If there were no such thing as Michael Mizrachi, the past four months of November Nine headlines would have been dominated by John Racener. Overshadowed to some extent by Mizrachi's media funnel cloud, Racener has had to settle for the supporting role under the secondary spotlight. Chances are he's content with that, however, and his chip stack of 19,050,000 puts him in fourth place and just a pot away from striking.
Racener is a 24-year-old Full Tilt Poker Red Pro from Port Richey, Florida. Around the age of 16, poker was added into the mix of his after-school hobbies that included sports of all sorts. Within a year, his initial $50 had turned into more than $30,000, and that was enough to capture his parents' support and get them on board without too much of a hassle. After finishing his arts degree at Florida Southern University, poker began to consume most of his time.
Racener's professional poker career was off the ground before he ever had a chance to stop it. While celebrating his 21st birthday in Atlantic City, his first-ever live tournament earned him a six-figure score and third-place at the WSOP Circuit Main Event. That was in the winter of 2006, and he immediately topped that performance by winning the Circuit ring in the same city almost exactly one year later. That hot start allowed him to quickly matriculate to the $10,000 events of the WPT and the WSOP, his real aspiration. He cashed twice at the WSOP in Las Vegas in 2007, then went on to final-table the now-defunct $2,500 Omaha/Stud Hi-Lo event in 2008. He cashed four more times in four different games in 2009, and his four cashes in 2010 have given him his most profitable year yet with two days of poker still to play. In the November Nine downtime, he went to London and final-tabled the £5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event at the WSOP-E, bringing his career cashes in bracelet events to 12.
The November Nine prize money has already pushed Racener over the $2 million mark in career earnings with potential for some more steep climbing in the coming days. If he wins this Main Event, he'll move all the way up to 11th on the all-time money list. That doesn't even count his endeavors online where he's racked up more than $1 million in winnings, including a win in the $500,000 Guarantee on PokerStars ("$30K") and a third-place finish in the Full Tilt Poker $750,000 Guarantee ("POCKET FIVE") in 2009. It's Mizrachi everyone's talking about right now, but it might be all-Racener all the time come Monday.
How He Got There
Racener's Main Event was relatively sluggish through middle stages. "Methodical" would be a better way to put it. It was when things really heated up and decisions mattered most that Racener began to really make a charge. After a good, steady push through the late stages of Day 5 and 6, it was a little luck that really put him on the tournament's radar. A short-stacked Manig Loeser went with , and Racener reshoved his right into John May's . The ladies love John Racener, though, and the on the flop gave him the double knockout and the chip lead with 4.5 million and 176 players left.
Racener was in third place to start Day 7 behind Mizrachi and chip leader Theo Jorgensen. That changed quickly, though, as a big pot unfolded during the first level of the day. Duy Le raised with , and Racener three-bet with his fun . Le called a continuation bet after he flopped top set on , and Racener's aggression got him a free card as they check-checked the turn. That free river gave Racener the winning straight, and he extracted more chips from Le to move to 8.5 million and back into the lead. With 57 players left, Racener cracked Matt Harris' with in a preflop all in. The board ran a dramatic to send the knockout pot to Racener, giving him the big stack of 10.21 million chips once again.
He was around that mark in eighth place overall with 27 players left as they returned for Day 8. By the time they got down to two tables, though, Racener had more than doubled that stack to 22.47 million in second place behind Pascal LeFrancois. He proceeded to eliminate crowd-favorite Hasan Habib in 14th place when his finally put Habib's to pasture after a marathon short-stacked performance. Racener doubled up Mizrachi shortly thereafter, then went on to utter the quotable "No fear, Racener's here" line after dragging a bluffy pot against Matthew Jarvis.
Racener's final trends were a bit down, however, as he lost a bit of ground during the drama of the ten-handed November Nine bubble. It was Filippo Candio's that did about 8.8 million chips' worth of damage to Racener's , but the night was over a few hands later with plenty of chips tucked safely in Racener's bag.
What to Watch For
The earlier mention of Racener living in the shadow of Michael Mizrachi for the last four months may well have been a good situation for him in the end. Already a sponsored pro, there have been plenty of marketing opportunities and interviews for Racener, but he hasn't had to deal with the full brunt and scrutiny of being the proverbial "face" of the final table. For all of his accomplishments, Racener is just a couple of years removed from college and is more soft-spoken and reserved than his table image would suggest. In short, he should be in a comfortable, pressure-free place right now -- as pressure free as one could be in this spot, at least.
His position is a favorable one, and Racener has been taking extra steps to ensure that he's mentally fit. He's been working with a mindset coach to get himself prepared and projecting a proper attitude. Since July, Racener has sounded consistently relaxed and confident -- and, well, normal in his interviews. You'd never know he was playing for $8.9 million if you had talked to him a week ago, and it could be another big benefit if that cool, collected persona shows up on game day.
Racener will begin the final table in fourth place with 19,050,000 chips in front of him, and that'll give him 38 big blinds with which to do some damage. He has a lot of final-table experience working in his corner, and a lot of big-time final-table experience at that. He's obviously never been in a spot quite so grand as this one, but he and Mizrachi are really the only two players left who know what it's like to sit down on a big stage and play for a trophy. And it's Racener with the advantage in chip stack right now.
Alongside experience, position seems to be working in Racener's favor this weekend. He is in the seven seat, and he has the two chip leaders on his general right in the three and four seats. It also gives him position on the five seat, Michael Mizrachi, something that may end up being a big factor in how the table plays out. It's obviously very hard to predict how this one will go, but if the chips move clockwise around the table, Racener stands to benefit from the chair he's in. List the volatile Italian, Candio, as a potential wild card; he'll be on Racener's direct left.