Yet another youngster has joined the ranks of those who use their poker finesse to become instant millionaires. He’s 24-year-old Michael Mizrachi, and he was hungry to win the big event at Commerce Casino’s L.A. Poker Classic after finishing fifth in the championship event of the Jack Binion World Poker Open in January. He pocketed $288,241, which only served to whet his appetite for winning. He drove to California with a single-minded purpose: to win the big event. In the end, he conquered a field of 538 players, and won $1,859,909, a $25,000 buy-in to the World Poker Tour Championship, and the pride that comes from beating the best.
Beating the Best
I asked Michael how it felt to beat the best Bola88 players in the world. He said, “I have always felt I am a top player but had to prove it. Also, I wanted to prove it to myself. I left Tunica after a bad beat and told myself that I was going to L.A. to win it. I made a decision that I was not going to give up. Last year, I was ranked 48th in Card Player’s Player of the Year Standings. This year, I am first in the standings so far!
“Now, I have fans and am getting so many phone messages, I can’t even respond to all of them. Being a 24-year-old millionaire is one of the best feelings in the world and makes me happy, but nothing makes me happier than my 5-month-old son, Paul William, who is named after my grandfather. My family and friends come first. It feels really good to have money and to be able to take care of things. I already had a college fund set up for my son, and I already own three houses in Florida from my poker winnings. I have a family and have to take care of business.”
Family Comes First
Not only does Michael say that family comes first, he lives it. Michael comes from a refreshingly close-knit, traditional Jewish family filled with old-world customs, including lighting Sabbath candles and solid family values based upon love and support of one another. Michael’s father is Israeli and Michael is fluent in Hebrew, which his mom made him prove to me.
Michael Mizrachi with his wife,
Aidilay, and son, Paul William.
When Michael made it to the final table, he flew his whole family to L.A. to cheer him on to victory. After he won the tournament, he instantly went out and bought a motor home so that his family could travel with him when he goes on the road to play tournaments.
As a matter of fact, Michael traveled to the Commerce tournament with his lovely wife, Aidilay, and his mom, Susan Hillary Laufer, both of whom joined us for the interview. Because Aidilay looks so much like a model, it’s hard to believe she gave birth just five short months ago. Michael beamed when he told me that he and Aidilay were born in the same hospital.
Mom Loves Her Boys!
Just like the nice Jewish woman she is, Mom was bursting with such pride for all of her children that I had to remind her that the interview was about her son Michael and not her other sons, Robert the poker player, Daniel the professional magician, and Eric, Michael’s paternal twin. About poker, Mom said she’s always supportive of her kids. About Michael’s recent success, Mom said she was ecstatically happy, beyond imagination.
Michael couldn’t resist adding, “She’s the greatest mom, like a best friend and also a poker player, which makes it really fun.”
All in the Family
Everyone in the family plays poker, and no one enjoys their successes more than Mom, who delighted in telling me that the last time she flew to Las Vegas, Michael paid to put her in a satellite for the Friday night Bellagio tournament. She won the satellite, and Michael’s advice was to go win the tournament. Michael bought in, and they both played. Who won? You guessed it, Mom!
I asked Michael if he learned his poker skills from Mom; I think it would be best not to describe the dismal look he shot me when Mom wasn’t looking, at least until Mom said: “I saw that!”
So, What Did Happen in Tunica?
Shana Hiatt displays the $1.8 million first prize at
the WPT’s L.A. Poker Classic.
At the beginning of the interview, Michael spoke about the bad beat he took when he was in Tunica, Mississippi. His wife piped in that she started crying, it was so bad. “Just the way it came down, it was so terrible, like a nightmare,” she said.
Together, the family told me the story, each remembering different parts of the puzzle in great detail. It was the $10,000 buy-in World Poker Open championship event in Tunica, Mississippi. Michael drove from Florida to Tunica just to play in the main event. He felt strong and confident, and played with heart, although the cards weren’t coming.
On day two, he was down to $200 in chips, but he still had hope. Perhaps that is the folly of youth. The blinds were $500-$1,000, with $200 antes. All he could do was put in an ante and wait to see what happened. He won the antes with K-2 because another player protected his hand by raising with J-4. The next hand, he had the 7diamonds 2diamonds and made a flush to pick up some chips. Slowly, Michael “The Grinder” worked his way up by playing solid poker.
Going into day three, “The Grinder” was hanging on by a thread. Of the 27 remaining players, he was dead last, but he was ready to play. He had $37,000 in chips with the blinds starting at $3,000-$6,000. He played, grinded, waited, and bluffed. At the end of the day, there were six players left and Michael had more than half a million dollars in chips. The final-day chip counts were as follows:
- Chau Giang — $1,406,000
- Scotty Nguyen — $1,210,000
- Daniel Negreanu — $1,173,000
- John Stolzmann — $517,000
- Michael Mizrachi — $515,000
- Raja Kattamuri — $330,000
Now came the end, as told by Michael. “The blinds were $10,000-$20,000, with $2,000 antes. Daniel (Negreanu) raised from the button. I was in the small blind and pushed all in with 8-8. Daniel said, ‘I’m 50-50, or dominated. I’m gonna gamble. I’ll call.’ Daniel showed 7-7 and I showed 8-8. The flop was 9-6-5. No problem. The turn was a deuce and the river was an 8. I just stared at the board. My wife started crying. I was sick inside. After all that, I was knocked out in fifth place. It took a little while to get over the shock, and then I realized, ‘Hey, I just won almost $300,000.’ Then I said, ‘I’ll just have to go to Commerce and win it, like I won at Bellagio.’”
