It’s Not Luck, It’s Skill: Mike Leah’s Impressive WSOP Career

Mike ‘GoLeafsGoEh’ Leah has won an astounding $8 million playing cards. He sits 138th on poker’s all-time money list to join some elite company. Two Americans, Bryn Kenney ($56.4 million) and Justin Bonomo ($49.1 million), are listed #1 and #2. Fellow Canadian Daniel Negreanu is third. ‘Kid Poker’ has cashed for more than $42 million, and is one of the most recognizable faces in the game. Leah credits three things for his own success; hard work, sheer determination and the desire to win.

World Series of Poker

The World Series of Poker has always been Mike Leah’s focus. When it ends one summer, and the ballrooms go back to being ballrooms at the Rio, instead of being massive poker pits, he’s already gearing up for the following year. He is learning some valuable lessons along the way, like the time he busted on Day 1 of the main event in 2013 because he wasn’t playing his A-game.

“Satellites are some of the most profitable days during the summer, so I used to grind those hard. Sometimes I can’t control myself and play too much. I wore myself out, and on Day 1 of the main event, I was tired and falling asleep a little at the table. I was pretty unhappy with how I fared the previous couple of days in the satellites, so I’m sure that affected me as well, definitely wasn’t at my best. It’s very disappointing to go out on the first day of the most important tournament of the year.”

He won’t make the same mistake again. Mike plays markedly less poker now, than he did back then. Success has afforded him the luxury of picking his spots, a discipline he continues to master. He takes more time off these days, and has made it a goal to find more balance in life. Family, friends, vacations and sporting events play an important role in achieving that, and they add a nice distraction to the cut-throat world of high stakes poker.

“When I’m playing, I’m working harder than most” he noted, almost a warning to his opponents. “During big tournaments, like the WSOP, there is zero time dedicated to anything other than playing poker, eating and sleeping.”

Mike Leah WSOP

Confidence & Calculation

Professional poker is a risky venture. It costs money to play, from entries to travel to accommodation. It’s not cheap, especially at the stakes Leah plays. Over the course of the summer, for instance, he’ll register in well over 50 events, depending on his results, with buy-ins ranging from about $500 to $50,000. The tab is hefty. The main event alone costs $10,000 to play. Did you know there is even a $1 million buy-in at the WSOP, an event organizers dub the Big One for One Drop?

Does he worry about the high cost of high living? In one word: No.

“I have proven to myself that I’m going to be successful more often than not, and I’m comfortable knowing the results will be there if I put in the time and effort. I’m able to play all the games well, not just Texas Hold’em, and I’m bankrolled too, so I can handle the swings.”

Running Hot in the Summer

Leah’s confidence was never more on display than at the 2013 World Series of Poker. His goal was to win the WSOP’s ‘Player of the Year’ award, no easy feat considering all the big names who were vying for the title as, including eventual winner Daniel Negreanu. While Leah fell short of Player of the Year, he did reach three final tables and cashed six times, making it one of his finest series ever.

“It was encouraging, I got very close in two events, a third and a fifth, and I had the chip lead three and five-handed in those events. I definitely had a shot to win a couple of bracelets.”

Both those opportunities came in one of his favourite poker disciplines, Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better. He was part of an absolutely stacked final table in Event #13, which featured Matthew Ashton, David ‘Bakes’ Baker, Yuval Bronshtein, Tony Cousineau and Mike Matusow, who eventually won the tournament and his fourth gold bracelet. Fellow Canadian, the late Gavin Smith, was also a part of that star-studded line-up. Leah finished third. In his eyes, a heart-wrenching third. It’s all about perspective.

“It’s just how it goes. If I was short on chips, or an average stack, and just coasted to third, I’d be happy. Because I was in such great shape to win, it was a bitter disappointment. It was a great chance for a bracelet, and you just never know when the opportunity will come again. I tried to draw on the positives, but it’s tough to get that close and fail to reach your goal.”

He didn’t have to wait long for another shot. Just a few weeks later, Mike placed 5th in Event #39, a $1,500 buy-in with 558 players. The field was weaker, with more amateurs, and he was the best player at the final table. The problem? He was short on chips.

“I had to survive some interesting players, doing some interesting things, but I was able to capitalize on several soft spots and had a big stack all the way through. When it got down to two tables, I lost five straight all-ins and was short on chips, one of the shortest stacks at the final table, and was just trying to survive and move up spots. Somehow, I battled back to take the chip lead and had a decent shot to win. That was disappointing, again because I had put myself in a position to win.”

It’s Not Luck, It’s Skill

Leah’s fine play and good run continued through 2015 and 2016, when he was absolutely lighting it up. It was a two-year stretch that saw him torch the competition and set the poker world ablaze. At the 2015 World Series of Poker, he had 11 cashes and made three final tables. He finished 7th in a Deuce-to-Seven Lowball event, 4th in the $10,000 buy-in world championship of Razz, and was runner-up in Event #3, Pot Limit Omaha, at the World Series of Poker Europe in Berlin, Germany. Good enough for 5th in the WSOP Player of the Year race.

WSOP Logo

 

The same year, he recorded nine cashes, including four final tables and a win, at the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) on PokerStars. A few short months later, Leah added 33 more cashes to his already impressive resume at the 2016 Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP), a run that saw him make four final tables and win two titles within a race of 24 hours. Again, he was 5th in the POY race.

“The best is yet to come,” Mike, @GoLeafsGoEh said at the time on twitter, where he has more than 7,000 followers. He wasn’t lying either. He reached the money 10 times at the Rio that summer, and was riding a huge wave of self-confidence.

“There are going to be so many ups and downs over the course of these major tournaments, so having that self-belief is important, especially on those tough days when you take a bad beat here or there. I know that whatever event I play next, I’m going to have a good chance to go deep, so my self-confidence is there. I always give it my all to win, that’s the goal.”

The Hits Keep on Coming

If you thought all that was good, how about the 2017 World Series? Leah posted an incredible 14 cashes in June and July at the Rio, including a final table in a Deuce to Seven Lowball event (7th). Then, a few months later in the Czech Republic, he made the money six more times at the WSOPE. An unbelievable 20 cashes in one year.

The following year, no difference. Leah had ten cashes at the 2018 WSOP, to go along with a final table appearance in one of the most prestigious events of the summer, the 50k Poker Players Championship. He finished fourth for close to $400,000. The final table boasted a who’s who of poker elite. Phil Ivey, Brian Rast, John Hennigan and fellow Canadian Greg Mueller were there. All of them heavy-hitters, as was Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi, who went on to win the title for a second time. Leah was not outmatched in the slightest.

mike leah fallsview

His list of accolades is a long one. From Montreal to Los Angeles, from the Bahamas to Australia, Leah has captured titles spanning the globe, and his collection of hardware is vast. He is a winning player, and is closing on 100 cashes at the World series of Poker. He’ll no doubt get there.

Incredibly, Mike won the Fallsview Classic, one of Canada’s largest tournaments, three out of four years. That’s hard to imagine. Then, for good measure, he took down the World Poker Tour’s $5,000 main event at Fallsview Casino the following year, 2018. He must really enjoy the falls.

Looking for more Mike Leah?

Part 1 and Part 3 of this interview is available now.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

News

Flying the Friendly Skies & Winning

Flying the Friendly Skies & Winning

Derrick Oliver
September 22, 2020

WPT WOC on PartyPoker Declares Main Event Winners

WPT WOC on PartyPoker Declares Main Event Winners

Jennifer Newell
September 21, 2020

Playing it Straight with Phil Ivey

Playing it Straight with Phil Ivey

Paul Seaton
September 18, 2020