Michael Mizrachi Interview

You’ve seen him on a number of WPT episodes. He’s cashed in over 40 main tournaments in the past 2 years. His name alone strikes fear into other players, and he doesn’t disappoint them with his relentless aggressive style. Yet this “Grinder” is a family man at the end of the day who relishes his time away from poker.


PL: So how did you get started in poker?

Mizrachi: I really started to get into poker when I was fifteen, before that I’d play for baseball cards but I started playing for money when I was fifteen. My older brother Robert, he’s two years older than me (27), said we should go check out some cruise ships and casinos to play a little poker. I started playing 1 to 5 spread limit 7 card stud and started winning.

I started playing pretty much every day and my passion for the game kept growing and growing and it became my career.

PL: Speaking of your brother Robert, would you say he has had the most influence on you poker wise?

MIZRACHI: Definitely, I would say from the start he has. Now Me, Robert, my twin brother Eric, and even my younger brother Daniel all play poker. We talk about hands and try to influence/teach each other. How we should have played certain hands etc… Now we talk about winning, how much money we won.

My entire family plays poker – my mom plays every day, and my parents are totally supportive of me and my career choice. We’re basically a family of gamblers we all love playing cards.

PL: How much of your success do you attribute to that solid home life? I’ve read that you travel on a tour bus with your entire family, whereas most other young pros are alone going from hotel to hotel?

MIZRACHI: Actually I got rid of that tour bus in August and bought a house in Vegas. We were traveling to Vegas so much that I decided to buy a house which is A LOT more comfortable. The bus was just too small and the maintenance was a hassle. I’m in Vegas now with my kids and we spend the majority of the year here and the rest in Florida (Michael’s home state).

PL: Do you ever regret dropping out of college?
MIZRACHI: Not at all.

PL: What is the coolest thing you’ve done now that you are a poker celebrity?

MIZRACHI: Last year I went to the Playboy Mansion which was pretty cool, but I thought it would be a lot better than it was. I’ve gotten to travel to Costa Rica and Aruba . When you’re a poker celeb you get invited to all kinds of things and treated like a star; you walk on the red carpet and get asked for autographs. In the past, I never thought people would be looking up to poker players. It’s amazing how fast it’s all happened for me. I’ve only been playing tournament poker a couple years now. Casinos won’t let you play if you’re under 21, so I had to play online poker and I played a lot of cash private games from the time I was 16 until now. I’ve been a winning player every year for the past almost 10 years.

PL: How quick was your progression from low-limit cash game player to where you are now?

MIZRACHI: For a long time I played $10/$20 limit hold’em and a lot of seven card stud. Those are probably my best games and I started moving up. I’ve played all the way up to $2,000/$4,000 limit hold’em. It took a lot of time and hard work; in years it went pretty quickly but I played a lot of hands.

PL: Do you prefer the cash games over the tournaments?

MIZRACHI: I love tournaments. The do-or-die of the situation the sudden death of tournaments is the greatest feeling. I can apply more pressure because each player only has one chance and can’t go back into their pocket to keep playing. You get to make more bluffs and pick your spots more. When I sit down at the table people are so intimidated by me and play so cautiously that I keep accumulating chips. In the cash games, people can play less scared since they can always reload if they make a mistake. In a tournament, it’s one mistake and you’re out.

PL: So I guess you prefer “Freeze Out” style tournaments over Rebuy tourneys?

MIZRACHI: I do prefer Freeze Outs but Rebuys can be fun; it depends on how deep your pockets are. In a rebuy tournament, you can just gamble a lot in the first hour to build up a huge stack. I just try not to go crazy rebuying – I like to have enough money for about 5 to 10 bullets. If you don’t have a lot of money, I don’t recommend playing in rebuy tournaments. In freeze-outs, you just have one lifeline. It’s definitely the best way to play a tournament.

PL: Playing on tour these days gets incredibly expensive. Do you have any hedging or backing arrangements to lessen the risk?

MIZRACHI: I currently have a backer and sometimes I put people into tournaments – it goes both ways. I’m offered deals quite often and I pretty much wait and wait for the best possible deal. Right now I’m in a great arrangement; it’s nice to be in good hands and not have to worry about anything but playing my game at the table.

PL: Do you play much online anymore or is it pretty much all brick and mortar casinos now?

MIZRACHI: I play online some these days but not nearly as much as I used to. It’s not as exciting to me as it used to be; playing live is more fun. Getting to read people’s faces and picking up tells versus online where the only things to watch are betting patterns and how long the person takes to bet. Live, you have to pay attention to everything the other person is doing. Online cash games are just basically playing your cards and pushing a button.

