On Tuesday, I posted a quick write-up of the 2018 World Poker Tour (WPT) Fallsview Poker Classic Main Event final table, won by Mike Leah. Leah was understandably thrilled – it was his first WPT title after coming close a few years ago and he did it essentially in his own backyard. But as I read and subsequently wrote about the heads-up portion of the tournament, it looked really fishy. I didn’t say much about it in the write-up, other than it being “strange,” as I didn’t want to start launching any accusations, but a day later, the poker community has been abuzz with discussion about the end-game, so I am certainly not alone in thinking something was amiss.
To set the scene, Mike Leah and Ryan Yu were heads-up for the WPT Fallsview title. Yu had more than a 2-to-1 chip lead, 10.800 million to 4.715 million with blinds and antes at 60,000/120,000/20,000. Things instantly appear borked. Here is how the first three hands of heads-up play went, according to WPT.com (hand numbering by this writer):
Hand 1: Ryan Yu raises to 4,000,000 from the button on the first hand of heads-up play, Mike Leah (pictured) reraises all in for 4,695,000 from the big blind, and Yu folds.
Mike Leah – 8,735,000
Ryan Yu – 6,780,000
Hand 2: Mike Leah limps in from the button, and Ryan Yu raises to 5,000,000 from the big blind. Leah reraises all in for 8,715,000 and Yu folds.
Mike Leah – 13,755,000
Ryan Yu – 1,760,000
Hand 3: Ryan Yu raises to 1,700,000 from the button, and Mike Leah (pictured) pushes all in for 13,735,000 from the big blind. Yu folds, and Leah captures this pot.
“When you’re beat, you’re beat!” says Yu.
Mike Leah – 15,475,000
Ryan Yu – 40,000
So, on the first hand of heads-up play, Yu had already put in 4 million chips and only had to call another 695,000 with about 6 million left behind to possibly win the tournament right there. His fold after Leah’s all-in is puzzling, but I suppose in a vacuum one could think that maybe he was completely bluffing and didn’t want to throw good chips after bad.
The second hand is where things really start to look weird. Yu raised to 5 million pre-flop, nearly three-quarters of his chips. Nobody does that without just moving all-in. And then, once again, Leah himself shoved, forcing yet another Yu fold. It just didn’t make any sense.
Already questioning the validity of what was happening, the third hand absolute clinches that some funny business was going on. Yu raised to 1.7 million pre-flop, leaving 40,000 chips behind, one-third of a big blind. Once in a while you might see someone do something like this when the stacks are more even to save a bet for the flop, but in this case, Yu was as good as all-in without technically being all-in. BUT THEN when Leah shoved, YU FOLDED. On top of that, he had the audacity, to break out the “When you’re beat” line.
So to answer my “what the hell happened” question, it seems obvious that Yu and Leah had agreed to a deal before heads-up (the WPT.com report said there was an “unscheduled break” after the third place elimination). Deals are very common at final tables, as often players don’t want a large money jump to ride on the high variance of escalating blinds. But they still typically play it out, often leaving a little money on the table as an incentive.
But this was unlikely to be a typical deal. What probably happened was that Leah agreed to give Yu more money in exchange for the WPT title. Essentially, Leah may have “bought” the victory, perhaps by giving Yu first place money. For the win, Leah also received a seat in the WPT Tournament of Champions and first place points in the WPT Player of the Year race.
That seems like the only realistic explanation. Throw the match and I’ll make it worth your while. What is nuts is that the two men – Yu, especially – made it so damn obvious. I have heard people suggest that perhaps Yu just wanted to be done at that point, that maybe he just didn’t care and was happy with second place money, but that makes no sense. He had more than a 2-to-1 chip lead. He could very well have won the tournament fairly quickly. Additionally, if he really didn’t care and didn’t have a deal with Leah, he would’ve just gone all-in every hand. If he lost, he would’ve been fine with it and if he won, all the better. By betting heavily and then folding to Leah’s all-ins, Yu signaled his intentions to everyone.