Scott Skinner enters the often-contradictory, always fascinating world of Mizrachi in the first part of our in-depth chat with The Grinder
The poker landscape has changed. As tournament fields have got tougher and lucrative sponsorship deals largely a thing of the past, poker has become a harder place in which to survive. So, is it still possible to live the poker dream, with the jet-set lifestyle, the high-stakes action and crazy prop bets while coping with everything life throws at you? Can you achieve longevity in the game when you have additional responsibilities or even a family to support? Is it possible to be a baller, a degen and family man rolled into one while consistently challenging for live poker’s biggest honours?
Perhaps no modern poker player sums up the conflicts inherent in the game than Michael Mizrachi. The man known as ‘The Grinder’ is a complex array of contradictions. The cash game ‘grinder’ who plays the most crazy unpredictable tournament poker; the committed family man with a raging degen lurking beneath the surface; the serious businessman who spends half his life in casinos or up all night playing Open Face Chinese Poker; the guy who either has all the chips or none of them. It seems that no-one – not even The Grinder himself – has a proper handle on the real Mizrachi.
‘I was chip leader in the WSOPE main event but I have a crazy style where I could have all the chips or none,’ he says from his home in Miami. ‘I took a lot of risks in certain spots and played a lot of pots and unfortunately it didn’t go my way. My style is unexplainable and one that people have never seen before. I do a lot of crazy things just through my own creative imagination, sometimes even I can’t figure myself out. I’ll say to myself, why did I make this play? Who would ever make a play like this?’ It certainly isn’t the style of a grinder.
So does he think the old nickname still applies? ‘Initially I was the grinder and now I’m the exact opposite – a maniac – an anti-grinder,’ he laughs. Despite busting out of the WSOPE main event in wild style there are clearly advantages to having a game that confuses even yourself. ‘Even Negreanu had three Kings and was scared to bet me on the river because he said, “You’re so sick you’d probably raise me $50k on the river and I don’t want to put myself in that situation,”’ he says. ‘It creates a situation where lots of people are checking a lot of the best hands behind because they don’t want to put themselves in a bad situation where I might just shove in,’ he adds.
Mizrachi seemed destined for a life on the circuit. Introduced, at a young age, to poker by older brother Robert the family has played together and pushed each other forward ever since. ‘We’re definitely a family full of poker players,’ he says. ‘Robert’s a top poker player. My little brother, Donnie is a poker player/DJ/magician and [twin brother] Eric plays a lot of poker and does a lot of the social media for us.’ Mizrachi’s mother is also a permanent fixture in the casinos as well as being a former dealer like Michael and Robert. And his wife, Aidiliy, who he met in a casino (where else), can also play a bit. ‘It always helps being around a family of poker players,’ he adds.
Family is clearly very important to Mizrachi and the conversation comes back time and again to his family, his wife and three children and the responsibility of raising a young family. It is these responsibilities that have led Mizrachi to eschew the bright lights of Vegas, choosing to settle and raise a family in Florida, where he was born and raised. ‘My priority is my children. I make sure they are taken care of, have the best school, the best of everything. And then comes my family. Then everything else comes next,’ he says.
Despite this family man status Mizrachi could hardly be called a homebody. As we speak, he has just returned from the WSOPE in Cannes and only has a few short days at home to catch his breath before hitting the tournament circuit once more. He’s used to living out of a suitcase. ‘Travelling has a big impact on your life. Living from hotel to hotel can make it tough but I’m accustomed to the lifestyle. But it’s a lot harder when you’ve got three kids at home waiting for you, who cherish you and want to be with you all the time. It makes it a lot harder.’
On the road again
Mizrachi’s recent travels have certainly been good to him as a solid WSOPE in Cannes added another chapter to his love affair with the World Series. Mizrachi finished third in the €5k PLO and was chip-leader into Day 2 of the main event before blowing it all in a few crazy hands. Mizrachi’s table-mate Daniel Negreanu tweeted with incredulity at his opponent’s playing style.
‘Playing with Grinder and he is playing a form of poker lately I haven’t seen in 10 years. He will be very swingy playing this way. He’s playing every hand for almost any amount, check raising tons, bluffing tons, and just [being] very chaotic overall. He had 300k at one point and is now at 80k. Not sure what his plan is now but I’ll let y’all know,’ Negreanu tweeted at the time.
Beneath the surface though, The Grinder thinks a lot deeper about the game as he would have us believe. Despite being just 31-years-old, in poker terms he is a relative veteran and has clearly learned a thing or two in those years. ‘I’ve been around for quite a long time – professionally for about 15 years and I’m still in the game so that’s a good thing. I’ve never read [strategy] books or anything like that. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve also learning from other people’s mistakes which is probably the best way to learn.’
Mizrachi first rose to prominence on the tournament scene in early 2005 winning the LA Poker Classic at the WPT for $1.8 million. But his star really rocketed in that summer’s WSOP as he tied a record by having seven money finishes in one year. As he left Vegas with a total cash of over $71k he could be sure he had ‘arrived’ but without a coveted bracelet The Grinder was far from satisfied. In 2006, Mizrachi told our former sister magazine InsidePoker: ‘I’m not just waiting for a bracelet, I’m waiting for a final table. It’s something about the World Series; I feel like I’m cursed at the Rio.’
Back to the Grind
Mizrachi’s WSOP curse seems ridiculous when you think of his exploits in the last few years. ‘I’ll take that back,’ he laughs when reminded of it. In 2010 The Grinder scooped his first WSOP bracelet by winning The $50K Poker Players Championship – his brother Robert’s presence on the final table made winning the prestigious eight-game event all the more special.
He then went on to final table the Main Event, before busting out of the November Nine in 5th place after running into eventual winner Jonathan Duhamel’s Aces. He followed this with another bracelet in 2011 in the first ever Split Format WSOP tournament at the WSOPE. And then, remarkably, at this year’s WSOP, he won the Poker Players Championship for a second time. Oh, for a curse like that.
‘In the last six years I’ve probably had the best World Series anyone could ever had –every year has been unbelievable. It’s a dream come true and I expect a lot more next time.’ he says. How did he feel winning the Poker Players Championship for a second time, an event that commands such respect in the poker world, and one that displays a player’s all-round poker game. Mizrachi’s answer is the opposite of what I expected.
‘I didn’t feel anything,’ he says almost nonchalantly. ‘The first PP championship was more of a high but this one, I don’t know… I thought I’d be super excited but it was just a strange feeling. I just thought it was time to work towards the next event.’
That next event was the inaugural One Drop and despite coming off the back of such a major tournament, The Grinder was quick to register his interest – although to be fair, he wasn’t short of interested backers. This time it didn’t go so well but the relaxed Mizrachi handles dropping a million dollars in a very philosophical manner.
‘One Drop was quite an experience and I’m very happy – Guy Laliberté did a wonderful job and $5.4m went to a great cause. I was very happy to be a part of it. I had a great World Series so you can’t complain’.
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