LAS VEGAS -- Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi made history Thursday night in Las Vegas, becoming the first player to win the World Series of Poker's $50,000 Poker Players' Championship twice. In doing so, he put to rest any questions regarding his place among the game's best players.
Mizrachi, a 31-year-old native of Miami, Fla., won $1,451,527, the Chip Reese trophy and his third WSOP bracelet, surviving a 108-player field of poker's best. In 2010, the first time he won the tournament, he outlasted 115 players and won $1,559,046. The $50,000, established in 2006, is considered by many to be tournament poker's true championship, with the mix of eight poker games, the slow structure and the monumental buy-in ensuring a brutal gauntlet.
"I'm incredibly pleased about winning this again," said Mizrachi, embracing the trophy, awarded annually to the event's champion. "Holding the Chip Reese trophy twice is an amazing feeling."
"If you look at the World Series of Poker since the start of 2010, no player has matched his performance," said Nolan Dalla, the WSOP's media director and historian. "He's won two Poker Players Championships, he's made the main event final table, he's been in the running for player of the year twice. No one has come close. I think clearly, we thought it would take more than seven years to have a repeat champion. Maybe 20-25 years, given how stacked these fields are. It is a remarkable achievement.".
"To win it first in 2010 was different," said Mizrachi, who had been in a major tournament rut resulting in financial difficulty for the three years prior. "I was going through rough times. It's an amazing thing to win it this time. I can't explain it. To win the $50,000 twice is a dream come true. It's another part of the books, another one for my history. I want to become the all-time leading winner in tournament poker history. I have a long way to go, but I'm only 31 years old, so things can happen."
Mizrachi's victory came against a stacked final table that included two other players (Andy Bloch, third, and Bruno Fitoussi, eighth) who were making repeat final table appearances in the Players' Championship. He entered final table play as the chip leader and immediately added to his stack, eliminating Fitoussi and Bill Chen in eighth and seventh, respectively, in one hand of no-limit hold 'em. When he took out Stephen Chidwick in sixth place, he added to his already daunting lead and continued to pressure his remaining opponents to provide him an insurmountable cushion. He pushed forward, never relinquishing the top spot and finally defeated Atlantic City cash game mainstay Chris Klodnicki in a lopsided heads-up battle for the bracelet.
"He definitely played well," Klodnicki admitted of his foe. "He gets a lot better when he plays shorthanded. He's really tough shorthanded."
"You have skill and luck," Mizrachi said after his victory. "Today, both were on my side. I ran really, really well. This is the best you can possibly run at a final table. The cards went my way; I played my best."
With the victory, Mizrachi moves into third place in the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year race, within striking distance of leaders Phil Ivey and John Monnette. Mizrachi finished second in the race in 2010, when a victory in the main event would have tied him with eventual winner Frank Kassela. Mizrachi finished fifth in that tournament.
"The WSOP Player of the Year is very important for me," Mizrachi said. "I don't know the point system, I haven't looked, but I'm going to play the $1 million, I've played 23-24 tournaments, I have great results and maybe I can pull something off. Maybe I can make another final table."
The $1 million in question is the Big One for One Drop (ESPN2, July 3 at 4 p.m. ET), the charitable brainchild of Cirque de Soleil founder Guy Laliberte and the talk of the 2012 WSOP. Mizrachi had planned on playing even before his success in the $50,000. "I decided a week ago to play," he said. "I asked some investors if they were interested in backing me and suddenly I'd rounded up $900,000 in four days, just like that."
"I'm sure everyone wants a piece now," Mizrachi added with a smile. "But we're sold out."
Mizrachi told ESPN that while the original plan was to pay just 10 percent of his entry fee for One Drop, the status of that decision is now "to be determined."
Among those in attendance supporting Mizrachi were his elder brother Robert, twin brother Eric and younger brother Donny. The four stunned the poker world when they all made the money together in the 2010 main event, the same year as Robert and Michael shared the final table spotlight at the $50,000 which Michael would go on to win. The bond they showed then still continues to manifest under poker's spotlight.
With post-tournament interviews done by 8 p.m., the brothers Mizrachi headed out of the Rio mobbed by supporters. As much as he was ready to enjoy Vegas though, Grinder shared a moment of introspection before heading off into the night, saying, "Of course I appreciate the history. How many people have this title once? So, to have it twice it's just an amazing feeling. I can't believe it. I can't believe I pulled it off. They said it's not human, so I don't know. I'm just the luckiest man in the world."
And apparently, one of the best poker players too.
Below are the complete results of Event 45 at the 2012 World Series of Poker:
Event 45: Poker Players Championship
Prize pool: $5,184,000
Players in the money: 16
1. Michael Mizrachi ($1,451,527)
2. Chris Klodnicki ($896,935)
3. Andy Bloch ($561,738)
4. Luke Schwartz ($406,736)
5. Roland Israelashvili ($317,882)
6. Stephen Chidwick ($253,497)
7. Bill Chen ($205,856)
8. Bruno Fitoussi ($169,879)
9. David Oppenheim ($142,197)
10. David Baker ($142,197)
11. Daniel Alaei ($120,994)
12. John Hennigan ($120,994)
13. Jeff Lisandro ($105,235)
14. Viktor Blom ($105,235)
15. Mike Wattel ($91,549)
16. Brett Richey ($91,549)