The $1.8 million bet between Vanessa Selbst and Jason Mercier gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the world of high-stakes prop betting.
Prop bets are wagers made person-to-person, based on reputations and rarely backed up by anything more than a verbal agreement.
Sometimes they're for millions of dollars and they happen every day in the poker world.
This summer at the World Series of Poker, poker pro Jason Mercier won his fourth WSOP bracelet and then finished second in the very next tournament he played.
Mercier won a combined $442,271 for the first- and second-place finishes but it turns out there was even more money in play in side bets he had booked on his own success at the WSOP.
Mercier Bracelet Bets Get Real
“This is the heaviest action I've ever had on winning a bracelet,” Mercier told PokerListings.com.
The Florida-native is one of poker's most successful professionals and since he started playing live tournaments in 2008 he's racked up over $16.8 million in earnings.
Mercier booked lots of bets with lots of different people.
When he won his first bracelet of the summer he told media that he had made “way, way more than first-place money in side bets.”
To put that in perspective, first place was $273,335.
“Now I'm kind of freerolling the next year or so,” said Mercier.
But that bracelet was only the beginning.
Mercier walked directly from his winner interview to register for the $10,000 buy-in Razz Championship and two days later he was in the final two, on the verge of yet another bracelet.
Drunken Bet Haunts Vanessa Selbst
In January both Mercier and his fellow Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst were in the Bahamas at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. They were drinking.
One thing led to another and before the night was over Selbst and Mercier had agreed on a bet.
Mercier put up $10,000 at odds of 180 to 1 that he would win three WSOP bracelets during the summer in Las Vegas.
That means if Mercier won three, Selbst would have to pay him $1.8 million. Fast forward six months and Vanessa Selbst's drunken bet had become a real-life nightmare.
After Mercier had won one bracelet and was on his way to another final table, Selbst took to Twitter.
If every1 can stop telling me my stupid bet I made extremely drunk then tried 2 buy out of once sober was extremely stupid, would appreciate— Vanessa Selbst (@VanessaSelbst) June 14, 2016
Selbst also tweeted about how drunk she had been. Mercier disagreed with her representation of that night.
The biggest problem with Mercier writing off the bet as a drunken mistake is that Selbst had made a virtually identical bet two days before. Selbst booked a bet on $10,000 at 200 to 1 against Polish poker pro Dzmitry Urbanovich winning three bracelets at the summer WSOP.
She had made that bet in front of poker media and showed no signs of wanting to back out. The fact that she spoke up about her bet with Mercier only after he had won a bracelet and put himself in a good spot to win a second didn't help public perception of her side of the story.
Selbst wasn't the only person rooting against Mercier at the WSOP because of bracelet bets, though.
Mercier Win Means “Biggest Losing Day Ever” for Fedor Holz
German superstar Fedor Holz bet big at 2.7 to 1 against Mercier winning one bracelet. Losing that bet cost Holz $200,000.
Fedor Holz has won $10.5m in live tournaments in last six months.
According to Holz even though he lost the bet, he's happy it went smoothly.
“This exactly how a bet should be,” Holz told PokerListings.com. “Both sides thought they were +EV. It's cool. I'll pay him the money and we're good.”
Holz is heavily involved in the world of staking other players and making side bets on other players' poker performances and he has some ground rules to stay out of trouble.
“The whole situation is important,” he explained. “But the basis should be that you know the person, trust the person, you have a good escrow or however you're setting up the money and the terms are really clear.”
On the topic of betting with friends, as we saw with Selbst and Mercier, Holz says he thinks it's just a bad idea.
“Whoever (you're betting with) has to not be emotionally involved,” he said. “I would never bet with a friend where the money matters. It's always -EV.”
Mercier Misses #2, Selbst Sells Off Bet
The poker world was rapt as Jason Mercier got closer and closer to back-to-back bracelets.
Mercier had made bets specifically on himself winning two bracelets and implied to media the bets would be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million dollars should he win.
One poker pro on the other side of that bet is Jared Bleznick.
"In LA Mercier flipped me a $5k chip and said if he wins two bracelets I owe him $100k. I took it," Bleznick was heard saying.
In addition to another massive payday, a second bracelet would also put Mercier in striking distance of his three-bracelet-bet with Selbst.
Ultimately Mercier fell short, finishing second, but the general consensus is that Selbst had already sold off much of the action to other poker players including Canadian pro Mike "Timex" McDonald.
She also says she offered Mercier $100,000 straight-up to buy out of the bet but that he had refused.
“It's pretty much squashed I think,” Mercier told the media. “I guess if I win three I'll be getting paid from someone else.”
Mercier's bets on winning two and three bracelets are still live but he says missing that most recent bracelet puts three all but out of reach.
“It's almost impossible to win three when you get a second-place because that means you're going to have to get heads-up four times,” he explained.
But with more than half of the WSOP remaining Mercier is still bracelet hunting.
“There's tons of huge buy-in, small field events that are good chances to win,” he said.
“So if I can get myself to a couple more final tables who knows what'll happen.”