Just 17 players remain in Event #31: $3,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low at the 2015 World Series of Poker, including standouts like Irish pro John O'Shea and bracelet winners Jeff Madsen, David "ODB" Baker, Rami Boukai, Robert Mizrachi, Josh Pollock, and John Reading. However, the most intriguing name may be the one at the top of the counts heading into the final day: Mike Gracz.
Gracz exploded onto the poker scene with a stretch of mammoth success in 2004-2005. He hit his first big score in December 2004, taking down the $5,150 Trump Classic in Atlantic City for $295,275. He followed that up with a win in the $10,200 World Poker Tour PartyPoker.com Million IV in March 2005 for $1.5 million, topping a final table that included Paul Darden, a recent subject of this ongoing series. Gracz wasn't done yet, though, reaching the pinnacle of the tournament world by capturing a gold bracelet and $594,460 in a $1,000 rebuy event at the WSOP in June 2005.
That spectacular string of successes vaulted him to a career as a high-profile professional poker player with more than $3 million in tournament cashes and multiple televised poker appearances.
"At that point in time, poker was all I wanted to do," Gracz said. "It was a number of dreams coming to fruition."
Gracz continued to grind out a living on the felt until early 2011. At that point, he abruptly disappeared from the world of tournament poker, resurfacing with a couple of cashes in the past eight months.
That three-year hiatus was Gracz washing the deck and starting anew, plotting a different course in life.
"I love the game, I just don't have it in me to play day in and day out," he said. "But, it became a job and it's a hard way to make an easy living. I went and worked in corporate America, and that's where I reside today."
Now, the Polish-born former pro plays only a handful of tournaments per year while calling Charlotte, N.C., home. That's where FantasyDraft.com is headquartered. Gracz, who sported a backwards hat emblazoned with the company's logo during his Day 2 run, works for the company in a variety of roles, chiefly in marketing.
He actually took time out of his work schedule to play in Event #31, which he said is one of only a few he's firing this summer. He's in town mainly to cater to the site's stable of pros who are participating in the WSOP as they work to expand the site's player base in an anticipation of an upcoming MLB launch followed by the NFL season.
"It's an emerging market, so I'd be short-changing myself saying I do one specific thing," he said when asked about his work. "We all wear a bunch of hats there. I work with a great group of people and we're just excited to get this thing up and running."
For now, Gracz gets to turn his attention away from his current work and back to his former gig. If Gracz's time away from poker dulled his skills at all, he wouldn't let on it. Perhaps strong competition in a home game where he said he logs most of his poker hours these days helps. Richard Tucker, who bagged 683,000 to rank a distant second to Gracz's 901,000 on Day 2, is also also a regular in Gracz's home game.
"It's been a lot of fun," Gracz said of his deep run. "It feels like riding a bike to be honest with you. I don't think you ever lose it altogether."
Still, if he does capture the elusive second bracelet, don't expect to see Gracz make another career change.
"I love the time I spent in poker," he said. "I wouldn't change anything in my life. But at the same time, I'm happy to distance myself from it on a full-time basis and have some other things I'm excited about in my life."