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King of the Party: Michael Gracz

by Allyn Shulman |  Published: May 17, 2005


The PartyPoker Million IV took place aboard Holland America's Oosterdam in late March. A total of 735 players vied for a prize pool of $7,207,108, guaranteeing two skillful players a shot at $1 million each in this limit hold'em event.

Prior to publication of this issue, the following press release was sent to Card Player: "In just under three years, the World Poker Tour (WPT) has become one of the most lucrative ventures in sports for its players. Over the weekend, the WPT crossed the $100 million mark in prize money with the awarding of the $7 million plus prize pool on the latest tournament stop of the WPT. Michael Gracz captured first prize, earning $1.5 million, and entered the record books as the WPT's '$100 Million Man.'

Boy Versus Man

The top two finishers were such nice guys, it was difficult to know for whom to root!

Born in Warsaw, Poland, on Oct. 23, 1980, this so-called "$100 Million Man" who calls himself Michael Gracz is younger than many of our own household items. He prefers to be called "Mike," because the longer, snappier pronunciation of "Michael!" conjures up visions of being in trouble.

On the other end of the age spectrum was online qualifier and retired United States Air Force Lt. Col. David Minto, from Alamogordo, New Mexico, who played with courage, heart, and all smiles while reminding his fans that he has a son Michael's age! Of course, all the women loved seeing him kiss his supportive wife during each break.

Time to Par-Tay!

Poker cruises seem to breed an excitement all their own. From the moment you arrive, the sweet aroma of fresh flowers fills the air, and your photograph is taken while smiling gentlemen wearing crisp white gloves are whisking away your troublesome luggage, which magically finds itself placed neatly in your stateroom before you have finished that first glass of complimentary champagne. From the instant you step aboard, you are treated like royalty. Servants are at your beck and call. Hors d'oeuvres, champagne, massages, and whatever else you may want are a phone call away. There are people to meet, hellos to be said, big hugs everywhere, and dinner plans being made while music is softly playing in the background.

Oh, and did I mention, besides that private hope of becoming an instant millionaire, there are good ol' poker games awaiting those who may not be interested in all that other fancy stuff.

The Welcome Party

The first order of business (along with more free drinks) was the welcome party, hosted by Mike Sexton and Linda Johnson. As usual, Mike was a fireball of energy, with his predictable ways of bringing out the best of any crowd's enthusiasm. It must be that red-hot blood that runs in the Sexton family of extraordinarily sizzling dancers.

Linda's presentation was hysterical, but I am afraid that if I retell even just one of her stories, it will get shamelessly edited, so I guess you'll just have to ask her.

Early on in the presentation, a staggering announcement was made: "The prize pool stands at $7,430,000." So, whereas last year's PartyPoker Million attracted 546 players with first place being a cool million dollars, this year's event was going to produce not one, but two millionaires!

"The PartyPokerMillion IV is the biggest party in poker on the World Poker Tour to date," said Mike Sexton. "This is the largest prize pool in World Poker Tour history. For the first time ever on the WPT, two millionaires will leave the boat this week."

More Staggering Statistics

A total of 500 decks of cards and more than 160,000 poker chips (weighing more than 2 tons) were brought aboard in preparation for a week of exciting, nonstop poker action. The media professionals were given the opportunity to practice their skills against some top professionals, including Mike Sexton, Mark Tenner, Chris Hinchcliffe, and Kathy Liebert, to get prepared for their media tournament later that week.

Have you ever thought about just who plans such a complicated and intricate event? I mean, who decides that we are going to need 2 tons of poker chips?

Qualifying Rounds

Because there were 735 entrants, two days of qualifying were needed. During the first day, 366 players from all over the world took their seats by 10 a.m. By the end of the day, only 136 players remained to play the next round. On the second day, the other 369 players played down to 143 players. Prior to the next round of poker, the players were able to take a break with a day trip to Mazatlan. However, it was back to the tables that evening, when 180 folks would make it into the money.


By 9 p.m., things were really intensifying. "Today is payday on the boat," Mike Sexton explained. "180 players are going to make the money. Right now, we're down to 187 players, and it's crunch time. The next seven players to go out have played all this time, but unfortunately they're not going to get anything. But those are the trials and tribulations of tournament poker – someone has to go out on the bubble (be the last player to go out before the money). It's sad, but true. Well, whoever it's going to be in this tournament, I hope they don't jump overboard!"

Well, a half-hour later, tension was high as 181 players remained with blinds of $1,000-$2,000. At 9:35 p.m., "the bubble" burst for American Lisa Gaines when she was knocked out in 181st place. For her hard-fought effort, I thought she at least deserved to see her name in print!

Thanks to Justin Marchand, David Plastik, and a hardworking team of dedicated staff, play-by-play descriptions of most hands can be found on our website.

Linda Johnson interviews winner Michael Gracz (right)

and runner-up David Minto.

The Final Six

Seat 1: Adam Csallany ($360,000) – Adam, a computer science major at the University of Minnesota, lists his occupation as a "degenerate gambler." Only 24, the Roseville, Minnesota, resident has played poker full time since he was 18, first at his hometown casino and then online. He got here through a promotion, where he racked up enough PartyPoker points over a seven-day period to earn a berth on the ms Oosterdam and a buy-in to the big event. A bit of luck brought Adam to the final table: He was down to his last $20,000 in the big blind, and was raised all in preflop. He called with 8-3 and hit two pair on the flop.

Seat 2: Mathew Cherackal ($1,440,000) – Mathew, a molecular biology major at Princeton University, won his seat for $32. He is a newcomer to poker, having played only since October 2003. However, he is a regular player at, and before his score at this event, his biggest single-day take was $8,500. Mathew says he is looking for a nickname.

