Ian Johns and Jason Mercier: A Pair of Double 2016 WSOP Bracelet Winners

If it feels like every year there is someone who wins more than one bracelet at the World Series of Poker, it is because there is. Since the year 2000, at least one player has earned multiple victories at the WSOP. Every year this century. In 2003, it happened a ridiculous six times to a who’s who of tournament poker from back then: John Juanda, Phil Hellmuth, Layne Flack, Chris Ferguson, Men Nguyen, and Johnny Chan. In 2009, five players won at least two bracelets. And the streak continues this year, as at only about the half-way point of the WSOP, both Ian Johns and Jason Mercier have become double bracelet winners.

Ian Johns

Ian Johns won his second bracelet of the 2016 World Series of Poker and his third overall this week, taking the title in Event #28: $10,000 Limit Hold’em Championship. Though the field was small – just 110 players, typical of a $10,000 championship event outside of the Main Event – it was stuffed to the gills with the most talented pros you will find. Four multi-bracelet winners were vying against Johns for first place, a list of names which includes Bill Chen, David Chiu, Brock Parker, and Brian Rast. Chen and Parker, coincidentally, also won two bracelets in a single World Series.

Ian Johns Image credit: WSOP.com

Ian Johns
Image credit: WSOP.com

This was the kind of tournament, though, that was right in Ian Johns’ wheelhouse. Johns is a limit specialist, playing $80/$160 games daily. He is a cash-game guy, though, who doesn’t frequent big live tournaments all that often. According to The Hendon Mob’s tournament database, Johns only has two dozen live tournament cashes in his career, dating back ten years. He picks his spots well, though: twenty of those cashes are in World Series of Poker events and two are on the World Poker Tour. His first bracelet was $3,000 Limit Hold’em in 2006, a win that made him $291,755, just a thousand more than his latest bracelet victory was worth. His second bracelet and the first of this WSOP came in $1,500 HORSE, another event that features Limit Hold’em as one of its games.

Being a Limit Hold’em specialist seems a bit odd nowadays, but all the better for Ian Johns. “For me, Limit Hold’em is a super fun game because you are constantly making decisions,” said in his post-tournament interview. “Boom.  Boom.  Boom.  Boom.  It’s very fast.  The hands take 90 seconds instead of four minutes like in No-Limit.  So, you just have so many opportunities to make these little incremental decisions.  I have spent the last 12 years of my life trying to perfect those incremental decisions and that’s why I like it.”

He also knows his capabilities as a poker player. It is no mistake that he has had success in Limit Hold’em WSOP events. In that interview, he said, “I used to play a lot of No-Limit.  But these guys, they passed me by eons ago.  I get in the game and I don’t know what I’m doing.  They’re so advanced now.  I feel lost in hands, so I chose not to play, which seems like a reasonable thing to do.  When I’m not playing these limit tournaments, I’m playing in cash games, which are limit.”

Jason Mercier

And then there is Jason Mercier, who not only won two bracelets last week, but came a hair away from a third, finishing second in another event. All three tournaments were $10,000 championship-level events, with the wins coming in 2-7 Draw Lowball and H.O.R.S.E. and the runner-up finish coming in Seven Card Razz. Mercier has now won five gold bracelets in his career and has $17.3 million in lifetime live tournament earnings. His also a sicko on the internet, having won five SCOOP crowns on PokerStars and seven “COOP” titles overall.

In a PokerStars blog post before he won his second bracelet last week, Mercier described how it felt to watch his opponent go all-in on the last hand of the 2-7 tournament when Mercier knew he himself had the near-nut hand:

It was such an awesome feeling sitting there knowing that if he called, it would be “all over baby.” It was my first bracelet win in that kind of spot. My other three wins were all either all-in on the flop or pre-flop. It was such an adrenaline rush shipping my first gold bracelet of the summer, winning $273,000 in prize money and collecting close to $750,000 in side bets. It was an incredible feeling winning my first bracelet of the summer and my fourth ever lifetime. There was also the added bonus that winning would also put me in a great position to collect on a bunch of bets I’d made on winning two bracelets with a decent shot at three-bracelet wagers, too.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, you may have read Haley Hintze’s recent article about Mercier’s already infamous prop bet with poker pro Vanessa Selbst. In an attempt to call out Mericer on social media, Selbst explained that she was “really drunk” when she accepted a 180-to-1 prop bet that Mercier wouldn’t win three bracelets at this World Series. If Mercier doesn’t win three bracelets, he owes Selbst $10,000. If he does accomplish the feat, she owes him $1.8 million. He had already won one bracelet and was close to a second when Selbst regretted the bet and offered him a buy-out of $100,000, but he wouldn’t take it.

Normally, Selbst’s bet wouldn’t even be that horrible. It is REALLY hard to win three bracelets in a career, let alone in one year. Only six players have done it: Puggy Pearson (1973), Phil Hellmuth (1993), Ted Forrest (1993), Phil Ivey (2002), Jeffrey Lisandro (2009), and George Danzer (2014). One of Danzer’s was in the WSOP Asia-Pacific, so only five players have won three bracelets in a single WSOP.

But Mercier is in a zone which has rarely been seen in poker. In fact, Ian Johns spoke to why we see someone win multiple bracelets at the WSOP every year, saying, “I think it has to do more with someone playing their best. This time, I was so focused.  It was at a level that I’ve never reached before where I was so in tune with what was going on.  It’s kind of surreal, really.  My mind was locked in – that’s the bigger reason why I think there are repeats.”

So, in one week, Selbst was almost on the hook for $1.8 million. And as I am writing this, she is probably sweating hard if she hasn’t been granted a buy-out. At the dinner break of Event #32: $10,000 Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship, Mercier is third in chips with just nine players remaining. The chip counts are tight and the competition is stiff, but who would bet against him at this point? Not Vanessa Selbst, that’s for certain.

(Editor’s note: Since this story was published: the UK’s Benny Glaser has become the third double bracelet winner of the 2016 WSOP.)

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