If there's an image out there of today's young poker professionals — brash, cocky, aggressive to a fault — Michael DeMichele turns that notion on its ear. Clad in sweater-vests and neatly pressed button-down shirts, the baby-faced 23-year-old often looks like he got lost on the way home from the country club rather than having spent the last 12 hours grinding it out at the tables. In only his second year playing in the World Series of Poker, DeMichele made arguably the biggest splash of any of the young up-and-coming players this year, making the final table in two of the WSOP's most prestigious events and earning nearly $1.4 million in the process.
Michael DeMichele hails from Poughkeepsie, NY and started playing poker at the Turning Stone Casino shortly after his 18th birthday. Starting off in the $1-$2 no-limit hold'em games, DeMichele found success and worked his way up to the highest limit spread there at the time — $20-$40 limit hold'em. As he grew more serious about poker, he ventured online, and started building a bankroll by multi-tabling limit hold'em cash games. Playing as many as eight tables at a time, De Michele climbed the ranks from $3-$6 up to $30-$60. He also became a fixture on the 2+2 forums, where he posted under the handle "TStoneMBD." With a voracious appetite for learning the game and dissecting hands, he racked up more than 11,000 posts on the site and his skill grew immensely.
After moving to Connecticut, DeMichele began playing high-stakes live cash games at Foxwoods. He learned other poker variants including what became two of his favorite games—Omaha 8 or better and Stud 8 or better. After moving up to limits as high as $75-$150 at Foxwoods, he ventured down to Atlantic City and booked large wins in $200-$400 mixed games. That's when he decided to buy in to his first $10,000 tournament—the 2006 U.S. Poker Championships at the Taj Mahal. He ended up placing third, for a $215,194 score.
The 2007 World Series of Poker was DeMichele's first. He managed two cashes, 17th place in the $2,500 H.O.R.S.E. and 12th place in the $3,000 World Championship Seven-Card Stud 8 or Better event. Primarily, though he continued to thrive in the cash games, adding lowball variants such as deuce-to-seven triple draw and Badugi to his repertoire and moving up to $400-$800 rotation games in Las Vegas and at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles.
Returning to Las Vegas for the 2008 WSOP, DeMichele decided to play a limited tournament schedule at the Rio. After busting out of the $10,000 Omaha 8 or Better, the $5,000 Stud 8 or Better and the $2,500 Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw events, in his own words, "really, really quickly," he entered the inaugural $10,000 World Championship Mixed Event. Consisting of a rotation of eight different poker variants (deuce-to-seven triple draw, the five limit H.O.R.S.E. games, no-limit hold'em and pot-limit Omaha), DeMichele made a star-studded final table that included Eli Elezra, Sam Farha, Jeff Madsen, Matt Glantz, Tom "durrrr" Dwan and James "mig.com" Mackey. Ultimately, DeMichele finished fourth, earning nearly $140,000 while fellow young high-stakes mixed-games specialist Anthony "Tongni" Rivera won the bracelet that night.
Three weeks later, DeMichele bought into the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. where he faced a field of 147 of poker's elite, many of them bringing with them decades of experience in high-stakes mixed games. Phil Ivey. Jennifer Harman. Doyle Brunson. Johnny Chan. Howard Lederer. David Benyamine. After four days of grueling play, DeMichele made the final table alongside WSOP bracelet winners Erick Lindgren, Barry Greenstein, Lyle Berman, Scotty Nguyen and Huck Seed. The second-shortest stack coming into play on that final day, DeMichele was joined by a huge crowd of friends and supporters in the stands who cheered wildly every time he dragged a pot. He could only chuckle and shake his head at all the attention.
After eliminating Lyle Berman in fifth place on a razz hand, DeMichele took the chip lead with 7.1 million only to cede it to Scotty Nguyen during four-handed play. Matt Glantz went out in fourth, and after a 200-hand marathon of three-handed play, Nguyen eliminated Erick Lindgren in third. By that point, DeMichele had been whittled down to only 2.6 million and entered heads-up play with Nguyen at more than a 4:1 chip disadvantage. It took only 11 hands for Nguyen to eliminate DeMichele in second place. Though he went home that night without his first bracelet, he did earn over $1.2 million as well as a lot of respect from his peers.
Mike DeMichele is a rare breed of poker personality—controlled, unassuming, and mature for his young age. Unlike many of his peers you won't find him berating his opponents or screaming "Ship it!" as he drags a pot. You won't even find him playing very much online. He's just that nice kid at the end of the table, listening to his iPod and quietly taking your chips.