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July 25, 2014

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WSOP:

Pros still smitten with WSOP Poker Players Championship in ninth year

Recent bracelet winner Robert Mizrachi among tough field in $50,000 buy-in event

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COURTESY OF WSOP

Robert Mizrachi poses with his second World Series of Poker bracelet, which he won Saturday June 20, 2014, in a $1,500 buy-in Dealer’s Choice tournament for a prize of $147,092 at the Rio.

WSOP Poker Player's Championship winners

  • 2013: Matt Ashton ($1.77 million)
  • 2012: Michael Mizrachi ($1.45 million)
  • 2011: Brian Rast ($1.72 million)
  • 2010: Michael Mizrachi ($1.55 million)
  • 2009: David Bach ($1.28 million)
  • 2008: Scotty Nguyen ($1.99 million)
  • 2007: Freddy Deeb ($2.28 million)
  • 2006: Chip Reese ($1.78 million)

The party ended early.

Seven hours after one of the top triumphs of his career, Robert Mizrachi retired to bed. The 35-year-old poker pro from Miami might have kept the celebration going later, raging on past an outing to Hakkasan, if he had won his second World Series of Poker bracelet on a different night.

But his victory in the Dealer’s Choice event for $147,092 came Saturday, and more than a third of his earnings were already tied up for Sunday. The $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship beckoned.

“I wanted to take my mind off of poker for a few hours,” Mizrachi said, “but then I had to get ready for this one.”

For the ninth straight year, the Poker Players Championship attracted a drove of the world’s best professionals when it began at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Rio. The event is no longer the nascent light of the WSOP schedule, but suddenly more like the adolescent staple.

The annual innovation of the WSOP schedule, with events like the $1 million buy-in Big One For One Drop and the record-breaking Millionaire Maker, seems to have taken some of the aura away from the Poker Players Championship.

The start of the tournament used to command noticeable pageantry, with crowds stacking up on the rail to watch players compete around the Chip Reese Trophy while television cameras roamed the premise.

Click to enlarge photo

Don Nguyen is seen through the David "Chip" Reese Trophy during the final table of the Poker Players Championship Thursday, July 4, 2013 at the Rio.

But ESPN won’t air any of the Poker Players Championship for a third straight year in 2014. The fanfare thinned Sunday, the trophy wasn’t on display and cards got in the air after a short address from Tournament Director Jack Effel.

“This is a very special event every year,” Effel said. “This event determines the best overall player.”

That’s all hopefuls like Mizrachi, whose younger brother Michael Mizrachi has famously won the Poker Players Championship twice, need to hear. It’s the tournament decorated professionals want to win the most because the eight-game mix means the eventual victor must prove they’re a strong all-around player for the entire five-day duration.

“It will always be special to me,” Robert Mizrachi said. “It’s still one of the most prestigious tournaments of the summer, but I don’t think there will be near as many people as the first time my brother won it.”

That remains to be seen, as late registration doesn’t close until Monday. Seventy players had entered the tournament through the first two levels of play — consisting of three hours and 20 minutes — Sunday night.

Michael Mizrachi beat out a field of 116 players in 2010, and 108 in 2012. Robert Mizrachi believes the presence of ESPN, which switched the final-table format to exclusively no-limit hold’em for television’s sake, brings a handful of extra participants.

But last year’s Poker Players Championship drew 132 players, more than each of the last two times it was shown on television. The event peaked with 148 players in 2007 and 2008, before it switched to the eight-game mix and featured a traditional five-game HORSE combination.

“The only way it ever gets back is if there’s TV again,” Robert Mizrachi said. “I think it should go back to all no-limit hold’em on the final table because more people show up thinking they don’t have to know the mixed games all that well.”

There are few, if any, soft spots in the tournament as it stands now. Two players who previously finished second in the Poker Players Championship, 2013’s Don Nguyen and 2007’s Bruno Fitoussi, were seated at Robert Mizrachi’s starting table along with respected veterans John Monnette, Jared Bleznick and Alan Kessler.

The table to the right featured three of the top four players in the world, according to the Global Poker Index, in No. 1 Vanessa Selbst, No. 3 Daniel Negreanu and No. 4 Scott Seiver. The player leading the World Series of Poker Player of the Year race by 100 points after winning two bracelets this summer, George Danzer, was also at the unofficial table of death.

Robert Mizrachi thought sharpening his skills in a number of games during the Dealer’s Choice event would prepare him well for the Poker Players Championship.

“But the level of players is a lot different,” he said. “It’s so much tougher.”

That’s why he dialed down the reveling, instead choosing to wake up at a semi-regular hour (Noon) and fitting in a workout before starting to chase the bracelet every professional wants.

The Poker Players Championship required his best.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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