The Famous Bellagio Hand
Before discussing Michael’s success at Commerce, I wanted him to talk about the famous Bellagio hand. During Bellagio’s Five-Diamond World Poker Classic in December, he played in the $2,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament, demolishing his opponents and winning $273,040. Going into the final day, he was in ninth place. The chip count looked like this:
- Jean-Robert Bellande — $374,000
- Gioi Luong — $238,000
- Lonnie Alexander — $235,000
- Phi Nguyen — $164,000
- Thomas Mathiesen — $113,000
- Allie Prescott — $92,000
- Brian Appelbaum — $83,000
- Romerico Magbanua — $70,000
- Michael Mizrachi — $62,000
When six players were left, Michael experienced every poker player’s fantasy come true. One of his opponents bet $40,000 with jacks and another called with kings. Michael, who was on the button, raised $40,000 with aces. The big blind and chip leader raised all in with the other two kings. All four players called all in.
It was wonderful. The flop, turn, and river brought nothing for any player, and Michael won about a $600,000 pot, giving him the chip lead and the momentum to win the tournament.
2004: Discovering Tournaments
In 2004, Michael discovered tournaments, and realized that he has a great natural ability. He stated, “I think my experience on the Internet helped my game because I played so many hands of poker. And when I play live, I pick up tells. I have great reads on people and I follow my instincts.
“I have been playing poker since I was 15 years old. I don’t read strategies. That might change my game. I am successful the way I am. I won a tournament on PokerStars and then was at two final tables, back-to-back. I finished in the money in almost every tournament I played in 2004.”
As it turns out, red is a very unlucky color for Michael. He commented, “I don’t do well when I wear red. Green, blue, and black are good colors. Blue is my favorite color.” Michael must have been wearing a lot of blue, because his first year of tournament play was quite impressive.
$1,859,909: All in a Day’s Work
Michael didn’t stumble upon his L.A. Poker Classic win by bumbling around and somehow beating 538 opponents. His play was consistent and measured. Erick Lindgren, with whom Michael was at the final table, was heard to have referred to Michael as “an animal.” Here’s how “the animal” started each day of the final event:
Day 1: 30th, $43,800
Day 2: 4th, $249,900
Day 3: 18th, $132,000
Michael explained that on day three, he was wearing the dreaded red, and that’s why his chip count went down.
On day four, he started in first place with $2,190,000 in chips, which was about 40 percent of the all the chips in play. “I knew I was going to win. I felt good. I flew my whole family in,” he stated.
When it was down to three players, Michael’s strategy was to get heads up. He figured that one of his opponents would make a mistake and then it would be heads up. That’s exactly what happened. “Hung La made a fatal mistake by moving all in when Haralabos Voulgaris was slow-playing a full house. He got knocked out, and it was down to two of us,” he said.
“By the time it was heads up, the blinds were so big that the game was all about preflop play. All I thought about was winning. I didn’t even ask about the limits. Whether I won a hand or lost a hand, I stayed focused. After I won a few hands, I figured it was my turn to lose a hand, so it didn’t bother me.”
The lead went back and forth, but when Michael lost the lead, he never lost heart. Finally, Voulgaris moved in with K-2 when Michael held A-K. After that crippling hand, Michael took control and won the tournament shortly thereafter. And his family and friends were there to share the glory. When all was said and done, the 24-year-old did exactly what he had set out to do: win the championship event at the L.A. Poker Classic.
What Do the Guys Think?
Now, Michael is privileged to be part of an elite young group of folks who’ve won more than a million dollars in a tournament. It’s the club everyone wants to join. These guys goof around, play poker, and tease one another mercilessly.
After the tournament, I saw Erick Lindgren, Daniel Negreanu, and Greg Raymer sitting in a big game. I asked the boys what they thought of young Michael. Erick said, “Michael is one of the most confident young players today. He held cards, but he also played them correctly. He’s a really likeable young man.”
Daniel said that he played with Michael online in a heads-up game. Before he could continue the story, Greg Raymer chimed in: “Is that how Michael got his bankroll?” Everyone laughed, and no one more than Daniel, who said: “Seriously, he seems to have an advanced grasp of no-limit.” They all have a healthy respect for one another, and they will be staring one another down in another big tournament soon enough.
Knowing What Matters
Michael cannot get over the marvel of being a father. “Having my son was the greatest feeling in world. There’s no comparison. I never cried before, but I cried tears of happiness when I saw my son. I got to see him be born. When he was in the incubator, I dealt him his first poker hand, and it was the 10hearts 5clubs. So, one day when I was in Tunica, someone asked me to sign a playing card for his son, and I signed the 10hearts. When I asked my mom what card I had signed, she said the 10hearts, of course. My son is the most beautiful thing ever created. No one is more beautiful than he is! He changed my life, and made me more responsible.”
Young and Humble
I asked Michael if there was anything else he wanted to talk about. “I want to thank my fans for their support. I also want to thank my dad, mom, brothers, and friends from Florida, who have supported me. I appreciate the people who traveled out here to cheer me on. I am a very happy person and a devoted father and husband. I look out for others. My goal is to be successful, but never forget where I come from.”