Commentary

John Racener successful from the start

Updated: October 15, 2010, 2:51 PM ET
By Bernard Lee | ESPN.com

Can you name the 2010 November Niner from the following list of characteristics?
• Male poker player in his 20's
• Been playing poker professionally for last several years
• Resides in Florida
• Extremely supportive mother
• Chip leader at one point during the 2010 WSOP main event

Easy answer, right? Well, it's not as easy as you might think. I'm sure many of you immediately thought of Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, but you need a little more information to pinpoint the answer, because another 2010 November Niner fits the description perfectly. His name is John Racener.

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The 24-year-old burst onto the live poker scene in December 2006. Just hours after turning 21 years old, Racener entered his first live tournament, the $5,000 WSOP Circuit main event in Atlantic City.

"Within 12 hours of being eligible, I was already right on center stage playing in my first major event," Racener recalled.

He made the most of that first opportunity, finishing an impressive third out of 237 players and earning $103,257. With that, the Floridia native made an immediate impact on the world of poker.

"It was an exciting feeling to have my family and friends following me," he said of that first appearance. "I really wanted to make the final table to have my name jump out into the public."

This was not an inexperienced young poker player making a fairytale run. Although this was Racener's first live tournament, he had been grinding online for years. Initially, Racener turned his first $50 into $30,000, playing low stake cash games and sit-and-gos.

[+] EnlargeJohn Racener
AP Photo/Laura RauchJohn Racener will enter the final table fourth in chips.

"I slowly grinded up from low stakes and consistent won day after day," he said. "Using my bankroll management, I gradually moved up in stakes and buy-ins, and after six-to-nine months I built my initial deposit up to over $30,000."

The source of his initial deposit may surprise most people.

"My mom and dad have always been supportive throughout my life," he said. "I would always able to go to them if I needed anything. So I asked my mom to use her credit card for my first deposit, and she agreed. I am so very thankful and fortunate to have the support of my family and friends right from the beginning."

With the blessing of his family and a major final table appearance under his belt, Racener gained the confidence to join the poker circuit to test his abilities against the best players in the world.

Racener's decision was rewarded with a successful 2007 campaign. During the first half of the year, he had eight cashes, including three final tables, and earned over $280,000. After experiencing a slight dry spell during the second half of the year, he anxiously returned to the place of his initial success, the WSOP Circuit main event in Atlantic City. With memories of success in his mind, Racener had a vision that includeda repeat appearance at the final table.

After two solid days of play, Racener did not disappoint and made the final table for the second year in a row. With his confidence brimming, he set his sights on finishing higher than he did in 2006.

"I thought that my opponents would fear me heading into the final table since I made it last year," he said. "I was trying to finish what I started last year."

After battling a tough final table, which included 2009 November Nine alumni Eric Buchman, Racener completed his mission by capturing the title that eluded him the year before. As an added bonus, the $379,392 paycheck that he earned almost doubled his career earnings.

A win under his belt, Racener jumped right back into the tournament circuit, but his early success was hard to replicate because his start was simply incredible.

"After my win, I was very confident that I couldn't be out played, and I could always outplay my opponents," he said. "But during the next couple of years, I may have tried to make too many tricky moves at the wrong times."

With his increased bank account, Racener began to enjoy life on the road as a young man in his early 20s.

"I had more money that most people my age, and I wanted to enjoy myself," Racener said. " I partied a lot late into the night, even before tournaments. Looking back, I wasn't mentally prepared for every event."

Although Racener still had some success during the 2008 and 2009 campaigns which included a couple of WSOP final tables, he came to realize that his lifestyle may have been contributing to his lack of success. Having enjoyed the past couple of years, Racener decided he wanted more out of his poker career. Therefore, heading into the 2010 WSOP, Racener decided to rededicate himself to poker.

Although he still occasionally goes out with friends while on tour, Racener no longer partakes in the festivities the night before events. He decided to get back to his initial poker roots and play the style that made him so successful during his first 13 months.

"I decided that I was going to play like I did when I was 21," Racener said. "It doesn't matter what my hole cards are. I'm going to be unique and represent certain big hands that my opponents can't call."

He kept to this strategy throughout the WSOP and finally his persistence paid off. By making the 2010 November Nine, he certainly made the right decision.

"I held nerves of steel and it felt just like when I was 21 when I was winning," he said. "I played great. All my moves were working and I was piling up chips and after eight days, I turned it into the main event table."

Fourth in chips, Racener will be in great shape to turn the biggest night of his life into potentially a fond memory. He's shared the experience with his good friend Mizrachi, and the two have become even closer as they've shared the hiatus before the final table together. The two continue to share many similarities, but Racener is looking for one glaring item to put on the list above that would truly separate the two: 2010 WSOP main event champion.

Bernard Lee is the official spokesperson of Foxwoods Resort and Casino. Lee is the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal, weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and radio host of "The Bernard Lee Poker Show."

Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com and the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including three poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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