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Top Ten Stories of 2010: #1, The Year of Mizrachi

Michael Mizrachi

When the poker world looks way back at 2002, one word will suffice to summarize: "Ivey". Three bracelets in one year gets you your own chapter in the poker encyclopedia. One year later, "Moneymaker" put his own one-word stamp in the history books. When history looks back on 2010, it will have another one-word moniker, and it's not likely going to be "Duhamel." Dozens of players, including the French-Canadian Main Event Champion, had breakout, blockbuster years, but it was, without question, the year of "Mizrachi." Michael will have the most pages devoted to his accomplishments in the end, but the supporting cast that included brothers Robert, Eric, Donny, and even wife Lily, coalesced to weave an epic tale over the year that could just as easily have been fabricated by the studios of Los Angeles (where this little story all began) as cooked up in the sweltering Las Vegas desert.

Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi arrived on the poker scene at the end of 2004 with two quick quarter-million-dollar cashes to close out the year — one a win in a $2,000 event at the Five Diamond Poker Classic and the other a World Poker Tour final table in Tunica. A month later, in February 2005, he announced himself to anyone paying attention with a big score of $1.8 million and his first major title at the L.A. Poker Classic to dispense with the training-wheel stages quickly. A year later, in early 2006, he was lighting fire to more WPT fields, taking second and first in the consecutive Goldstrike World Poker Open and Borgata Winter Open — both in January. Those scores added another $1.7 million to his bankroll, and the Grinder was on the path to becoming a household name.

As the calendar ticked into January 2010, Michael Mizrachi's career stat sheet included those two WPT titles, 19 WSOP cashes (one better than Robert's 18), two WSOP final tables (to Robert's five), and more than $7.5 million in career earnings. Still, the Grinder was most certainly in the conversations of "best poker player without a bracelet," and some were even more blunt about his results. It was 2008 when he finally did make his first WSOP final table, and the official release said the following:

Michael "the Grinder" Mizrachi has enjoyed astounding success in poker tournaments in recent years. His career winnings total more than $6 million. But for all his accolades elsewhere, Mizrachi has not fared particularly well at the WSOP. This was his first-ever final table appearance. Unfortunately, he went out in eighth place.

There's some dramatic foreshadowing in there somewhere. Anyway, things were a little friendlier later that year when the Grinder made his second final table in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha World Championship. Coincidentally, Michael was looking to win the bracelet in the same event in which his brother had won his first the year before. Mizrachi could not defend his brother's title, however, falling in third place and keeping the monkey squarely on his back.

The Grinder did not cash in the 2009 World Series of Poker, but he was back in 2010 with a full load of ammunition. The 41st Annual WSOP boasted an opening event for the ages, the one-off $50,000 Players' Championship for which the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy was to be awarded. The real prize, however, was the bracelet and the bragging rights, and the new 8-Game Mix drew possibly the most skilled field of 116 players ever assembled. Two of them had the last name Mizrachi as brothers Michael and Robert both took to the felt. Five days later, the ESPN television arena hosted a veritable Mizrachi family reunion as both brothers took their seats at the final table alongside seven strangers.

Poker has seen sibling rivalries creep onto the felt in years past (see the 2004 Tournament of Champions), but never have two family members been battling so brutally for the same golden prize. When Michael eliminated David Baker in sixth place, he and Robert became the highest-finishing pair of siblings in WSOP history. The Grinder was fifth in chips going into the day, but it was Robert who exited next in that fifth place. And it was his little brother doing the deed. A short-stacked Robert took his stand with {A-Clubs} {10-Hearts}, and the Grinder's {Q-Hearts} {J-Clubs} outdrew him with a crushing jack on the turn. Robert hung around to sit in the Grinder's cheering section, and it proved to be a long night in camp. Many, many hours later, the Grinder hoisted the trophy and closed the clasp on his first gold bracelet — and a big one, at that. The Grinder had won one of the most prestigious events ever held, but neither he nor anyone there could imagine to what extent his WSOP was just beginning, and how the rest of his family would continue to play a central role in his success.

The Grinder followed that win with three more cashes and two more final tables, both in $10,000 Championship events. He took sixth place in the Seven-Card Stud World Championship, then finished eighth in the Limit Hold'em World Championship — all in June. Already the proud owner of one gold bracelet from that 2007 Pot-Limit Omaha World Championship, brother Robert had a similarly successful 2010 WSOP. After that opening run in the Players' Championship, Robert picked up four more cashes of his own, final-tabling a H.O.R.S.E. event and a Pot-Limit Omaha event before summer's end. When the Main Event arrived at the start of July, the poker world got to gaze upon all four brothers side by side. Michael, Robert, Eric and Donny each put up their $10,000 to play, embarking on one of the most widely followed and discussed poker journeys in recent memory.

The brothers Mizrachi all survived their opening days, a feat in itself considering the minefield that is Day 1 of any Main Event. Day 2 also came and went with all four Mizrachis still standing. The chip average ticked up close to 200,000 by the end of Day 3, and Eric was the only one of the four below that mark heading into Day 4 bubble day. He rode his shortening stack into the small money before finally succumbing in 718th place, taking home $19,263 and taking over a new role as Mizrachi family cheerleader for his three brothers still in contention. Donny fell next on Day 5, cashing $36,463 for his 345th-place run. That left Robert and Michael to return for Day 6, the latter just outside of the top 25 in chips with 205 players left. It was already quite an accomplishment for the brothers who had begun their 2010 WSOP together.

