Las Vegas, NV
The 50K Final Table
This year's $50,000 Poker Player's Championship epitomized the current state of poker: big business shaping the industry, murky political future inciting paranoia, misconceptions in the media, fiscally irresponsible pros, staking, sponsorship, cheating allegations, international expansion, pursuit of immortality, and let's not forget the behind the scenes cold war between online gaming titans.
If ratings and money didn't matter, the final table of the $50,000 Player's Championship would have continued rotating eight games every eight hands. Alas, that's a vision of a utopian paradise, while we live in the real world where TV is the opiate of the masses and ratings are crucial, but advertising dollars mean everything.
NL is more sexier but less sophisticated that mixed games, which is why a NL-only final table returned to the WSOP. Last year, ESPN did not air the $50,000 HORSE event, opting to film the $40,000 NL anniversary event instead. This year's $50,000 Player's Championship seemed like a compromise -- the players got 8-Game Mixed on the agenda while the suits got their NL final table.
Poker players bitch and moan about the littlest of things, however, they need TV for exposure which is why they put up with the bullshit final table switcheroo. Getting face time is one of the ways to attain a potential long-term sponsorship. And if a player is already sponsored, it's important that they make multiple televised final tables in order to prove their value.
Moments before Day 4 ended and the final table of eight was set, the players were already being scouted by agents. Because Harrah's instituted a three-person limit to how many players one online room can logo up, there was a rush to get to the available players. Full Tilt only had one open spot since John Juanda is one of the original FT pros and David Oppenheim is also a red pro. The third slot went to Sweden's Mikael Thuritz, and his backer Martin De Knijff from the Scandi mafia, did most of the talking. PokerStars had three open spots and gobbled up the unknown Russian Vladimir Schmelev, David "WhooooKid" Baker, and Danny Alaei. Baker was a no brainer since his girlfriend is a Team Pro from Brazil.
I thought that at least one of the Mizrachi brothers would be the third FT sign up. I was surprised when I saw the non-poker room patches. OK, we think Deliverance Poker is a real site, but what's up with the patio furniture store? Instead of a sweet deal with FT or Stars, the Mizrachis were pimping a patio store. I wondered in if one of their many relatives owned the store, if that was their only lucrative offer? It's no Chico's Bail Bonds.
The Mizrachi brothers at the final table attracted their entire clan for the special night. Some of the Mizrachi women were unable to contain their excitement, and they were given a Valium or painkillers. Vegas isn't exactly a downers type of town, but having not one, but two Mizrachis at the final table was too much stress and anxiety that they could handle. Shit, the last thing I'd need is my mother faded on pharmies and seated in the first row and in front of ESPN cameras.
Although Danny Alaei and short-stacked David Oppenheim were early favorites to bust in the first level, it was Mikael Thuritz who became the first final table elimination. Alaei went out in 7th and Oppenheim mounted a comeback. David Baker surprisingly finished in 6th place (I say surprise because I picked him to win it all). At that point John Juanda shifted gears and took over the table trying to win his fifth bracelet.
Juanda's momentum was interrupted by sibling fisticuffs. The Mizrachi brothers battled in a heads-up all-in fight to the death. The Grinder was the brother who prevailed, as Robert finished in fifth for $341,429.
With four to go, Change100 tweet'd: "Final four of the $50K - Two Jews, a Russian and a former Bible salesman."
Joe Sebok responded with, "That sounds like the beginning to a joke."
Vladimir Schmelev made an epic run at the final table. The Russian bank owner from St. Petersburg was playing one of his weakest games (don't forget he's a pot-limit Stud monster), yet managed to squeeze out a second place performance when he outlasted a far more experienced Juanda (4th) and a valiant comeback from Oppenheim (3rd). Schmelev's support group was a eclectic group of three Russian men who were wearing their bathing suits and flip flops, but with collared dress shirts. Little freaky, but they were nowhere as loud by the Mizrachi (fan) club who took up 1/3 of the audience and went batshit crazy every time one of the brothers won a pot.
Schmelev wore a pair of snake skin loafers, something that you'd see on the feet of a Tijuana pimp and not on a poker player. Change100 scoffed at the notion that Schmelev's snake shoes might be real. The guy has serious cashola, so why wouldn't they be real? But the snake shoes, khakis, and white Adidas warmup jacket was just a odd get up, although not as peculiar as Schmelev's friend -- a mysterious man wearing white linen pants and holding a beige satchel. He looked like the Russian version of Jay Greenspan with salt and pepper hair. During the breaks, I attempt to followed Schmelev would meet up with this mysterious man. I only cared about what was in the bag.
"Ice cold and expressionless like a Scandi, but more menacing."
I wrote that in my notes about Vladimir Schmelev. Scandis are tough to read, but they are mostly pretty boys with perfectly messy hair. I have full confidence that I could beat up most of them in a fight and at the least hold my own with the rest. Now with a Russian, I know better not to fuck with them. That's why Schmelev's expressionless blank face freaks me out.
For a moment during the first moments heads up, it seem as though the unknown Russian could win the Player's Championship. At one point, he had the Grinder on the ropes and silenced his vast cheering section. Grinder avoided death when he called in a favor with the poker gods for timely double up. His Ac-7c ran down Ad-Jd. Grinder flopped a flush draw and got there on the river.