PL: You’re featured in the WPT poker video game. Did they try and model the player’s tendencies after you?

MIZRACHI: Sort of, they asked me what type of hands I play and they mapped the player based on that. It’s obviously not going to be exactly like my style, but they try and get it as close as possible.

PL: Is it weird seeing your character in a WPT game?

MIZRACHI: Yeah it’s a little strange. One time I was driving to the store and a guy looked over at me and said, “You’re the guy.” I said, “What do you mean? I’m the guy”. He replied, “You’re the big poker player”. So I said, “Oh, you play poker”. “He’s like, ‘No, I played against you on Playstation’.”

PL: Speaking of the WPT, your first WPT final table featured Chau Giang, Scotty Nguyen, Daniel Negreanu…were you nervous at all playing against those famous players?

MIZRACHI: No, not at all, I’m fearless at the poker table. You can’t play scared at the table. I’m a gambler who likes to put constant pressure on my opponents; hopefully, I can scare them. Against pros like that, it’s not easy because they don’t get scared at the table either – that’s their job and they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.

PL: So what’s the toughest final table you’ve ever played?

MIZRACHI: They’re all pretty tough. Once, I had four of my friends at the table with me. At this year’s Borgata Winter Open, it was Stu “The Donator” Patterson, Erick Lindgren, John D’Agostino, Armon Phillipe and some guy I didn’t know. That table was pretty tough. The one before it had Gavin Smith and An Tran. Those last two final tables were very tough. I actually finished 2 nd and 1 st and was very happy with myself.

PL: Which tour’s style do you prefer: the WSOP or the WPT?

MIZRACHI: I like the WPT in the beginning, but once you get to the final six it gets crazy and it becomes a crapshoot, basically all luck. At the World Series, I had the most cashes last year but didn’t make a final table. I did ok at the Circuit Events, with one second place. Hopefully, I’ll win my first bracelet this year. The WSOP final tables can take up to 10-12 hours so there is more play than the WPT. The structure at the end is a little better. However, you don’t start with as many chips as a WPT event. So basically I like the beginnings of WPT tourneys but hate the endings. Most pros are hoping the WPT will change the structure.

PL: With the WSOP just a few months awa,y are you taking it easy or are you still grinding away?

MIZRACHI: Right now I’m second in the Player of the Year standings (behind Gavin Smith) and am trying to play as many tournaments as possible…but with two kids it’s very tough. Since we’re in Vegas now, I don’t take much time off from poker. I took my son to Disney Land a few weeks ago and he loved it! I consider the time I spend with my kids at home my time off.

PL: What advice would you give a young player thats would like to go pro?

MIZRACHI: I’ve never read a poker book before; a lot of people would say go out and read books. I say practice makes perfect, you just have to get out and play a lot. Learning from your mistakes is the key. Play with the good players and learn from them – try and pick up their style. Play in some small tournaments and try some new moves. I’m still doing that and trying to learn and improve my game all the time. They say that Hold’em takes a lifetime to master, so play a lot online and learn as much as you can.

PL: Speaking of online poker, did you hear about those two players who had their accounts seized for playing multiple entries in one tournament?

MIZRACHI: Yes, they decided to take their tournament winnings away and divide it up between the other players. I played multiple accounts in a tournament before and I didn’t even know it was against the rules and they never said anything; but I don’t really think it’s fair. It’s pretty much a normal thing and a lot of players do it; playing two or three entries in a tournament, they’re basically trying to give themselves 2 or 3 chances to win the tournament. As long as they’re not at the same table, it doesn’t really matter. I tried playing a few entries at once but didn’t play very well; I can concentrate a lot better with just one. Now I just play the way they want with one account.

PL: How often do you play online tourneys?

MIZRACHI: These days I rarely play online tournaments – I just don’t have the time. Once I was playing an online tournament and had to head out to a live tourney. I had someone take over for me and told everyone at the table what was going on. A rep from the site called me up and said I couldn’t have someone play for me. Some of the players at the table complained, so I had to leave the other tourney and come back to play online. I was chip leader at the time and I guess they wanted to play with me because I’m well- known.

PL: Why would someone want to play against you when the replacement probably isn’t as good a player?

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MIZRACHI: They like to talk to me at the table and see how their best stacks up against a known player. These days, I goof around a lot online and have fun. In the past it was more like work. I think I need to start playing more seriously though, because this may be my first losing year online in 10 years.

