for me to stay in Paris and work at the Aviation Club. Once I was done with graduate school. I quit. I decided that poker was the life I wanted. I have never regretted that decision.
WPP: You have placed in the money in many tournaments, is there one that stands out to you?
Isabelle: World Poker Tour Ladies Night was the most important to my career. I would not have all the opportunity that I do now if it I had not played that tournament and I am grateful for everything that has come to me because of it.
But the most important to me personally was the World Series of Poker $5k No Limit Hold ‘em tournament. I made final table and placed fifth out of over 600 players. It was just amazing. I played well and it was the best personal experience I have had in poker so far. I was at the final table with some big monsters in poker. Players like Marcel Luske and Phil Helmuth Jr. were at the table. These guys are great players and they are scary players. Marcel is one of the scariest monsters in the game. It was incredible to be at the same table with them. The best part of it all is that I played with them. I didn’t shut down or get intimidated. I was very active and aggressive. I chatted with them and had a great time playing.
Even though I was playing well, playing with them made me realize that I am just a small monster in poker. There is no equivalent to the men that I played with. I can’t say enough about how I felt at that tournament. Here I was just a little tiny monster up against the biggest and scariest monsters of poker.
WPP: How did you earn the nickname “No Mercy?”
Isabelle: I got the nickname at the World Poker Tour Ladies Night tournament. I was working on a book with Gus Hansen and Paul Magriel. It focused on high buy-in, no-limit tournament strategies. While we were working on the book, I didn’t play poker very much. It had been months since I had played any kind of serious poker. When I went to the Ladies Night tournament, I even surprised myself at how aggressively I played. I was raising all the time and was very assertive. It must have been all the time that I spent talking poker and strategy with Gus Hansen. I was surprised at how much I learned just by talking with players of that caliber. At the end of the tournament Mike Sexton announced that the trophy goes to Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier. After that tournament I promised never to complain about anything (laughs).
WPP: Where do you feel women fit into poker?
Isabelle: Women fit very well into the poker world. It is one of the few places that men and women can compete against each other and be equal. Vicky Coren won the No Limit Hold'em Championship title in the European Poker Tour in London. Women players are becoming better known and are winning more major titles.
WPP: What do you feel are the major differences in the way women play versus how men play?
Isabelle: I don’t think that aggressiveness comes naturally to women. There are no big women monsters yet. We have some small ones but none that can compare to players like Gus Hansen and Marcel Luske and the others that I consider big monsters.
On the other side women are better at reading people. We are more sensitive and pick up things that I don’t think men can not grasp. We can use those skills at the poker tables to our advantage. I pick up small things . . . small nuances . . . in the way people talk or react. It might not be a big thing but I sense it. I think women just have that trait. It is natural for us to do.
WPP: What do you think that women who are already in poker from professional players to media and executives can do to bring more women into poker?
Isabelle: It will happen and not just in poker. Poker is a good reflection of society. The best cooks, the biggest fashion designers are all men. The only profession that women out number the men is teachers. There are many more women teachers than there are men. This is slowly starting to change but it takes time.
Women also need to bring other women into the game and show that it is a friendly environment to be in. As women, we have the desire to be the only queen in our world. It’s the “I want to be first” attitude. Women just have that. I sometimes see new women come into poker and see a lot of attitude and it really shouldn’t be that way. Be friendly and warm to new women. I know it is easy to do the opposite and not say anything or look down our noses at other women but it is better to treat them kindly and help them break into poker. It is ok to be competitive against each other but be friendly and warm at the same time.
I attended a Poker Stars Tournament for professional players. I was very intimidated. I felt that I was out of my element. I saw Evelyn Ng. I was very anxious and nervous. I mean here I am very new and inexperienced and here is Evelyn who is very beautiful and talented. I expected her to not pay much attention to me. She came on like sunshine and light. I was so surprised at how nice she was to me and it gave me a great boost of confidence that I really needed. I now have this same approach with other women that I meet. It is nice to know that when other women are cheering for you from the rail that they really mean it.
WPP: What are your plans for the future?
Isabelle: Well my short term plans are to play in several upcoming tournaments. Right now I am preparing for a charity tournament in Georgia, then I am off to Vegas to play at the Bellagio and then to Canada for the World Poker Tour tournament.
My long term goals are very simple . . . to be the best poker player in the world.
WPP: Do you feel that it is in your grasp?
Isabelle: Yes, it is what I want. It takes time to become that talented. I am good but I am no where near the caliber that I need to be to compete with some of the professionals out there. I know what I need to do to get there. I know that I have to take more chances, gamble a little bit more in the late stages. I just need to take the risk. That is what poker is about isn’t it?
This article orginally appeared in Woman Poker Player Magazine print publication December 2006