Schmelev friends were convinced that the hand was rigged, according to a tweet from BJ, who was the first to report that Schmelev's three friends felt as though he was the victim of a dirty deck. I guess they didn't like the flushout which allowed the Grinder to double up. Alas, they had no actual proof and sounded more like a bunch of sore losers. I guess they don't play too much online poker, especially on RiverStars.
On the 78th hand of heads up play, the Grinder came from behind in the old Qd-8s vs Qs-5c debacle. The Grinder turned his 5-kicker and sunk the stunned Russian. Vladimir Schmelev headed to the rail after two testicle-numbing beats. If it's any consolation, he left the Rio almost $1 million wealthier. I know the sharks in the Big Game would love to have some of the Russian banker's action.
A trusted source confirmed that Patrik Antonius backed both Mizrachi brothers, which explained why he arrived on Day 4 smiling -- something you rarely see. Antonius sat in the stands for a few hours. I stalked him a bit from the Jerky Lounge, and he constantly fidgeted with his phone, refreshing the chip counts and Change100's updates on Poker News. In the past, Antonius backed a significant amount of players in 50K HORSE events. This year, he struck the motherload with both Mizrachi brothers. As Change100 pointed out, Patrik Antonius actually finished in second place if you count 50% of both Mizrachi's total prize money won.
After paying a cut to Antonius, toss in the back taxes and penalties tho the IRS, I wonder how much the Grinder will actually take home?
During an interview with ESPN, Norm Chad attempted to get the Grinder to say something about his financial issues, but the Grinder was smooth and he safely evaded Norm's question. The Grinder did had nice things to say about his brother including, "I put his chips to good use."
Hey, you know what? This moral of this story is also about redemption and second chances. The Grinder made a few costly mistakes. Winning a shitload of money in a short amount of time in your 20s can often be a recipe for disaster. He couldn't handle the immense burden. All of his life leaks caught up to him and he found himself in the toughest of spots. However, instead of imploding, the Grinder hunkered down during the brunt of a storm and did what he does best -- grind out a victory.
How many people do you know who are in serious shit and need cash fast? How many do you know that can generate that money in five days?
I'm impressed, which doesn't happen easily anymore. The Grinder needed to win the biggest buy-in tournament at the WSOP in order to dig him out of his hole -- and he did just that. He and his brother also set a record for the highest two finishes at a final table by siblings.
With a menacing gorilla off his back, the Grinder is an early favorite for Player of the Year. The Grinder finally broke through and won his first tournament at the WSOP, so you can cross him off the list of the best "poker boom" players to have never won a bracelet.
Now the question is... can the Grinder be the one or two players who win two or more bracelets in 2010? The Player's Championship victory might propel a confident Grinder back to the top of his game, but can he conjure up the spirit of Chip Reese for the rest of the WSOP and replenish his once juicy bankroll?
$50,000 Player's Championship 8-Game Mixed Final Table Results:
1 Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi - $1,559,046
2 Vladimir Schmelev - $963,375
3 David Oppenheim - $603,348
4 John Juanda - $436,865
5 Robert Mizrachi - $341,429
6 David Baker - $272,275
7 Daniel Alaei - $221,105
8 Mikael Thuritz - $182,463
Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 5...
The Beef Jerky Lounge is neither a lounge nor has any beef jerky. Hey, you don't have to give away free samples -- but not even someone selling nibblets and packages. At least when the same area was the Milwaukee's Beast Lounge -- they served cans of Beast! Yeah, the Beef Jerky lounge is one of the most disappointing additions to the 2010 WSOP with just an empty space with tons of Jacks Links logos. No couches, no booze, no beef jerky. Lame. How the hell am I going to feed my wild side?
Triple Draw: I wandered by Garth's table and noticed an empty 5-Hour energy bottle underneath his chair. He chugged it when he initially sat down to give him that extra jolt of energy. His table was short-handed to start but Amnon Filippi and Bill Chen also drew his table.
Chris Fargis, former Triple Draw guru and now Wall Streer trader, took off from work to play in the event. I also spotted Angry Julie in the field. Although her husband the DnkeyBomber is being sponsored by Loudmouth Golf, she was wearing normal clothes and not the crazy pants/shorts that DB has been sporting since Day 2. I want a pair, but if I get one, my girlfriend threatened to break up with me.
Garth had two dead stacks at his starting table. The one to his left belonged to... Phil Ivey... who wasn't sitting out the first level while he played in the 5K shootout. When that went on dinner break, he took a seat next to Garth.
"He was pissed," said Garth.
Ivey was three-handed at his shootout and luckily for Garth, he knew Ivey's time there was limited. Ivey bailed at the end of his break to which Garth excitedly tweet'd, "Table 300% less intimidating."
Ivey lost heads-up in his shootout and returned to Garth's left... in a better mood. It didn't last too long when Ivey was taken out.
Cliche of the Day: Chainsaw Kessler was sitting at the adjacent table to Garth in Triple Draw. He was examining the blind structure sheet and informing the floor supervisor of his displeasure.
Photos by Benjo