Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Poker [Print without images]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Michael Mizrachi wins $1.5 million

By Gary Wise
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: The $50,000 Players' Championship will be broadcast on ESPN on July 27 from 8-10 p.m. ET

Winning Event 2, The Poker Players' Championship at the 2010 World Series of Poker meant so many things to Michael Mizrachi. It meant finally earning his first bracelet. It meant winning $1,559,046 just weeks after seeing his name in print in connection with the U.S. government foreclosing on his home. It meant a return to the kind of glory he enjoyed when he arrived on the poker scene. It meant even more to him that he did it surrounded by friends and family.

While it was "The Grinder" who was officially named "The Poker Players' Champion", this was truly a family achievement. With the victory, Michael and brother Robert joined Blair and Grant Hinkle, and Annie Duke and Howard Lederer as the only siblings to each win WSOP bracelets. Grinder and Rob also joined Duke, Lederer and Barney and Ross Boatman as the only siblings to share WSOP final table experiences with one another. Grinder was the first in that group to emerge victorious.

The victory removes Mizrachi from one of poker's most dubious lists. One of the most established tournament players to have never won a WSOP bracelet, he finally got the monkey off his back with the win. He celebrated that fact by insisting, "Take me off the list."

"It was such a big deal," said Mizrachi's wife, Lily, of finally getting his first bracelet. "It was the only thing he was missing. Winning a WSOP event was his dream and he came so close last year in pot-limit Omaha [in which he finished third], especially since Robert won the year before. He was really discouraged to not win that and keep it in the family."

Family proved an important theme on the lengthy night. Two other Mizrachi brothers, a Mizrachi mother and countless other family members joined Michael, Robert and Lily in attendance, cheering the quietly charismatic star on to victory. Their presence had a tangible effect, with Mizrachi supporters providing most of the crowd's composition during the tournament's final hands early Wednesday morning.

"It really helps when you have friends and family that supported me like they did today," said Mizrachi, motioning toward the assembled. "They helped me strategically too, chanting for me. I'm sure the other players got tired of it. It was my home-field advantage."

Mizrachi was finally able to topple Russian amateur Vladimir Schmelev in the heads-up portion of the $50,000 buy-in Championship thanks in part to the psychological warfare applied by his family. While Grinder deliberately played slowly in order to frustrate Schmelev, friends and family cheered loudly, chanting Michael's name and providing a constant buzz in the Russian's ears. When Mizrachi rivered a flush while all-in, the change in Schmelev's demeanor was tangible, and with the two back to even chip stacks, patience won out. The match finally ended around 4 a.m., more than 12 hours into the day's play.

Beyond the final hand and the rivered flush, the pivotal moment of the Grinder's run to victory came when the Mizrachi brothers faced off, with Michael calling Rob's all-in and eliminating his big brother in fifth place.

"I mean, it's not something to be proud of," Michael said of knocking out his brother. "You're going to bump heads when you're five-handed eventually. He was real short so I didn't have much choice. It was a spot where I didn't mind who won. If he won, it didn't matter. If I won, it didn't matter. I just had to move on from there. I put his chips to good use."

The Grinder also said that as professionals, the brothers understood the confrontation was bound to come eventually, but where you'd think you might find traces of a brotherly rivalry, there were only indications of brotherly love.

"Getting knocked out by Mike is better than getting knocked out by anyone else," said Rob in earnest. The elder brother was Michael's original teacher and the one who exposed his younger siblings to the poker world. "Am I still happy I taught him how to play? Yeah. This was as good as winning it myself."

Robert's elimination left the Grinder and Schmelev at the table with the table's two elder statesmen, David Oppenheim and John Juanda. Oppenheim, the last regular participant from the "Big Game", clawed his way into the action despite starting the day with just 2 percent of the chips in play, piloting his stack to over 50 percent of those in play with four players left before finally succumbing to Mizrachi's slow, steady climb. Juanda, short stacked in the late going, was knocked out by Schmelev.

Schmelev received $963,375 for second place, Oppenheim $603,348 for third, Juanda $436,865 for fourth. Robert took home $341,429. David Baker, Daniel Alaei and Mikael Thuritz finished sixth through eighth, respectively.

With the windfall of the victory, Mizrachi is presumably in the clear as his tax issues go. On March 12, SunSentinel.com reported that he Grinder owed the U.S. government $339,000 in taxes and was facing foreclosure. "The article that came out was unnecessary," smiled the Grinder, shaking his head. "I think it came up because of the growth of Florida poker. My case has been closed for the last year, year and a half. We're working it out. I'm trying to pay as much as I can. They'll definitely have a payday coming now."

Now, Mizrachi celebrates. His name will be inscribed on the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy, making official his appointment as "The Poker Players' Champion." After five years looking back at his WPT wins, he finally has a new bullet for his résumé in the form of the second-most prestigious event at the 2010 World Series of Poker. The grind paid off.

Gary Wise is a poker columnist for ESPN.com.