Vanessa Selbst

Selbst and Mercier Made Changes. Good on Them.

At the turn of the New Year, two of the biggest names in poker – Vanessa Selbst and Jason Mercier – decided to make a change in their poker careers, highlighted by leaving Team PokerStars Pro. Without any additional information, this would not look good for PokerStars, having two long-time, highly visible players break from the company, but fortunately both players did explain to the public why they made their decisions. Oddly, I have read a lot of negative reactions to the news, all sorts of criticism and denigration of both people. I don’t know either of them personally, but it boggles my mind that anyone could find any fault in their decisions or begrudge them their desire to move on in their lives.

Jason Mercier – 2016 WSOP POY
Image credit: WSOP.com / Jamie Thomson

Though both Selbst and Mercier left PokerStars, their over-arching decisions were quite different. First there was Selbst, who announced on New Year’s Eve that not only was she breaking with PokerStars but also retiring from professional poker altogether. One of her primary reasons was because the life was simply taking to much of a personal toll:

…. Black Friday has meant that in order to do this job professionally, you either had to move out of the country or travel 90% of the time. That was really fun for a period of time in my life, but as my late 20s turned into my early 30s and my priorities changed toward building a stable home and community and starting a family, the constant travel is no longer tenable.

She also cited her changing attitude toward promoting poker and the feeling that “poker recently turned into a real job,” requiring more of her time and focus. She was not willing to put forth that increased commitment, so she decided it would be best to switch to a career where she could get excited about going to work every day while still playing poker on the side.

Mercier, on the other hand, is still going to player poker professionally, just not under the sponsorship of PokerStars. He, too, said it was very much the travel and time commitment that pointed him in the new direction:

After my son was born, I knew things were going to be different. One of the major things to address was my relationship with PokerStars. My contract was set to expire at the end of 2017, and I wasn’t sure what exactly was going to happen there. I had a lot of questions rolling around my head. Do I even want to travel now? How much can I travel? Should I continue playing poker so much? How’s it going to be on the road with a baby? Does PokerStars want me to do more? Is my wife going to continue to play poker? DO WE NEED A FULL TIME NANNY!!??

Mercier wants to stay home with his wife and new baby as much as possible. Traveling around the world to poker tournaments would not work. Living in Florida, he is still going to play in tournaments closer to home as well as the WSOP, but his jet-setting days are over.

With both Selbst and Mercier, there is no reason to criticize or to read any more into their reasons than what they wrote. People get older, their priorities change, their motivations shift. The life of a live tournament poker player is not a stable one.

Though the vast majority of us will never know what it is like to be a top poker player who wins millions of dollars and gets to travel the world, most of know what it is like to have a shift in priorities as we advance in life. My personal example isn’t all that different from Selbst’s and Mercier’s, aside from the whole winning millions of dollars thing.

I started out in the poker world in 2005, not as a player, but as an early employee of an online poker affiliate. We started a poker news site (not this one) and I became the sole writer/editor/staffer. I covered the 2005 World Series of Poker in its entirety, live from Las Vegas, and boy, was it an experience. Going from strategic consulting to hanging out at the Rio / Binion’s all day and night was quite the change, but I loved it. I even got to share some of it with my wife, as she flew out once or twice to see what it was all about.

I did the same thing in 2006 and was asked to do it again in 2007, but I declined. Why? My first child was born in the fall of 2006. I told my boss that there was no way I was going to spend weeks in Las Vegas. Not only did I not want to be away from my daughter for that long, but I couldn’t leave my wife alone to care for our infant, particularly because by the time the WSOP rolled around, my wife was going to be back at work. My priorities had changed. While I missed the WSOP and Rio and everything that was involved with the festivities, I enjoyed being at home with my wife and child more. I could still work at home like I normally did, I just wasn’t going to provide live coverage of poker tournaments anymore.

And I bet most of us have similar stories about evolving life circumstances and shifting priorities. They probably have nothing to do with poker, but we can certainly imagine what it would be like to be in Selbst’s or Mercier’s shoes (I do like to daydream about having lots of money). To begrudge them decisions or doubt their reasoning – whether it has to do with just leaving PokerStars or retiring from poker altogether – is both silly and a waste of energy.

Poker is a rough career. Selbst wants to move on to a new chapter in her life, Mercier just doesn’t want to travel as much anymore. This really shouldn’t be something to draw the ire of anyone.

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