Money more important than bracelets?


"There are two kinds of poker players: Those who have bracelets and those who don't." -- Phil Gordon, who does not have a bracelet.

"Money before bracelets." -- Michael "Grinder" Mizrachi.

Looking at the above quotes, there's a generational divide evident in the attitude toward poker's most prized possession. Gordon's quote reflects an attitude formed in a time when any truly great player could expect to win a bracelet. The fields were smaller, and the world far less educated about the intricacies of the game.

Mizrachi, who is still just 27 despite seemingly being around forever, reflects a new poker world philosophy. Yes, the bracelet is still valuable, but never as much as the cash that comes with it. The fields are massive, the players well-read, and the inability to survive dozens of hard tournament moments hardly confirms weakness. Being without a bracelet just isn't the big deal it used to be.


On Tuesday, ESPN will broadcast the final table of the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha world championship, an event whose final table featured the mighty Mizrachi along with fellow bracelet-less pro Kido Pham. Bravado notwithstanding, everyone wants a bracelet, even the Grinder. The steady stream of established pros finally winning their first bracelets was a major ongoing storyline in the 2008 World Series of Poker, and there's little doubt he wanted his name among theirs.

Take a look at the guys who finally notched their respective first bracelets in 2008 (without spoiling Tuesday's show):

  • Nenad Medic: Considered amongst the best no-limit cash players in the world, he had a WPT win under his belt.

  • David Singer: The two-time final-table finisher in the $50,000 HORSE event and his wife welcomed a son less than 24 hours after finally winning his bracelet.

  • Erick Lindgren: The eventual Player of the Year had two WPT wins, and was considered by many the best to have never taken the hardware.

  • Kenny Tran: California's street-smart monster has never prioritized the WSOP's prestige.

  • Phil Galfond: One of online poker's true stars, Galfond should have many bracelets when all is said and done.

  • John "Razor" Phan: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Phan finally broke through for his first bracelet win, then broke through for his second a week later.

  • Rob Hollink: The European dynamo and former EPT champ became Holland's first bracelet winner.

  • Dario Minieri: One of the game's true rising stars, Dario used his unadulterated aggression to earn his first bracelet.

  • David Benyamine: The Big Game mainstay and online star showed the world he's truly one of the game's elite.

  • J.C. Tran: The best no-limit tournament player in the world? Hard to say, but finally earning his first bracelet contributes to his side of the discussion.

… and there were others. Vanessa Selbst, Rep Porter, Matt Keikoan … one after another, seasoned pros took advantage of improved tournament structures to take titles, tearing massive holes in old lists of the best to never get the gold. Guys like me who build such lists are going to have to start all over again next year.

Who's left? The debates over who are the top players without a bracelet remain for another day. With WSOP Europe and the November Nine still waiting in the wings, we don't know who will still be lacking come June 2009. There are a few names, though -- barring sudden developments in London's WSOP events -- who are certain to make the rounds. None of these folks have a bracelet to their name:

  • Patrik Antonius: "God" on the lips and in the hearts of online players the world over, Patrik has a poor WSOP track record because of a lack of interest in lower-buy-in events. Will a bracelet bet finally win him over?

  • Michael Binger: Third place in the 2006 main event and an eight-time money-finisher in 2007, Binger is still looking for that first WSOP victory to take his place among the tournament elite.

  • Andy Bloch: Poker's eternal bridesmaid, Bloch "should" have won his first at the inaugural $50K HORSE event in 2006, only to have Chip Reese survive five all-ins. Bloch is going to break through eventually; the question is when he'll finally get that monkey off his back.

  • Tom Dwan: It may be a little early to put Dwan on this list. After all, he's only been eligible to play in the WSOP for one year. Still, the next big thing is going to be talked about no matter what, so his name might as well be included here.

  • Gus Hansen: The Great Dane has dominated in other venues and has finally started turning in some solid WSOP results. He's still sans hardware, though.

  • Nam Le: Among the most consistent tournament players in the world, Le has the ability to perform no matter the stakes. He's come close a number of times, and the victory by close friend J.C. Tran should serve as inspiration.

Will Mizrachi's name be on those lists? Will Kido Pham's? On Tuesday night, we'll take a big step toward answering those questions. Tune in to ESPN's broadcast of the pot-limit Omaha world championships for those answers.

The $10,000 pot-limit Omaha event airs Tuesday from 8-10 p.m. Complete TV information.

Gary Wise is a regular contributor to espn.com. You can read more of his thoughts on poker in his blog at www.wisehandpoker.net.