Seat 3: David Minto ($2,550,000) – Our chip leader, a retired United States Air Force lieutenant colonel, has played poker seriously for 13 years. He says his mom taught him to play, and "she would check-raise her own son." David says he fears the play of Paul Darden and feels his best move of the tournament so far was betting into a K-J-3 fl op from first position with 9-9. He caught a 9 on the turn and took down a huge pot. Minto is from Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Seat 4: Paul "The Truth" Darden ($900,000) – Former stand-up comedian and nightclub owner Darden has played poker since he was 8 years old. With World Series of Poker stud and no-limit hold'em championships under his belt, Darden is the notable at our final table. He built $25,000 to more than $1.5 million during the previous day's play, and comes to the final table in third place. Paul is from Hamden, Connecticut.

Seat 5: Richard Kain ($1,530,000) – Richard, a public relations specialist from San Francisco, began playing poker two years ago. The soon-to be father (his wife is four months pregnant) was the chip leader going into the previous day's play and comes to the final table in second place. A regular player and Haverford College graduate who studied philosophy and history, Kain won his seat via a satellite.

Seat 6: Michael "The Kid" Gracz ($630,000) – Michael has placed in the money in several tournaments. Besides Darden, he is the only final table player who directly bought in. Gracz was born in Warsaw, Poland, and now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.

A Front-Row Seat

After a fabulous dinner with Barry, Johnny Esposito, and his size-zero, oh-so-gorgeous wife, Lorraine, I arrived at the WPT show just in time to find one last front-row seat right next to one of my favorite people, Tom Sexton.

Now, rumor has it that both Tom and I, at two separate venues on the ship last year, might have possibly needed "help" out of those respective venues, probably because the boat was doing a bit too much swaying. I neither confirm nor deny any such rumors! However, on this particular night, let it be known that it was a coffee night, and very strong coffee, at that.

Final Table

When all was said and done, the final-table players all made fine showings. Richard Kain busted out on the 54th hand of the night when Michael's 7-7 beat his A-Q.

Everyone was feeling for Paul Darden, who couldn't make a darn thing happen. He flopped three sevens but they didn't hold up, knocking him out in fifth position.

With only four players remaining, the limits increased to $100,000- $200,000 with blinds of $50,000- $100,000.

Next out was Adam Csallany. Adam was playing at a very aggressive pace, but it might have caught up with him in the end. Of course, he was the guy winning half a million dollars, not me, sitting back doing the analysis!

Three Left Standing

At about midnight, we're still drinking coffee and taking pictures. I begin to focus on David Minto. We are now down to three players. It looks like Mathew and David are just about neck and neck, as the approximate chip count is as follows: David Minto: $1,700,000 Mathew Cherackal: $1,500,000 Michael Gracz: $4,300,000

In the final analysis, Mathew got his money in with the best of it, A-Q vs. 9-8, but Michael rivered a 9. Who was the happiest guy at the table? Yup, you guessed it – David Minto. More wife kissing. The celebratory mood was already in the air. There were two millionaires just waiting to see who would get the "change."

Heads Up

Going into the final heads-up action, David and Michael reveal their PartyPoker screen names: Michael – NC Kid, and David – Mad Dog X2. The approximate chip count was: David Minto, $1,750,000, and Michael Gracz, $5,600,000. When all was said and done, David just could not catch up to the big stack. The final results were:

1. Michael Gracz . . . . . . $1,525,500

2. David Minto . . . . . . . . 1,000,000

3. Mathew Cherackal . . . . . 700,000

4. Adam Csallany . . . . . . . 500,000

5. Paul Darden . . . . . . . . . 300,000

6. Richard Kain . . . . . . . . . 200,000

Michael Gracz, the happy winner

All About Mike

Delightful, humble, and endearing, Mike began our interview by apologizing for his bad behavior toward me last year. What bad behavior was that? Evidently, he was rolling his eyes at me last year when my A-Q beat his semi bluff. I truthfully hadn't remembered the moment, but I was impressed that he wanted to make amends for his perceived bad behavior.

Mike's mom is a professor of biochemistry at North Carolina State, and she insisted that her son receive a proper education. So, while dabbling in poker, he did just that. He went to school and studied. "I studied finance with my concentration on business. I like the math part of the business." In December of 2004, he made his mom proud by graduating from college.


Mike has played only a handful of tournaments, but his friend believed in him. As a matter of fact, his friend Chris Bell helped pay his buy-ins. Here's a history of his tournament performances:

• March 2005, $10,000 WPT event, limit hold'em, Million IV, first place, $1,500,000

• February 2005, $2,000 no-limit hold'em, L.A. Poker Classic, 14th, $8,124

• January 2005, $10,000 World Poker Open championship event, nolimit hold'em, 36th, $19,216

• January 2005, $3,000 no-limit hold'em, World Poker Open, 18th, $8,637

• December 2004, $5,000 no-limit hold'em championship, Trump Classic, first place, $295,275

• January 2004, $500 no-limit hold'em, Bellagio weekly tournaments, first place, $22,116

What a Mensch!

Because his friend is such a good friend, because his friend believed in him and rooted for him, and because his friend has always been there for him, Michael was exhilarated to share his winnings with Chris.

Mike said, "My friend put me in at Atlantic City and other tournaments I have played. We went 50 percent. So, now when I shine, I want him to shine, too.

"Winning is great, but in all honesty, I'd like to make a final table with my friend Chris Bell. It's a great feeling to cheer one another on. I am so happy with my life because the people in my life are what make it so great. I have a wonderful family; I'm close to my sister; I have great friends; and I live with the woman I love, my best friend, Katie. I don't need a new car or any other material things. Life is great, and I just want to live in a place where people are real." ♠