Wrestling Fatherhood, Poker Opponents and a Healthy Lifestyle

As the Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc nationwide, leaving grocery store shelves bare to near-empty, there is one Canadian, Mike Leah, who will never run short on hard work and competitiveness. His cupboards are full and, like a master chef, he’s been mixing the two together for years. A dash here, a dash there, to serve up an exquisite dish of winning. When it comes to poker, he’s 5-star Michelin quality.

Fitness & Healthy Living

Most elite pros are quick to say, ‘you can never prepare too much.’ Leah subscribes to that philosophy, especially in the area of healthy living, but admits it’s not always easy. Most recreational players don’t understand the challenge it entails. Poker is not only mental and physical but financial as well, and those in the upper echelon must have their affairs in order well before a card is even dealt.

“It’s a 40 to 45 day grind, so you have to be organized, well-prepared and have all your ducks in a row. How many events are you playing? What are you investing? When I bust from one event, I just register for the next, so you have to have your finances in order as well. Then you have to get mentally ready for the long haul and do your best to get in shape. It’s a grueling summer.”

As his wrestling background might suggest, Mike Leah is not uncomfortable in the gym and works diligently to keep a rigorous fitness regiment. You might say it helps in getting his opponents to tap out.

“I definitely try to get in the best shape possible before the WSOP begins. I usually fail while I’m there. A lot of people can incorporate a workout schedule during the series, and I envy them, but I usually get too tired. That’s why it’s important to prepare beforehand. I get as much rest as possible, so that I’m mentally and physically prepared to endure that grind.”

In terms of diet, Mike Leah has solved that riddle at the World Series, where hamburgers, French fries and greasy food have traditionally been on the menu. That doesn’t cut it for Leah, who has his meals ordered in. Problem solved.

Mike Leah

“It’s a long summer, so it’s much easier if I get my meals catered in. It’s such a big advantage, being able to eat healthy and not having to wait in line. I have them delivered in twice a day while I’m playing, and they’re healthy choices. The meal options have improved over the years, and that makes it a much better experience for the players.”

The Future’s So Bright, He’s Gotta Wear Shades?

Two of the hot-button topics debated in poker in recent years has been 1) the wearing of sunglasses at the table, and 2) tanking, or the time it takes players to make a decision with their hand.

  1. You won’t find Leah with shades on, although at one time you would.
“I haven’t worn sunglasses in a long time. When I first started playing, I wore them during hands because I was a bit intimidated. It helped me hide. Then, I just made the decision to stop. If I was going to be one of the more highly regarded professionals, I should take them off. I want to be able to look people in the eye and beat them that way. It hasn’t affected me. The more you do it, the more confident you get.”
  1. You’ll rarely find Leah ‘tanking,’ unless it’s a very important decision.
“From a pro perspective, we all just need to play faster. If all the pros act quicker, then I think the amateurs who watch us will start to do the same. We have to make that conscious effort to stop tanking for no reason.”

Toronto Sports

One thing that is tanking right now is the sports scene, thanks to the Coronavirus. Leah is a major sports fan and a huge supporter of the professional teams in his hometown Toronto. He enjoys watching the Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors equally, and although play’s been put on hold, he doesn’t have to search far for fond memories.

“The Raptors winning the championship last year was special. My baby was only a few days old, so I’ll always remember that. The Blue Jays recent playoff runs were memorable too because it’s been so long since they reached the post-season.”

As such a big fan, Leah has made a tradition of wearing the jerseys of some of his favorite players, like Josh Donaldson or Marcus Stroman, when he reaches a final table.

Mike Leah

Time for Reflection

So, as the virus continues to disrupt the daily lives of millions of Canadians, Mike Leah has both toilet paper and diapers on his mind. The newest chapter in his life, fatherhood, is both challenging and rewarding. It’s keeping him well occupied. You have to wonder though, in those quiet moments with his son, if he reflects on past successes, like the time he won the Fallsview Poker Classic in Niagara Falls for a third year running. Or maybe his thoughts drift to that fine summer’s day in 2014, in the heat of the desert, when he came 2nd for more than $1 million?

“That tournament specifically, I actually sold off a few pieces of myself, so that was great. It was a huge celebration because a bunch of us did well that day. It’s a career highlight. Going to the cashier’s window to get big bricks of cash, and then splitting up the money, it’s always a fun thing to do.”

Is it possible to have fun in quarantine? One look at Mike Leah’s life and the answer is obvious. Yes it is. He has embraced life as a new dad. And with the Irish Open on the horizon, he’s look forward to a lucrative shamrock season.

There may be no sports to watch, but Canadians can still cheer ‘Go Leafs Go’ eh?

Part 1 and Part 2 of our interview with Mike Leah are 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.

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