Who is Eli Elezra?
Eli Elezra, an Israeli poker professional and businessman, has made quite a name for himself in both pursuits.
Also known as “Mr. Vegas” and “Wizard”, 57-year-old Elezra was born and raised in Jerusalem, and he currently resides in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas. In addition to starting several successful Vegas-based businesses, Elezra has three World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets and one World Poker Tour (WPT) championship. He’s also made several final tables and enjoyed a number of money finishes. In total, Elezra has earned an impressive ten career titles, 78 career cashes, and over $3.1 million in tournament winnings.
In this article we’ll take a closer look at Elezra’s interesting past, which including a successful stint in the elite Israeli Defense Force, his journey to the US, and his impressive success both on and off the felt.
Elezra’s impressive military career
After high school, Elezra sought to join the Israeli military, but not just any military: the Israeli Defense Force’s Golani Brigade–one of the most elite military units in the world.
After spending three weeks in prison for refusing to comply with military orders to serve in the country’s air force, Elezra passed the requisite tests, and worked his way up to lieutenant in this most highly decorated infantry unit.
However, a leg injury sustained during the 1982 Lebanon War sidelined Elezra’s military career and so, after his discharge, he moved to the United States.
Coming to the U.S.
Elezra initially moved to Alaska in search of big money for tough and dirty work–specifically, gutting fish for $8,000 per month. Elezra later worked as a taxi driver before purchasing and running a convenience store.
It was in the US that he began playing poker with his friends and coworkers. In 1988, Elezra moved to Las Vegas with his sister and brother-in-law to take advantage of the myriad business opportunities that the “city that never sleeps” had to offer. After purchasing a small film processing business on the famed Las Vegas Strip, he began playing poker at the nearby Stardust Casino.
Elezra continued to invest in commercial property and open new businesses. Today, he owns more than 20 retail businesses in Las Vegas.
Eli Elezra’s poker life
While building his business empire Elezra also began playing poker more seriously, and by the late 1990s he was a fixture in local tournaments. Then, at his first WSOP appearance in 1999, he made the final table in both the $2,000 Limit Hold’Em and $2,500 Limit Omaha events. Elezra continued to build on his successes with a final table finish at the 2001 WSOP $2,000 Limit Hold’Em event and a ninth place finish in a 2003 $2,500 Limit Hold’Em event.
In 2004, an Israeli film crew documented Elezra’s journey in the WSOP Main Event, in which he finished 170th. To this day, Elezra wonders what might have happened if he hadn’t folded pocket nines to Greg Raymer’s preflop three-bet with A-K. The flop would have given Elezra a set, but Raymer went on to win the tournament. Despite that disappointment, Elezra went on to earn his biggest win that year, a cool $1 million in the WPT’s $10,000 No-Limit Hold-em main event at the Mirage.
Much of Elezra’s success can be attributed to his confidence. In fact, he once bet $25,000 with 10:1 odds against Barry Greenstein that he’d win a bracelet at the 2007 WSOP. And he did just that.
Eli Elezra: television star
He reminisces fondly about the origins of High Stakes Poker, when he and poker juggernauts Chip Reese, Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, Barry Greenstein and Doyle Brunson were approached in Bellagio’s Bobby’s Room by poker-pro-turned-producer Mori Eskandani, who wanted to televise their regular game. About that encounter Elezra said, “In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined that it would make me as famous as I am.”
Ultimately, High Stakes Poker ran for seven seasons and attracted numerous other well-known poker stars. Eskandani also produced Poker After Dark, another successful and long-running foray into the world of high-stakes poker.
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In 2017, Israeli poker pros Matan Krakow and Yoay Ronel, penned Elezra’s biography, entitled אגדת פוקר (“Poker Legend”). (This book is currently only available in Hebrew, but TwoPlusTwo is working on an English version.)
Elezra is aptly characterized as a “legend.” He continues to play poker almost daily, but he also works to manage his businesses and spends quality time with his family. Indeed, Elezra doesn’t even consider himself a poker pro. He is quick to say that he’s a family man first, a successful businessman second, and a poker player third.
Elezra calls his wife Hila his “biggest supporter,” with whom he has five children. Hila frequently sits behind him during tournaments, and together they analyze losing hands—in Hebrew, of course.
Unpaid Debt Allegations
Allegations of Elezra owing money to various people in the poker community came up in a recent Two Plus Two thread promoting Elezra’s new biography. The English version of book, titled Pulling the Trigger, was published by Two Plus Two book publishing division in January 2019.
Elezra opened himself up for questions in this Ask Me Anything thread on the poker forum, and several members began asking questions about Elezra’s alleged outstanding debts to other players:
The questions refer to rumors about Elezra owing money to Shaun Deeb and others, with some of that material coming from this Two Plus Two thread, and this Crush Live Poker podcast. Elezra responded by addressing the Deeb allegations and the rumors of his debts in general:
Elezra states that he always pays off his debts and that rumors of him owing money to multiple people for poker-related debts are “false.”
Within two hours of those responses from Elezra, Cole South, a high-stakes regular and Full Tilt Poker pro in the pre-Black Friday era, weighed in. Known as “cts” on the forums, South alleged that Elezra still owes him $40k from 2011:
Elezra doesn’t immediately respond to this post from South, but Two Plus Two owner Mason Malmuth addresses the situation and assures the forum that, as the publisher of the English version of the book, the situation is being investigated internally:
Elezra does respond a few hours later, addressing Cole directly and welcoming him to contact Elezra privately and resolve the situation:
Elezra then spends the next hour answering questions from the thread not related to the alleged debts, and the above post is his only direct response to the allegations from South.
A few hours later we get a response from South, who says he’s contacted Elezra numerous times in the past five years to try to collect on the debt, and South includes a screen shot of a text message exchange with Elezra from 2012:
That post is the last we hear from either South or Elezra in the thread, and the thread was taken down for a time before being restored and locked from further posting.
Doug Polk gives us his thoughts on the thread in this episode of Poker News, and includes that he reached out to Deeb to get his perspective on the situation. Polk says that Deeb told him “payments have been irregular, and he has not been fully paid”, in regards to the money that Elezra allegedly owes Deeb.
With the Two Plus Two thread that spawned this discussion now locked, it remains to be seen if any further public interaction involving Elezra, South and/or Deeb takes place.
Eli Elezra on the felt
While some poker pros are renowned for some their personality, an uncanny ability to read other players or a certain playing style, there is really no single defining characteristic for Elezra except for a calm and unassuming demeanor. Win or lose, he always seems to be the same quiet, thoughtful guy.
Elezra versus David Peat
Here’s an entertaining hand with bonus commentary by Upswing Poker’s own Doug Polk. And it has a happy ending.
Elezra versus Phil Galfond
The moral of the following hand is that you don’t go to battle with the lieutenant:
Elezra versus Sam Farha
The best thing about this one, aside from the sick flop, is Farha’s joking about trapping with pocket aces and the look on his face after Elezra bleeds him dry.
So while many recognize Eli Elezra as a proficient poker pro, he is also a bad-ass military dude, loving family man, and successful businessman. What more could anyone hope to accomplish? To learn more about Elezra, you can follow him on Twitter.
Until next time.
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