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WSOP 2010 $50K Players Championship Final Table
CEO "Rocket Boy" 02 June 2010

8-handed play begins. From seat 1: Baker, Thuritz, Schmelev, Juanda, Alaei, M. Mizrachi, Oppenheim, and R. Mizrachi

Year of The Brothers

What a fantastic event! Every year, the $50K Championship final table is stacked with name pros and one or two relative unknowns. Same thing this year. But this was the first time that siblings made the $50K Championship final table. And if you think Michael "The Grinder" and Robert "Who's Bad" might have soft-played each other, you're dead wrong.

The Mizrachi brothers' presence at the $50K final table added an extra layer of emotional intensity, as they brought an entire grandstand full of friends, family, and fans all screaming in support of both of them. And support they needed, since they faced a murderers' row of nightmarishly tough players. David Baker, Mikael Thuritz of Sweden, Vladimir Schmelev of Russia, John Juanda, Daniel Alaei, and David Oppenheim were all there to win the bracelet, the $1.5 million first place money, and a place in poker history.

Whose name would be engraved on the David 'Chip' Reese Memorial Trophy this year? The answer didn't come until 12 hours after the cards were shuffled up and the first hand dealt.

Last year's $50K final table took 19 hours, partly because of all the splits and quarters that happened in Omaha 8-or-better and Stud 8-or-better, and mostly because all the games were limit. This year, NLH was added to the 8-game rotation, and the final 8-handed table was NLH-only. This helped to accelerate the bustouts somewhat, but it also helped the short stacks get back into contention if and when they were able to double or triple up.

David Oppenheim ships it behind Schmelev, Juanda, Alaei, and Grinder. He doubled up with aces.

Oppenheim Moves Up the Ranks

And, speaking of doubling, David Oppenheim started final table play drastically short stacked, with only 460K. (To put this in perspective, this was just 1/4 the chips of the next lowest man, Daniel Alaei, who himself was far below the average of 2.25 million.) Statistically it looked pretty grim, but Oppenheim began his final table play aggressively. He made no attempt to fold up the payout ladder. If he was going to win, he needed to chip up by stealing blinds or doubling up right away. And, as the old saying goes, if you're going out, it's best to go out firing.

But on the real side, it's vastly better to double up than to go out firing. Oppenheim did the former again and again, getting paid off with pocket aces twice. He managed to become chip leader by a large margin in short-handed play. More on that later.

Grinder's First Knockout

This doubling was all good for Oppenheim, but bad for Mikael Thuritz. Thuritz had started final table play with a roughly average stack of 2.3 million, but his final table experience was a rollercoaster ride. Daniel Alaei took most of his stack by doubling through him. Then Thuritz (KK) doubled up Vladimir Schmelev (AA) on your classic NLH cooler, and was down to the felt. It took several minutes for tournament director (and apparently indestructible iron man) Robbie Thompson to count down and confirm the players' stacks. And when the dust had settled Thuritz was infra-micro-stacked with just 5,000 chips. Less than one ante left.

And he just wouldn't bust. Thuritz tripled, then doubled, then chopped an all-in pot, then quadrupled, and suddenly he was out of immediate danger. Chip and a chair all over again.

But his run finally ended on a hand against Grinder and Baker. Baker made a more or less standard raise to 140K, Thuritz shoved his last 55K, and Grinder flatted. The flop came 664, Mizrachi check-raised Baker off the hand, and showed 64 for flopped boss full house. Grinder had clearly called Baker's raise in the hopes of hitting one or both of his presumably two live baby cards. And knowing that he and Baker would likely check it down unless the flop hit one of them extremely hard.

Unfortunately for Thuritz, that's exactly what happened. Thuritz showed QJ, a decent hand to shove with if you're short stacked, but he had been flopped dead to running queens or running jacks. They didn't come, and he was first out.

Mikael Thuritz was first out in 8th place. He played well, ran KK into Schmelev's AA, but never lost his composure.

Mr. Alaei's Wild Ride

Meanwhile, Daniel Alaei was trying to put Thuritz' former chips to good use. He has proven over and over again that he's the real deal, with two WSOP bracelets and other major tournament victories including the Doyle Brunson 5 Diamond WPT event last December, plus winning sessions on several televised cash games. He plays as tough as anyone we've ever seen. But he fell victim to Oppenheim's ascent from short stack to chip leader.

Alaei had flopped top pair with his KQ, shoved, and Oppenheim called with AA. Alaei had a brief moment of hope as he turned a queen to make top two, but the board paired tens on the river giving Oppenheim aces up. And although he managed to double back through Oppenheim a few hands later, his tournament was abruptly ended by Schmelev. Alaei shoved with A6 suited, Schmelev called with AK, and although an ace flopped, no flush or 6 came and Alaei was out in 7th.

Daniel Alaei fought the good fight, played extremely well as always, but was eliminated in 7th.

