After defeating 102 players in the Dealers Choice Championship, John Racener dedicates his first bracelet win to his late mother
June 11, 2017 (Las Vegas, NV) - When the final card of the $10,000 Dealers Choice Championship was dealt, John Racener ran to his rail and celebrated with the supporters. His biggest supporter couldn't be there in person, but the Florida poker pro knew that she was watching down on him.
Racener defeated a 102-player field to win his first World Series of Poker bracelet and $273,962 in the early hours of Sunday morning.
After he had officially won the tournament, he took off his hoodie to reveal a plain white t-shirt with "For Mom" written in black marker. Racener dedicated the win to his mother, who passed away four years ago from liver cancer.
"I always said to myself that I wanted to win my first bracelet for my mom," said Racener. "She's always been my biggest fan, and she still is from up above. No matter what time of the day it was back home, with three-hour time span, she would always stay up and sweat me online all night. Even if she had to get up for work at eight a.m. She would stay up and sweat me until she had to go to work. I just really wanted to win the first one for her."
Racener became a household name in the poker world when he finished runner-up in the 2010 WSOP Main Event. It was one of the first years of the November Nine. She was diagnosed during the layover between Day 7 and the final table, but didn't want to let anything keep Racener from playing his best at the final table.
"During the November Nine layover, she found out she had cancer and she didn't tell me until after," said the 31-year-old pro. "That's how much she cared about me. She didn't want me to be all upset or lose focus. She wanted me to just be in the best spot I could be to do well in the Main Event."
Following the final table and his more than $5.5 million score, they went out to dinner and she broke the news to her son.
"For three or four months, only one person knew," said Racener. "She didn't want to tell anybody. That's how much she cared about me and loved me. She just wanted it to be all about me."
During the years after the diagnosis, she moved in with her son and was taken care of by both Racener and his sister. Having lost their father six years earlier to Alzheimer's disease, the siblings did their best to take care of their mother in her time of need.
"She lived in my back house when she was sick," he said. "And even though I would go play poker, my sister would watch her. And then I'd come home and watch her. We just did everything we could for her. It just got to the point where she didn't want to live that way anymore."
Since the time of his mother's passing, Racener had several final tables and close calls at his first bracelet win. This year, however, he decided he was going to have a change in mindset. He was going to make it happen this summer.
"I said to myself coming out here this year that I'm going to bring some white t-shirts. I'm going to bring a magic marker and I'm going to write 'For Mom' on the shirt," said Racener. "First final table I make, I'm going to write 'For Mom' on it, and I bet you I'm going to win that tournament if I do that."
His plan worked perfectly.
After a grueling, eight-hour final table, Racener eliminated the final three players in a span of 10 hands. He denied Viacheslav Zhukov his third bracelet in heads-up match that lasted just one hand. He eliminated Chris Klodnicki in third and Dennis Eichorn in fourth. In seemingly a blink of an eye, an event that looked like it was going to need an extra day belonged to Racener.
"I've been wanting this forever," said the Tampa native. "I've got so many seconds and thirds. I have over $10 million in earnings, but no gold. I've just been wanting to win so bad. I didn't even look at the prizepool. I didn't even know what first place was. I just wanted to win the bracelet. It's all I really care about."
Along with denying Zhukov his third bracelet, Racener forced Mike Matusow to wait at least one more tournament to walk out of the Rio with his fifth. Matusow hit the rail in fifth place, but made his way back to the tournament area upon hearing the news that Racener took it down.
"You played great," said Matusow to Racener. "You didn't make any mistakes."
Coincidentally, that's what Racener sets out to do every time he sits down at the table.
"I pride my game around making no mistakes," said Racener. "Trying to always get it in with the best hand, trying to never miss a bet, trying to always get that extra bet in. That's just how I play. People know that about me and I don't really recall a mistake I made at the final table. Every time I got these guys all in, I had the best hand. And then I won the flip at the end."
To the casual poker fan, they may think of Racener only in terms of no-limit hold'em. With his biggest score coming in the game, it makes sense, but to those who follow the game a bit closer, they know that he is a force to be reckoned with in any variant of the game.
There aren't a ton of mixed games in his home state, but he learned solid fundamentals online that he hasn't forgotten.
"Everyone who actually knows me, they know that I'm a great all-around player and a great mixed game player," said Racener. "The truth of the matter is that I only play mixed games here. All year round I play no-limit and PLO back home. That's it. Even my closest friends say 'How do you always do so good in the mixed events out there? You don't play them all year.' But when online poker was here, I used to do it all the time and those things don't leave my mind."
It took more than just a good baseline of fundamentals to come out on top of one of the tougher events on the schedule. With his revamped mindset towards making success happen, he did something he doesn't generally do before a final day.
"I really prepared today. I don't usually study or look up notes on anybody. I had everything written down of all their good games and bad games," said Racener as he pulled out a piece of paper that was covered in notes. "Like I said, when it was on me, it was hard to pick a game because they were all playing good."
When it came to picking games when it was his turn, Racener tried to pick games that he saw people making mistakes in and also games with lower variance.
"Everyone knows this about my game, I'm not really volatile at all," said Racener. "So, I wanted to make sure I was picking a game I wasn't goin got go broke in because I knew they would have to just drag me down and win like five to 10 pots off me. Scoop pots to beat me."
As the blinds got bigger and the stacks got shorter, they couldn't drag him down and in two consecutive hands of no-limit hold'em, he eliminated Klodnicki and Zhukov to put a smile on his biggest fan.
"She is happy as hell right now," said Racener. "So is my dad up there."
Final Table Results:
1st: John Racener - $273,962
2nd: Viacheslav Zhukov - $169,323
3rd: Chris Klodnicki - $117,786
4th: Dennis Eichorn - $83,263
5th: Mike Matusow - $59,827
6th: Schuyler Thornton - $43,707