No-Limit Hold'em (with Re-buys) Championship Location:
Rio, Las VegasBuy-in:
$1,000Number of Entries:
826 Total Prize Money:
"Playing poker is great. But education is far more important. My parents made me stay in school and complete my degree. Afterward, I made the move to become a poker player."
-- Mike Gracz (2005 WSOP Champion -- $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em)
Michael Gracz was born in Warsaw, Poland. His family immigrated to the United States when he was a child, and he learned the importance of education early. His mother arrived in the US to pursue post-doctoral studies and she eventually became a fully-tenured university professor. His father was a physical therapist. He also happened to be a poker player.
"When I was a teenager, I used to watch my father play. He wouldn't let me play, but I could watch," Gracz recalled. In later years, "I found a low-limit game with these older guys and I used to take my paycheck there and lose it every week. I guess losing inspired me to learn how to play the game better. I went out and bought books and got proficient to the point where I could beat them."
When Gracz enrolled as a student at North Carolina State, he began playing poker regularly. Eventually, he was spending more time at the tables than studying or going to class. "My mother kicked me in the butt and told me I needed to stay in school and finish my degree in finance. Then, after I graduated, I started playing in tournaments, and now - here I am."
Indeed, barely out of college and 24 years of age, Mike Gracz had a tournament win just a few months ago and has now aced the world's most challenging competition.
There were 826 entries and 1,495 re-buys in this event. The total prize pool amounted $2,201,630 - the second event thus far which has exceeded $2 million. The final table composition included two former gold bracelet winners (David "the Dragon" Pham and Meng La), and one television celebrity (Phil Gordon, commentator of "Celebrity Poker Showdown"). The chip leader was poker tournament veteran Chuck Thompson. Players were eliminated as follows:
9th Place: Meng La, $44,035
Meng La arrived as the shortest stack and didn't last long. He was down to 40,000 in chips and moved in with K-Q, which was topped by C.T. Law's A-8. The ace-high played and La was out. Meng La, who was born in Cambodia, won a WSOP gold bracelet in the $1,500 buy-in limit hold'em event in 2002.
8th Place: Phil Gordon, $66,055
A short time later, Phil Gordon got axed with a bad beat. The TV commentator was dealt pocket aces and played a 200,000 pot with David Pham, holding 10-10. A ten on the turn crushed Gordon's hopes of winning his first gold bracelet. Gordon, who is the co-founder of the charity "Put a Bad Beat on Cancer," has worked tirelessly to promote the cause within the poker community. Hopefully, his final table appearance will spark more interest and player donations to this worthy cause.
7th Place: Pascal Perrault, $88,070
C.T. Law took the chip lead when he hammered Parisian poker player, Pascal Perrault. On Perrault's final hand, he showed top pair with eights, which was stripped by Law's nut flush. Perrault became the first player this year to make two final table appearances. He finished 10th in the Omaha High-Low Split tournament (Event #5) a few days ago.
6th Place: Shae Drobashevich, $110,090
Shae Drobashevich went out next. He was getting low on chips and moved in with A-6, which was dominated by C.T. Law's A-Q. A six failed to leap from the deck and rescue Drobashevich, which meant a 6th-place finish. "DB," as he prefers to be called, is a graduate of the University of Chicago (fittingly, in economics).
5th Place: Shane Schleger, $132,110
Shane Schleger described himself as a semi-professional poker player. He admits to holding several "ditch digging jobs" in the past. But Schleger won't be working for minimum wage anytime soon. He went out next (with K-J) when he tried to bluff Mike Gracz, who made an gutsy call on a river bet with no pair, ace-high.
4th Place: David "the Dragon" Pham, $154,125
David "the Dragon" Pham got torched when he put 140,000 into the pot with A-5 after the flop came A=Q=8. C.T. Law had pocket eights and flopped a set. That pretty much extinguished the Dragon's hopes of victory. Pham won the mixed game S.H.O.E. event at the 2001 WSOP.
3rd Place: Chuck Thompson, $176,145
If any player has paid his dues in poker, it's Chuck Thompson. The 66-year-old veteran of many tournament wars was making a bid to win his first gold bracelet. Cheered on by his two sons in the audience, Thompson arrived at the final table as chip leader. But after losing half of his stack in the first few hours, Thompson was never able to use his depth of experience to his advantage. On his final hand, Thompson's A-J was smashed by Mike Gracz's pocket eights when the board showed A-K-8-K-9.
Runner up: Cheung Tai Law, $311,555
Runner-up Cheung Tai ("C.T.") Law is a Hong Kong-born restaurant owner who now lives in northeastern England. He is married and has four children.
The heads-up duel between Mike Gracz and C.T. Law was memorable in many ways. It had just about everything needed to enter the long legacy of legendary final tables in the 36-year history of the WSOP. Play lasted nearly three hours. The chip lead changed at least seven times. In fact, both players were in peril at various times and just when it looked as though the night would end, a dramatic hand would return lost chips and restore faith.
Law demonstrated certain tendencies, which Gracz identified and used effectively to his advantage. When Law missed, he often bet out small on the river, trying to steal the pot. Gracz called frequently (with nothing) and won a number of 100,000 pots, which added up significantly as the night went on. There were key hands as well, such as Gracz's straight, which took half of Law's stack. Gracz won another big pot when he turned a baby flush (4-3 suited, matching three suits on board) and cracked Law's big pair.
The final hand came when Law and Gracz got into a raising war after the flop came J=8=5. Law had Q-J and called an all-in re-raise (with top pair). Gracz was making a grandstand play, holding second pair. Law was in the lead and it looked like another swing back in forth in chips. Then, Gracz was dealt a third 8. There was still one card to come. Later, Gracz was asked when he first knew he might win the tournament. "When the (blank) six of clubs fell on the river," Gracz replied. Indeed, the final card failed to resurrect Law and Gracz was the victor.
1st Place: Mike Gracz, $594,460
The winner was Mike Gracz. He is 24 years old and currently lives in Raleigh, NC. Gracz has now won a whopping $3 million in tournament poker this year. Despite the staggering amount of prize money and his recent millionaire status, Gracz's appreciation for the historical significance of the World Series of Poker gold bracelet was both respectful and refreshing.
"I was playing for the bracelet. The ambiance around the World Series is something very special. To have the gold bracelet on my wrist is something I would give up all this money for. That's how much this bracelet means to me."
View final results.
Tournament reporting by Nolan Dalla / worldseriesofpoker.com