"Bakes" Makes Another Deep Run

David Baker was the youngest player at this final table at only 23, but in his nascent career he has proven himself with distinguished online and live track records. He's made his name online on multiple poker sites and went deep in last year's special WSOP 40th Anniversary $40K event. It doesn't matter how hungry you are or how much raw talent you were born with. It takes experience, patience, and stamina to get deep in a tournament like this, and Baker has it all.

Baker had started final table play with just under 3.1 million, a fraction less than chip less than Robert Mizrachi's big stack. And as well as Baker played, he seemed to lose composure for just a moment. Or maybe he simply misread Grinder for weakness. But in a no-limit game, one mistake can be fatal.

On his final hand, Baker shoved with AJ, Grinder called with AK, a king flopped, and that was it for Baker. He exited in 6th place. At the time, Baker was relatively deep, with more than 50 BB if memory serves, so it was a bit of a surprise to see him shove with blackjack. On the other hand, more often than not, AJ is the best holding in 6-handed play.

Mama Said Knock You Out

Tournament director Thompson announced that by guaranteeing a fifth place finish or higher, Michael and Robert Mizrachi would finish higher than any other siblings in any WSOP event. Higher than Annie Duke and Howard Lederer in 1995 and the Boatman brothers in 2002. Would Michael win his first WSOP bracelet? Would Robert win his second?

For Robert, the answer was no. Although he had started with the chip lead, he had lost many small to medium pots that cost him much of his stack. He simply didn't seem to win his share of pots, and never busted anyone. And he lost some substantial pots to the seemingly unstoppable David Oppenheim.

Finally, he 3-bet Michael's raise with his last 465K, and Michael called. At the time, Michael only had about 1.5 million, so no matter who won, one or both of the brothers would be short stacked. Michael spiked a pair on the turn, suddenly he was the last Mizrachi standing.

During the entire tournament, the brothers' friends and family were there to loudly yell "Grinder! Grinder! Grinder!" or "Robert! Robert! Robert!" or even "Who's Bad! Who's Bad! Who's Bad!" on occasion. But when the two were all-in, even the matriarch of the family was chanting "Grinder! Grinder! Grinder!" Sorry bro. Mama said knock you out.

A Shark Called Juanda

With Robert's departure, John Juanda found himself on the short stack. He had started final table play tied for 3rd place with 2.62 million chips. And although he won quite a few small to medium pots, he never doubled through or busted anyone. And that's crucial in the end-game of an NLH tournament.

Toward the end, when he had less than 2 million, Juanda would occasionally shove to steal the blinds. Better to do this while you still have enough chips to hurt the big stacks if they double you up. But Juanda finally got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He shoved with K9 suited, Schmelev thought for just a few seconds, and called with tens. Both players missed the flop, Juanda needed a king or any number of nearly impossible running card scenarios to win. He got none of those and we were down to our final three.

The First Hint of Steam

Going into 3-handed play, David Oppenheim had a massive advantage. He held more than half the chips in play with nearly 10 million, Vladimir Schmelev had about half that with 5 million, and Michael Mizrachi brought up the rear with only about 2.6 million. So from this point on, it was Oppenheim's tournament to lose.

And although he used his big stack to bully his opponents, it just seemed like Oppenheim didn't win his share of chips. His meteoric rise from short to big stack had ended. He didn't lose any massive pots at first, but Schmelev and Mizrachi steadily chipped away at his lead. Then Grinder doubled through him with K7 vs. Oppenheim's 67. A 7 had peeled off on the turn, giving each a pair. Grinder moved in on the river, Oppenheim called, and found himself outkicked.

As a result, the three players had nearly even stacks. Plus they were all deep, with nearly 6 million each and the blinds at 25K/45K/90K. (Yes, that sounds odd, but tournament director Thompson explicitly said those numbers.) It had become anyone's game, and many of us in the room had flashbacks to last year's brutally long $50K HORSE Championship.

And despite the quality of the players and their depth of experience, some of them clearly went on tilt. Oppenheim started this trend by bluff-folding several million after doubling up Grinder, severely hurting his stack and chance to win.

It must take huge discipline and iron will-power to not crack under the pressure these guys were under. The cameras, lights, and crowd were contributing factors of course. Then there's playing five days straight against the toughest mixed-game players in the world. Then there's the $1.5 million for first place.

But being just two bustouts from poker immortality cranks it all up to the Nth degree. So yeah, there are what? 57 WSOP bracelets to be awarded this year? Well only one name will be engraved on the David 'Chip' Reese Memorial Trophy's perpetual base this year and every year. Think about that.

Oppenheim's Run Ends

Grinder had a slight chip advantage, and he seemed to more or less steadily increase his lead. One single hand in NLH can change everything, so there's almost always hope. But the momentum and chips had clearly swung from Oppenheim to Grinder.

