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Michael Mizrachi Cements His Place in Poker History

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Oct 24, 2018

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The $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship at the World Series of Poker awards its winner the Chip Reese Memorial trophy, and rightfully so. The inaugural tournament’s winner and trophy’s namesake was one of the most accomplished and respected poker players to ever play the game. But the name that actually appears on the trophy more than any other belongs to Michael Mizrachi.

The 37-year-old South Florida native, who turned heads on the poker tournament scene with a breakthrough $1.85 million win at the 2005 WPT L.A. Poker Classic, won an unprecedented third PPC title this summer, earning his fourth WSOP bracelet overall, adding yet another seven-figure score to his resume.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mizrachi, who won the 2006 Card Player Player of the Year award before running into some tax issues a couple years later after a series of ill-timed investments. That being said, he has always managed to find a win or a big score when his back was against the wall. In 2010, he rebounded with a monster summer, making four final tables, winning his first, and most lucrative PPC title, and capping it all off with a final-table appearance in the $10,000 main event. He wound up finishing fifth for the biggest payday of his career, taking home more than $2.3 million.

Mizrachi, perhaps better known by his nickname and online poker moniker ‘The Grinder’, has totaled nearly $17 million in lifetime tournament earnings, which is good enough for no. 27 on the all-time rankings, and second in his native Florida, behind only Jason Mercier. He has four WSOP bracelets in all, two WPT titles, and even a WSOP Circuit ring, making him one of the most decorated poker players in history.

Card Player tracked down Mizrachi late this summer to discuss a variety of topics, including his unique family of gamblers, his penchant for risk-taking, a fearless playing style, and just what makes him so damn dominant in the $50,000 PPC event.

A Family of Gamblers

Perhaps Mizrachi was always destined for life as a gambler. While most parents were warning their children about the dangers of losing their lunch money, the Mizrachi clan didn’t shy away from games of skill and chance.

“My mom always liked poker,” he recalled. “She plays a lot of online poker. My dad wasn’t much of a gambler, he was a hard worker. He had his own business in women’s clothing. But he did like slot machines and roulette.”

There are four Mizrachi brothers in total. Michael’s older brother Robert is also a successful poker player, with four WSOP bracelets of his own. His twin brother Eric and younger brother Donny also have poker scores of their own, and all four brothers even managed to make the money in the 2010 WSOP main event. It’s clear that the gambling roots run deep in this family tree.

“I always loved gambling,” Mizrachi said. “I loved [winning] people’s baseball cards, their comic books. I started early. We had slot machines in the house. A roulette table in the house. We had cards in the house. Rob was basically running an illegal casino in the house. I remember I hit the jackpot one time. All the quarters came out of the machine and Rob pulled the plug. So, he didn’t pay me my full jackpot, he still owes me. (laughing)”

Other high school students were worrying about the SATs, but Mizrachi spent his teenage years sneaking onto poker cruises with a fake ID so he could play cards.

“When I was 18 we went to Gila River Casino in Arizona,” Mizrachi recalled. “Rob said, ‘Okay Mike, here’s $1,000,’ and he divided it into seven envelopes, one for each day of the trip. That was my bankroll that I could use. He gave me Monday’s envelope… and when he came back into the room, all seven envelopes were opened up after just one day. So… bad bankroll management. I think I got even for the trip. I had to borrow from him, but I won it back.”

Willing To Take Shots… Often

Mizrachi was on top of the poker world in 2007, coming off of his fourth WPT final-table appearance and second title, but he wasn’t content to just play poker with his sizable bankroll. Instead, he invested his winnings into various businesses and ventures.

“In 2007-2008, I purchased a lot of homes in Florida. It was terrible timing. I bought everything at its high point and then boom, the market crashed. I had put about $1 million in real estate, which was a lot of cash at the time. I was trying to do the right thing and make more money with the money I had, trying to flip the money. And everything crashed. I fell behind. Poker was a little slow. You think you’re going to win everything because you just keep winning, but there are those times when you have those droughts, and you can’t win anything.”

Mizrachi’s unfortunate timing wasn’t limited to just the housing market. His seemingly endless series of schemes included a poker dealing school, a window tinting operation, and even a chain of cash-for-gold shops, although that business did manage to do well in a down market. But it was one of his early extravagant purchases that proved to be among his more memorable investments gone wrong.

“I always wanted an RV, that was my dream. When I won the [WPT LAPC at] Commerce, when you’re that age… This was 2006, 12 years ago, so I was 25 years old. You don’t really make smart decisions at that age. What are you going to do? It’s only $178,000, and I just won $1.8 million. 10 percent of my winnings and you know that thing is going to depreciate the second you drive off the lot. I bought it cash. This was a 40-foot bus, I couldn’t even see out the back. It had a camera. Right when I got to the Commerce Casino, I pulled this thing in, and everyone was like ‘what the heck?’ And all you hear is [this scraping sound] as I hit a stop sign, scratching up the whole side on the first day. I actually never took it out of California. I took it from San Diego to San Jose and that was it. I had a driver send it to Vegas, and ended up living there for a little bit, before I bought a house. I sold the RV for $138,000, so I lost like $40,000 on it after only six months.”

And of course, Mizrachi had to learn the hard way not to blow his winnings all in one night.

