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La Belle Dame Sans Merci

If poker has its own sex symbol, it's Isabelle "No Mercy" Mercier (sorry Devilfish, you're number two). This femme fatale of the felt is about as headstrong and fearsome as they come. Former manager of the Aviation Club de Paris, she established herself as a top player with a terrifying performance at the WPT Ladies Night in 2004. Bluff, weak-kneed and noticeably perspiring, recently caught up with her to find out just what makes a bombshell tick.

Bluff: Isabelle, tell us how you first discovered the glorious game that is poker.

Isabelle: I started playing cards when I was really, really young, so I've played all my life. I used to play draw poker with my family. While I was at law school, I worked the night shift at Montreal Casino, but I only discovered games like no-limit hold'em when I moved to Paris seven years ago. I didn't care about law at all, so soon after I got my license, I sold everything, moved to Paris and became the manager of the Aviation Club. And two years ago, I sold everything again and became a professional poker player. It just felt like the natural
thing to do.

Bluff: What did your parents say when you told them you were giving up a brilliant law career for poker?

Isabelle: You know parents. I guess they're just worried for their kids. I had a very good job as a lawyer, with security for the next 40 years and a nice office in downtown Montreal. When I moved to Paris, I had nothing; I had, like, $50, so they were probably scared for me. But then it turned out fantastic in Paris -- I had a great job, I was earning tons of money -- so they were happy again. When I gave it all up to turn pro, they were devastated. But then it turned out good -- my career is going well, I'm on TV, I win tournaments, so, once more, they're happy. It's always the same story. If I quit poker one day and invest everything in some business plan, they'll get upset again. I guess that's just parents.

Bluff: Is it true you don't actually have a house?

Isabelle: My house is my suitcase. I live in hotels 365 days a year. It's a life that suits me. I probably won't be doing this forever, but I've been doing it for three years now and it's fantastic. I'm just not a house person: I don't cook, I don't clean, so it's easy for a lazy person like me. It's easier now, though. The first year I played professionally, I just struggled in small cash games, so for that year I lived in these squalid little hotels; I'd wash my clothes in my bat- … [laughs] but I was free and I was doing what I wanted to do, so I was happy. Money just brings comfort really.

Bluff: What's your favorite hotel in the world?

Isabelle: I like this one: the California Hotel in Paris. It feels like home to me when I'm in town. In Vegas, I'm at the Bellagio. The Bellagio is my second home. It's a second home for most poker players.

Bluff: And your favorite city?

Isabelle: Montreal is very close to my heart. It's my hometown and I love to go back every summer. I also really like Barcelona and Venice. And I recently discovered Cape Town in South Africa. The people amazed me over there. I loved New Orleans as well, but I don't know what it looks like today.

Bluff: Who dubbed you "No Mercy"?

Isabelle: When I won the World Poker Tour Ladies Night 2, I was really aggressive -- I mean really, really aggressive -- and Mike Sexton came out with "Isabelle 'No Mercy' Mercier." It's funny, because I was going to get rid of "Mercier" -- no one could pronounce it properly and I didn't like it very much, but when Mike came out with that I thought, "That's it! I'm keeping the whole thing."

Bluff: What's been your biggest achievement in poker to date?

Isabelle: Winning the WPT was certainly the day that changed my life and my poker career. I played a great game, I got my nickname, I [started] talking to PokerStars.com and became their ambassador -- and that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't won the WPT.

Bluff: And your goal for the future?

Isabelle: I'm a big dreamer. Let's say short term -- I want to win my first million this year. I think it's possible. Eventually, I want to be one of the best players in the world, and I want that because I know I can do it. It's going to be tough. Poker is the most challenging thing I've ever done in my life. It's crazy, but most things come really easy to me. Poker is the only thing that's ever really challenged me. [Laughs] For the first time in my life I have to work hard.

Bluff: Which players do you admire?

Isabelle: My superhero number one is Gus Hansen. He's had the biggest influence on me. He's coached me a little, which is very cool. Before that, I was great friends with Bruno Fitoussi, so he was the first one to really have faith in me and back me in some tournaments. Devilfish [Dave Ulliott], David Benyamine and Paul McGrill are also players that I have a lot of respect for, and who have been nice enough to help me.

Bluff: Which living person do you most admire outside the poker world?

Isabelle: I'm very much into an author called Paulo Coelho who wrote "The Alchemist." That book is my bible. It was the book that helped me make the big decisions I've made in my life. The message is that, in the end, life is simple. If you really know what you want in your heart, and you do everything you can to make it happen, then it will happen.

Bluff: What's the biggest bluff you've ever made in life?

Isabelle: In life? There are too many to talk about. I've made thousands [laughs].

Bluff: What makes you angry?

Isabelle: People who disrespect other people. I wish everybody was more tolerant and patient with each other. Life would be much cooler. War makes me angry, too. How can people think they can play God and decide that they're going to go and kill people?

Bluff: How do you like to relax outside of poker?

Isabelle: Right now, I'm into snorkeling. Whenever I have a free week, I fly to the Caribbean as quick as possible, and I just go snorkeling every day.

Bluff: What's your biggest extravagance?

Isabelle: The fact that I live out of my suitcase is very good for my bad shopping habits. It means I can't buy too many things. I think my biggest extravagance are hotel upgrades. It doesn't seem much, but it can be very expensive at the end of the month. That's where most of my money goes.

Bluff: Tell us about the poker scene in France right now.

Isabelle: It's crazy right now. We never thought this would happen. The WPT is now on TV over here, with Patrick Bruel [French actor, singer and poker player]. He's the number one star in France, so for him to commentate the WPT on TV, that's really big. And so now the French are crazy about poker. All the tournaments are sold out. It's fantastic to play poker here in Paris right now.

Bluff: It's interesting, because the French are often a little … um … resistant to American influence, and poker is a very American game.

Isabelle: Perhaps, but cards are an international thing really, and poker is just so great that everybody loves it when they discover it.

Bluff: With all these new players around, what kind of mistakes do you see people making?

Isabelle: Wow, I see a lot [laughs].

Bluff: What's the worst?

Isabelle: A lot of amateurs like to talk about their hands. They show when they fold and they explain why they folded. It's really stupid. It's just opening up their game for everyone to see. I find it really easy to play against people like this. I know what hole cards they have practically all the time, because they tell me every hand they play, what they do and why.

Bluff: You're a spokesperson for Pokerstars.com. Do you play a lot online?

Isabelle: Yes. It's so convenient for me because I travel so much; I don't have a home or a local poker room. PokerStars is basically my home. I don't play cash games at all, just tournaments. I've become so busy with the site, doing all the PR and the interviews and so on, that I haven't really got time for cash games. I play the big tournament on Sunday and the one-table tournaments throughout the week.

Bluff: Can you give our readers a tip to help them improve their game?

Isabelle: Aggression seems to be the key factor in poker tournaments today. So my tip would be to work your aggression. A little exercise you can do to practice is to find a one-table tournament -- a little sit-and-go, something pretty insignificant -- and throughout the game, give yourself just two options: raise or fold. I'm not saying you should do this in a major tournament, as calling is a powerful weapon and you have to use it sometimes. But if you don't allow yourself to call for an entire tournament, you're gonna be very surprised at the results. You're going to win a lot of pots you didn't expect to win.

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