David Oppenheim got it in with the best of it, which is really the most you can do in NLH. His 88 led preflop, on the flop, and on the turn. But Grinder's KQ spiked a queen on the river. The room erupted as the Mizrachi contingent let it loose yet again. Oppenheim took it well, and walked out with his head up, taking one last glance a the board while gathering his gear. He had almost done the impossible, starting from barely 12 big blinds to nearly winning it all.

David Oppenheim got rivered and busted in 3rd place. Vladimir Schmelev congratulates him (and tries not to gloat).

Advantage Schmelev

The money presentation was made, the bracelet laid on top of the brick house of Benjamins, and heads-up play began just after 1am. Then Vladimir Schmelev jammed it into top gear. The Russian played hard and fast, firing big bets early and often, and it appeared that Grinder was simply being outplayed.

And it just kept getting worse. Schmelev also began outcarding Grinder on showdowns. So now it was Grinder's turn to steam. In a different way than Oppenheim had, making steam calls instead of bluffing off chips. Grinder's snap-call tell was pretty obvious. He'd insta-call raises, then end up folding to massive river bets or losing showdowns with 3rd pair or king-high.

Grinder's stack shrank rapidly from Schmelev's onslaught and from his own hasty play, and his frustration started to show. By the time Schmelev had gained a 2:1 advantage in chips, Grinder felt the need to 4-bet shove with A7 of clubs. Schmelev called with AJ and it looked grim.

The flop came KT9 with two clubs. Grinder had picked up the nut flush draw and Schmelev had an inside Broadway draw with the three non-club queens. And there she was: the queen of hearts came on the turn. Grinder's only hopes for the river were to chop with a jack or win with any club for the nut flush. His friends and brother clutched him as though to protect him, and perhaps to physically support him as well.

Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi sweats his heads-up all-in with David "Chino" Rheem, J.C. Tran, and brother Eric.

And the poker gods chose to award Grinder the five of clubs on the river. We all nearly went deaf from the screams of joy. It took several minutes for things to calm down, but in that time Grinder had begun his transition from desperation to domination.

Grinder rivers the nut flush and doubles up. After this there was no stopping him.

The Grinder Strikes Back

The two players were nearly even in chips once again, but Grinder immediately seized the initiative from the stricken Schmelev. Just as Schmelev had come out swinging at the start of heads-up play, Mizrachi began outplaying and outcarding Schmelev. Grinder steadily built up his stack, chopping away until he had a roughly 4:1 chip lead.

It almost seemed as though Schmelev gave up at the end. Mizrachi would bet 8 million, over and over. Far more than Schmelev had. As though he were saying "I don't even need to move all-in to bust you." And then Grinder struck the decisive blow. Not a knockout, but it essentially sealed Schmelev's fate.

Grinder raised his button, Schmelev called, and the flop came AQ8. They both checked, then checked the 3 on the turn. Another 3 peeled off on the end, Schmelev bet 225k, or about 1/3 pot, and Grinder did something very odd. He raised to 2 million, a suspiciously huge overbet. Schmelev didn't believe him, called, and found that the running 3s had given Grinder trip 3s. Grinder rolled 32, Schmelev mucked, and again the crowd bellowed in joy. (We're guessing Schmelev had a weak ace or queen and thought he was trapping.)

Grinder takes Schmelev down to the felt with trip 3s

At that point, Grinder probably thought that he had won. But when the chips were counted, Schmelev still had a few blinds left. Just about 600K, and it only lasted four more hands. On the last hand, Grinder's Q5 spiked the 5 on the turn, and Schmelev's Q7 failed to improve. After 12 hours of play, Grinder had locked it in.

Grinder and family at the moment of victory. An incredibly emotional and hard-fought win.

Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi lifts his bracelet for the first time. Brothers Eric and Robert congratulate him.

The one and only Norman Chad interviews Grinder

Grinder poses with his bracelet. It wasn't officially his until the next day's bracelet ceremony.

By the way, Grinder also won $1.5 million in cold hard bricks. Last year's winner David Bach waits to congratulate him.

A Great Start

This was an incredible way to kick off the WSOP for all of us who were rooting for Grinder. He had finally won his first WSOP bracelet. And if the poker gods let you chose an event to win, the $50K Poker Players Championship would be right up there with the Main Event. Not nearly as much money or glory as the Main Event, but how much would you pay to join the ranks of Chip Reese, Freddy Deeb, Scotty Nguyen, and David Bach on the short list of pro's pros?

This event was very emotional for many reasons. As worthy a player as Schmelev is, it would have physically hurt most of the audience, including us, if he had won. Many of the Mizrachi family were there to cheer Grinder on, and as we know, he has had some financial problems recently. But in the end, the universe had unfolded more or less as we had willed it to.

Our next trip to the WSOP will be for the last few days of the Main Event, as play winds down to the November Nine. We can't wait!

Next: $50K Players Championship Bracelet Ceremony & Random WSOP Pix...

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