About 6 years ago, an 18 year-old kid with the handle, Michael34, was cleaning up in the $5-10 Limit Holdem games on ParadisePoker. He would play two tables at a time, sometimes taking in a profit of more than $1,000 in one day—not bad for a kid.

You can’t find the boy, Michael34, at the tables anymore, but you don’t have to look hard to find the man into which he’s grown. Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi is a force to be reckoned with—a machine, as he puts it—and he’s claiming his spot amongst the best. He has won prizes of just under $300k twice in the past 3 months, taking first in the Bellagio $2,000 buy-in NLHE event and finishing 5th in the WPT $10,000 buy-in in Tunica.

I met Michael in Tunica about a week ago, fresh off his 5th place finish, and I got the opportunity to chat with him on the phone a few days later. I wanted to know how he’d elevated his game to the point where he was able to make the final tables in the biggest tournaments.

“I always thought I was at that level, but I just had to come out," he told me. "I live in Florida, so it’s tough to travel to tournaments, but I always thought I could compete with the best, and I think I’m at an even higher level than most of these other players you see winning.” He’s not alone in these thoughts—I’ve received numerous emails about what a tremendous player he is.

He informed me in our phone conversation that his biggest win online was about $30,000, which he’d done a few times. Later that day, he won the $500k Guaranteed $500+30 buy-in on PokerStars, and after the money was divvied up based on a 5-way chop the players had agreed on, The Grinder received a hefty sum of $89,020. Are you convinced yet? I know I am…

The Grinder has even bigger aspirations for 2005, namely to be Player of the Year. He’s struggled at times with bad beats, as have most of us, but he believes that he can fight through them, and that if he can make it to enough tournaments, he can win the coveted award. Tournament poker could be placed on the back burner at times this year, however, as Michael is now the proud father of his first son, Paul William Mizrachi. Family always comes first for him, and if that means missing some of the biggest tournaments in 2005 to be with his wife and son in their Hollywood, FL home, he will gladly make that sacrifice.

So why is he so good? The reports on him say he’s one of the tightest players around, but he says that all depends on what type of game he’s in. “I adjust and adapt to what’s going on in my game,” he said. “They [those reporting he is tight] only saw the hands I got all my money in with at the Bellagio. I pretty much always get all my money in with the best of it.”

He depends on superb reads of his opponents’ hands, and he plays super aggressive poker, never allowing an opponent to draw for free. He picks up tells as well as anyone, and he plays confidently in response to these reads. I asked him how he adjusts this style to online play. “Online, the only way you can pick up tells is to type in the notes or know people’s styles,” he claimed. “Players use those auto-raise or check/fold buttons, and sometimes that’s a good thing to pay attention to. I don’t have many notes, because I almost always play the same players, so it’s easy for me to remember how they all play.”

The Grinder fears no one, saying that the only people he avoids at the tables are his friends. He does have a great deal of respect for a few of his opponents at PokerStars, where he usually plays. He finds Exclusive (Noah Boeken) and TheBeat (Peter Giordano) to be among the toughest tournament players, and he is also impressed with the play of up-and-comer JohnnyBax.

He still occasionally plays on Paradise, though under a different name, and he plays fairly regularly on PartyPoker. His main place is PokerStars, though, where he believes he is one of the top five all-time money winners. His favorite games there are the $100/200 Limit Holdem and the $5,000 sit-n-go’s. His wife sometimes plays $30/60 on his account as well.

The last thing I asked Mike was what he would suggest to all the young internet players who aspire for greatness in poker, a category he fell into until pretty recently. “The more you play, the better you get,” he said. “I just watched excellent players and saw how they played. Track them down and watch them every day, and that’s the way you’ll learn, and that’s the way you’ll get better.”

Sounds like pretty good advice from the 24 year-old poker superstar. If you want to watch an excellent player, just look for Mike.

MichaelMizrachi plays as The Grinderon PokerStars andPartyPoker.