“In 2012, I went to Tryst [nightclub] at the Wynn,” Mizrachi remembered. “They saw me with 30 or 40 people, and they told me, ‘Mike, don’t worry. Tonight, you have no minimum.’ Oh, thank you very much! And before you know it, the bill had racked up to $17,000… which is a lot for a party. I’d rather spend $17,000 on a car for my children, or give it to charity, than spend that much partying again.”

A Non-Robot Approach To Poker

While Mizrachi prides himself on being able to shift gears at the poker table, it’s usually his opponents who are the ones having to make the adjustment. The key, in his opinion, is being aware of his table image and how his opponents want to play against him.

“The thing with me is, I’m always getting paid off, no matter what. So, if I can minimize my bluffs as much as I can and maximize value when I do have a hand, it’s going to work out [most] of the time. You’ll see me in the tournament, if I get past day 1, I’m usually among the chip leaders. I feel like you have to keep up with the new guys now, the new generation. But I feel like I have my own way where nobody can really figure out my style. Just when they think they have me figured out, I’ll make a big adjustment. Listen, if I can’t figure me out, then nobody can figure me out. (laughing)”

While some of the top players in the game today have looked to solvers and a GTO-based (Game Theory Optimal) approach to strategy to find their edge, Mizrachi keeps things simple.

“I say to myself, this is the portion [of my stack] that I have to gamble with, this is the portion that I have to be nitty with. People probably don’t see the nitty side of me, but I can be really nitty. When I have a big stack, maybe I set aside 25 percent to bluff off, 25 percent to flip with, so that leaves me with 50 percent of my stack to nit it up with and pick the right spots.”

Another admirable aspect of Mizrachi’s game is his quick decision making. One issue he takes with poker tournaments today is slow play from his opponents.

“All these robots take so long and they’re used to this different style, where they think they are intimidating somebody or getting under their skin,” he explained. “I’m here to play poker, not sit there and wait ten minutes a hand. I guarantee you that everybody knows their decision in ten seconds. It shouldn’t take longer than that to act.”

Mizrachi has played in two shot-clock tournaments so far, with the $15,000 WPT Tournament of Champions. Here, players are forced to make their decisions in 30 seconds, or be forced to use a time-extension chip, which is limited. The tweak to the rules seems to have favored Mizrachi so far, as he has finished both third, and second in back-to-back years.

“I just can’t stand when people take so long, three-to-five minutes a hand,” he continued. “I respect that you want to trap the guy, Hollywood the guy, whatever, but it’s not fair to the rest of the table. I mean, if you think you are the best player at the table, why wouldn’t you want to get the hand over with and play twice as many hands?”

When asked if he ever wore headphones at the table to deal with the slow play, Mizrachi explained that it might hamper his game.

“Why would I listen to headphones at the table? I want to listen to how they breathe. I want to hear everything. It’s very rare I wear headphones at the table, unless maybe I’m watching a UFC fight. I want to hear table talk. I don’t understand how people do that. When you have your headphones on, you are only focusing on yourself, not the other players. If you hear somebody say, ‘Oh, this is my first event,’ you can take advantage of that player. Or maybe the headphones make you miss the action and make a mistake. It’s a big disadvantage.”

The $50,000 Poker Players Championship

“It’s quite an accomplishment,” Mizrachi admitted, shortly after picking up his latest win. “To win the first one was amazing. The second one was great. The third one is unheard of.”

Indeed, what Mizrachi has managed to do in the short 13-year history of the event has been remarkable. When the tournament’s format was changed from H.O.R.S.E. to an eight-game mix in 2010, Mizrachi topped a field of 116 entrants to score the $1,559,046 first-place prize. Two years later, he won it again, this time besting 108 players for $1,451,527. In 2016, he finished fourth, banking $380,942. He returned to the winner’s circle this summer, picking up $1,239,126 for outlasting the 87-player field.

In total, Mizrachi has $4.6 million in cashes from this event alone, which represents more than a quarter of his lifetime earnings. The only players who even come close to these numbers is high-stakes crusher Brian Rast, who has pocketed about $3.2 million with two wins of his own along with an eighth-place finish, and legendary poker pro John Hennigan, who has cashed four times in the event for $3.1 million, including a win, a second-place, and a third-place showing.

“I don’t want to give any tips away, because I’m going to be looking for a fourth victory,” joked Mizrachi, when asked why his approach to the event works so well. “I think I’m just a really well-rounded [player]. I wouldn’t say I play all the games to perfection, but I feel like I’m almost there. There are a lot of great players in that event, but they’re not perfect [either]. I have my tournaments style that works well for me. I play in the big mixed cash games as well, but I just know in tournaments how to make that adjustment. Then you have the big bet games where the mixed-game players don’t have as much experience in PLO or no-limit. Then you have the big bet players, who don’t have much experience in limit games, so that’s what gives me the edge.”

With a lengthy tournament resume that includes three wins in one of the most prestigious events in poker, Mizrachi seems like a good bet to be a first-ballot Poker Hall of Fame member when he becomes eligible in three years. It’s an honor he would welcome, although he hopes that when it comes he’ll still be dealing with a healthy bankroll.

“Of course, you care about the trophies and glory, but that you’ll always have,” he explained. “You want to win titles, you want to win everything, you want to be on top of the world. You feel like you’ve done enough, and that you’re well respected. There’s not much left to prove. The most important thing, [at this point], is holding on to your money.” ♠