Earlier this week, veteran poker pro Mike Leah was able to capture another leg of poker’s Triple Crown, topping the field at the World Poker Tour’s stop at the WPT Fallsview Poker Classic. Along with his victory in 2014 at the WSOP Asia/Pacific, it now leaves the popular Canadian pro only one step (an European Poker Tour victory, now that series has resumed) from that magical poker achievement. But there is a significant taint to the WPT championship, one that has left Leah explaining his actions and others wondering if it was an acceptable way to win the championship.
First, the details of what occurred. Beginning heads up play against Ryan Yu, Leah was at a 2.5:1 chip disadvantage. The two took an unscheduled break from the action and, after their return, the cards hit the air to determine the champion. On the very first hand, Yu stuck four million chips in the center and, after Leah responded with an all-in, Yu folded despite the fact it was only another 695K to call. This move gave Leah the lead and it would get worse.
On the very next hand, Leah limped in and Yu raised five million of his 6.76 million stack. Leah came over the top for the additional chips that Yu had and, amazingly, Yu folded his hand. On the VERY NEXT HAND, Yu raised for 1.7 million chips, leaving 40K behind, and after Leah came over the top of THAT bet, Yu folded once again. With scraps left, there were a few more all ins that Yu would win before he was eventually eliminated with Leah taking the title.
Those are the facts. Now for the additional harsh reality.
There is some discussion as to whether the WPT has or doesn’t have a rule against making deals at the final table. In the 16-year existence of the organization, there has NEVER been a blatant chip dump such as this that determined the champion of the event. Because of the factor of Player of the Year points, the potential future bonuses (a WPT champion automatically qualifies for the WPT Tournament of Champions and has the right to play in subsequent years) and other benefits of the victory – not to mention the “competition” that was supposed to be evident in the WPT product – the WPT founders implemented the “no deal” rule.
However, that is being questioned by the very person who should have overseen the action, WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage. In response to a Tweet Savage – who is currently on the floor at his home casino, the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, overseeing the action at the L. A. Poker Classic – indicated that he had changed the “no deal” policy when he took the position with the WPT in 2010. If this is the case, then it was the quietest rule change that has occurred in the history of poker because no poker media outlet nor anyone else can recall the “rule change.”
While there is debate as to whether this violated the rules of the WPT, there is the question as to whether it violated the rules of the casino or the gaming body overseeing it. Quite frankly, in no casino in the world would such a blatant chip dump be allowed. That the Fallsview staff ALLOWED for such an action to occur in their casino is utterly surprising, not to mention that there are allegedly laws against chopping tournaments in Ontario (the Canadian province where the event took place).
According to some involved in the discussion, Ontario’s Alcohol & Gaming Commission does not allow casinos to facilitate any “chops” in poker tournaments. If there is any private decision by the players to chop the tournament, the tournament still is to play out and then the money handled by the players AFTER the tournament has been completed.
Poker Fraud Alert’s Todd Witteles also brings up other uncomfortable issues regarding the chip dump. In particular, Witteles asks when it was determined that such an arrangement took place. If it took place BEFORE the third-place finisher had been determined, then there could be the potential for collusion between Leah and Yu to ensure that they would reach heads up against each other with a deal in place.
Leah, for his part, has taken to social media to defend himself. In a Facebook post, he admitted that “(he saw) how it’s embarrassing/disappointing for the WPT” for he and Yu to have done what they did. He falls short of any apology for their actions, however. Poker News Daily has also requested comment from Savage as to the actions in Canada and, as of press time, no comment has emerged (Poker News Daily will update as appropriate).
What is obvious is that there was a massive chip dump in a major poker tournament, not the daily 2PM event at the Mirage. What actions can be taken to ensure that this type of situation either doesn’t happen again or, at the minimum, is exposed to the light of day to provide transparency for these events (the EPT perhaps had it right when they allowed for chops and even added it to their commentary so that fans knew what occurred; they also reserved some of the prize pool and the trophy for the players to play for)? There will be ramifications of what took place at Fallsview and some in the poker community may not be comfortable with those changes.