Online poker may actually be hurting my game overall, especially when I play online for an extended period of time like 16 hours. These days I try to limit online play to a couple hours at a time and concentrate my energy on live games.

PL: You’ve had almost 40 decent-sized cashes in the past two years; what about your style leads to these consistent finishes?

MIZRACHI: My ability to switch gears quickly after seeing a change at the table is really the key to my style. I go from playing like a maniac to slowing it down; I play very instinctually and can control most of my opponents – basically making the other players do what I want them to do. I’ll make speeches during hands or win with rags; I’m very good at picking the right spot to make a move. I just apply so much pressure on my opponents and some of them get confused and intimidated; especially the amateurs.

With my style I play a lot of hands, pick up a lot of chips early, and try and make it hard to read me. I’ll play 5-6, 6-7, and see a lot of flops. People will say, “How can you play those hands?” Well it’s not like I’m calling off all my chips with these hands. I’m seeing cheap flops and usually have the best of it when I get my chips in. If I’m playing 5-6 and the flop comes 3-4-7 and the other guy moves in with two Kings or two Queens , who made the mistake? After a raise, re-raise and another re-raise, they call and get caught with an overpair; they know their hand probably isn’t good but they show it and say how good they play or how unlucky they got.

You can play any type of hand preflop as long as you are careful with it; that’s how professionals play. There are a lot of players out there that only know how to play Aces, Kings and Queens , and most the time they misplay them anyhow. You have to gamble if you want to accumulate chips and win tournaments. Once I get a lot of chips I play like a monster and take control of the table.

PL: I noticed that you and your brother finished one/two in the $1,000 Limit Hold’em event at the Winning O’ the Green Tournament…

MIZRACHI: Yeah, it was the first time they had seen two brothers finish first and second in 33 years. I HAD to beat my brother or I would have never heard the end of it. It’s probably the last time we’ll ever be heads-up in a tournament and I played him as hard as I could. It wasn’t for a whole lot of money and we decided to play it at the last minute. It was a Limit tournament which are generally so boring compared to No-Limit ones, but I hit a lot of flops and he had the most big pairs of anyone I’d ever seen. He was beating me to death; every time I raised he’d raise AND have a big hand! Once we got heads up I started getting the cards and got back at him for earlier. It was one of the most fun times I’ve had in a tournament.

PL: Did any of the other players needle you guys at the final table?

MIZRACHI: Yeah, there was one guy, John Bonnetti – he was making a lot of jokes. He was like, “There’s no way I’m winning against two brothers”. He was a real funny guy.

PL: Who do you think are the toughest players on tour these days?

MIZRACHI: There are so many tough players, from online guys coming up; some pros include Kenna James, my friend Victor Ramdin just won the other day at Foxwoods, Erick Lindgren, Phil Ivey. My brother just placed second the other day, my friend Dan Lee just won a tourney, there’s just so many good players now. Alan Goering, Dave Williams, Gavin Smith, Barry Greenstein…

Right now the top 10 ranked players are all big names. We haven’t seen that in awhile. They play the most tournaments and have huge bankrolls.

PL: I noticed you in the crowd on the Aruba WPT broadcast, sweating Stacy Matuson…

MIZRACHI: Stacy is a great friend of mine from Florida . We started in poker at pretty much the same time. I was actually chip leader at that tourney for awhile…lost two coin flips and I was out.

PL: Obligatory Question: If you were Matt Damon in the movie “Rounders”, how long would it take you to kick your girlfriend to the curb and get with Famke Janssen?

MIZRACHI: Matt’s girlfriend isn’t even my type, so I would definitely have gotten with the brunette, she was much hotter. She would have been my move right away if I was Matt Damon. I’m not into blondes.

PL: Shana Hiatt or Courtney Friel?

MIZRACHI: I am actually much closer with Courtney Friel. Shana is a nice lady but I got along with Courtney right away. She seems much friendlier and is always saying Hi and coming to talk to me. So I’d have to go with Courtney.

PL: Would you want your kids to grow up to be poker pros?

MIZRACHI: If they’re good at it, yes. But if whatever career they choose makes them happy, that’s what makes me happy.

PL: What are you up to next?

MIZRACHI: I’m playing in the second season of High Stakes Poker for the first time yesterday and I did pretty well.

PL: Michael, thanks a lot and good luck in the future.

MIZRACHI: Thank you.

If you liked this interview please consider making a small donation, all proceeds will go toward my children’s college fund, Thanks.

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