The Grinder began Day 6 of the Main Event in 30th place and finished the day in second. Over the course of play that afternoon, he was in and out of the chip lead as he took big pots off Duy Lee, Brock Bourne, Matthew Schreiber, and Randy Dorfman. Across the room, though, things were beginning to spiral downward for Robert. Coming into the day with a dangerously short stack, Robert did manage to find two early double ups. First, his {A-Spades} {Q-Diamonds} held against Robert Pisano's {A-Diamonds} {3-Clubs}; then his {7-Clubs} {7-Spades} outran Manuel Davidan's {A-Diamonds} {Q-Clubs}. The second of those doubles put Robert back into contention, but he could not hold onto those chips until the dinner break. He was down under 10 big blinds when he moved in with {A-Hearts} {10-Hearts} against Josue Sauvageau's {A-Spades} {K-Spades}, and a board of {3-Spades} {J-Clubs} {7-Diamonds} {6-Spades} {9-Hearts} sent Robert (1176th place, $57,102) to join brothers Eric and Donny on the rail. The Grinder was left waving the family flag, alone at the table but by no means alone in the room.

He was certainly up to the task, but Day 7 was a grind. Trends were all downward to start his day, and he was a million chips lighter every time his stack was updated. He was all the way down to just 1.51 million when he got it all-in with {A-Spades} {J-Clubs} against William Thorson's {9-Diamonds} {10-Diamonds}. The board ran out {A-Diamonds} {7-Clubs} {5-Clubs} {J-Hearts} {A-Clubs} to double Mizrachi back into contention, and he moved back over 7.5 million when he turned a straight to ship Cory Emery and his set out the door with 32 players remaining. Grinder was in 16th place when the final 27 players retired for the final overnight break of the summer session. For two-thirds of them, a small paycheck. For nine, life-changing money and a seat at the final table in November.

On Day 8, Michael picked up {K-Clubs} {K-Hearts} to win a small pot on the first hand, and those cowboys would continue to factor heavily in the deciding day. Once more, nothing came easily, and early upward trends for Grinder were soon erased by big pots in the loss column. One of them came when his ace-eight granted a double up to Hasan Habib's {K-Clubs} {K-Diamonds}, the cowboys biting Mizrachi this time. That left Mizrachi as the shortest stack left with 15 players remaining. The pocket kings would redeem themselves soon thereafter, though, when the Grinder's {K-Spades} {K-Hearts} doubled through John Racener's jack-nine on a jack-high flop. A couple of orbits later, he was back over 8 million, and he was fortified by his thunderous cheering section as the night dragged on into the twilight hours. Finally, just before sunup, Brandon Steven lost a flip to exit in 10th place, and Mizrachi's seat in the November Nine was set. Unbelievable.

The hype surrounding Mizrachi's November return to the felt was unlike anything the poker industry has ever seen as the faces of he and his family were scattered throughout major print media and television news shows. When the Grinder did make his grand reentrance in November, he was in seventh chip position, but it wasn't long before there were just seven players left and he was the chip leader with more than 50 million in front of him. It happened nearly that quickly. He even had the eventual champion Duhamel all in and flipping for his tournament life on the 150th hand of the night. Duhamel's {A-Spades} {9-Hearts} outflopped Mizrachi's pocket threes, however, wrestling away close to half of Grinder's stack. The two tangled again 19 hands later with Duhamel's {A-Diamonds} {J-Diamonds} getting the better of Mizrachi's {A-Clubs} {8-Clubs} on a {A-Hearts} {2-Hearts} {5-Diamonds} {7-Clubs} {Q-Diamonds} board. That took another 12 million from Mizrachi's stack, and the remainder of his chips wouldn't last much longer. One hundred eighty-five hands into the final table, Duhamel's pocket aces laid Mizrachi's dreams to rest, but the Grinder's legendary run earned him a solid place in the discussion of the best to ever play the game.

The poker media and the community of fans have learned in recent years to be careful with the words "never happen again." Feats of poker might are duplicated and surpassed with great regularity nowadays as players get younger, richer, and braver. Still, it's hard to imagine finding four siblings to do what the brothers Mizrachi managed to do this year, and we can confidently say that Michael's accomplishments are not likely to be seen again in this modern era of poker. For one thing, the Players' Championship is not likely to return in 2011 or anytime soon. The 2010 WSOP essentially was essentially a crown with three jewels: the Players' Championship, the Main Event, and the Player of the Year. The Grinder took care of the first of those with relative ease, and he was within a couple of lucky coin flips of conquering the other two as well. Any normal grinder would be happy with accomplishing those three things within their lifetime, but The Grinder nearly pulled off the Triple Crown in the same year. That's certainly got our vote as the crowning achievement of the 2010 calendar year, and the decade will have to step up its game in a hurry if it wants to top the Year of Mizrachi.

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