Every successful poker player has at least one career defining moment.
For Owais Ahmed, that special moment took place between 1:30 and 3:00 am, during the early morning hours of June 30th.
Ahmed, a relatively unknown amateur poker player – albeit with a strong pedigree of previous tournament accomplishments -- faced one of poker’s most formidable foes. Michael “the Grinder” Mizrachi, the decorated $4 million man from last year’s WSOP and a living legend of the modern era, was but a few hands away for winning what would have been his second career gold bracelet.
Everything pointed to a Mizrachi victory. He enjoyed a 3 to 1 chip lead playing a limit format. He had his entire family on the rail cheering. And, truth be told – it was Mizrachi who had loads of experience in high-pressure tournament situations, playing for world titles.
But something crazy happened on the way to the Mizrachi’s victory celebration. The grind came to a screeching halt.
Using every ounce of willpower and bit of dexterity in his physical and mental reservoir, Ahmed blocked out everything and played the best poker of his life. He not only reversed his opponent’s momentous dash to the finish line, he actually drew even with Mizrachi in chips before ultimately overtaking his rival in the count. Once Mizrachi lost his chip lead, everything seemed to crumble. Like a leaky dam about to burst and flood the valley, there was no stopping the deluge of weight from Mizrachi’s dwindling stack once the momentum of the heads-up match was reversed.
Indeed, Ahmed seemed to scoop every key pot played during the final 90 minutes. When Mizrachi would get dealt two big pair, Ahmed ended up with three-of-a-kind. When Mizrachi seemed to have an emergency low to stop the siphoning of chips, the determined Ahmed would manage to catch a better low and scoop the pot.
In short, the poles of a poker tournament shifted – day spun into night for Mizrachi, while Ahmed basked in the glory at the dawn of an ever-apparent victory that was soon to come.
“Actually, when we started the match, it was like a 50 to 1 crowd advantage for Mizrachi,” Ahmed recalled afterward. “I had a chip disadvantage. The whole room felt really small, and it felt like it was me against the world….I meditated a little bit, and I said, you know -- I am just going to come out and play my A-game, and that is going to win me that bracelet. The crowd doesn’t matter. I put my glasses on, I was in my zone, and when I do that, I am as good as anyone in the world.”
Ahmed sure proved it. He ended up winning the Mixed High-Low Split championship, which is a combination of two popular forms of poker – Seven-Card Stud High-Low Split and Omaha High-Low Split.
Ahmed collected $255,959 for first place. He was also presented with this first WSOP gold bracelet. It was an overwhelming experience for Ahmed, who is originally from Pakistan and now resides in Orange Country, CA.
“I can’t believe it’s real, right now,” Ahmed said. “I played my heart out. I played my A-game and in the end, it all worked out for me. I’m ecstatic.”
Ahmed is a 27-year-old data warehouse analyst and a supply chain manager. He holds a college degree from UC-Irvine. He also attended film school at UCLA.
For Ahmed, being Pakistani-born was an extra source of pride. He noted that Pakistan has produced several champions in other forms of sport. But he also acknowledged that poker is not part of Pakistani culture the way it’s spread to many other countries, at least yet.
Alas, Pakistan is normally not a nation one associates with poker. To be fair, the nation has produced some very fine poker players, most notably former gold bracelet winner Hasan Habib.
And so, in what may have been the very first WSOP heads-up duel in history between two poker players with roots linked back to the Middle East, Ahmed prevailed in a wildly entertaining match that was everything a great poker showdown should be – both memorable and historic.
Postscript to this story: On Thursday afternoon, poker champion Owais Ahmed will take the WSOP main stage for his gold bracelet ceremony. He will join another WSOP winner from a previous event, named Ken Griffin -- who happens to be a former U.S. Marine. Griffin served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Illustrating that poker is a game that brings people together from all cultures and different backgrounds, the WSOP hopes to serve as a shining example of all the good things that are possible.
For a comprehensive recap of Event #47, including the official report, please visit WSOP.COM later.