Boy, that escalated quickly. Canadian poker veteran Mike Leah went from hero to heel in a heartbeat on social media this week.
One minute, the masses were congratulating Leah for taking down the World Poker Tour Fallsview Main Event. Why not? He was posting his fourth big win at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Canada in the past five years. However, the next minute they were ripping him apart for the optics of the deal he appeared to make to seal the victory.
Of course, the heads up hand history was particularly ugly. It clearly showed fellow Canadian Ryan Yu entering heads up with a big lead, then dumping chips to Leah until he held an insurmountable lead of his own. Before anyone knew it, the tournament was over. Rampant collusion looked like the big winner.
However, what that hand history didn’t show was Leah buying a WPT title, which some brazen keyboard warriors over zealously suggested he did. It didn’t show any terms of the deal the two players obviously struck. Nor did the hand history mention that Fallsview and the WPT didn’t facilitate the chop, which is precisely what led to all this unfair criticism being heaped on Leah.
Leah’s side of the story
As I write this, Leah is in the process of posting a word document on explaining his side of the story and releasing details of the deal the two players came to heads up. (Editor’s note: Leah’s statement can now be found on his Facebook page). As he explained earlier, the gist of it is they did an Independent Chip Model (ICM) chop that Leah felt was too good to pass up. Yu was happy to lock up the cash and not have to take his chances heads up. Leah got a trophy and title that clearly meant a lot more to him than it did to Yu.
Leah went on to explain how getting heads up in a 500-plus player field is an accomplishment on its own. He also said it obviously would it have felt better to win heads up, but its not as if he really paid for the trophy and title.
But the truth is, none of that matters.
Just deal with it
Deals are often made at the final table of a tournament once they get shorthanded. Even more once they get heads up. The structures often get so shallow it just makes sense to split the money rather than flip coins for it.
The bottom line is it is up to the players involved how they split up money, titles and trophies. After all, its their money, title and trophy we’re talking about.
And while it’s really nobody else’s business how they chop it up, it just makes sense that it’s everybody’s business.
All that’s required to keep things above board is a little transparency. Poker tours, casinos, and poker rooms need to be open and honest about chops. They need to help players do them and publicize the fact that they happen. Once everyone on the outside has had a good look at the numbers, they can debate until they’re blue in the face who got the better end of things. Or if one player or another bought the title or trophy.
The legitimacy of any win can be argued after the fact. But that’s something that’s a little harder to do if the details are left in the dark.
Sure, big time tournaments and titles come with player of the year race implications and such. However, pushing the deals that settle these events underground does nothing to address that. At least if the deal is out in the open, those implications can be discussed and issues around them solved.
Under the table deals don’t make for great TV
Of course, chops don’t make for great TV, but neither do under the table deals where a chip dumps or blind flips ultimately settle things. In the end, the positives of an upfront, public and transparent deal at a final table far outweigh any negatives.
The optics of this Yu-Leah chip dump were admittedly awful. But that doesn’t mean either player did anything wrong. In fact, the only ones in the wrong are those on Twitter jumping to conclusions without all the facts.
Of course, the whole thing could have been avoided if Fallsview and the WPT simply facilitated the chop and released information about it publicly. Forcing the players to do these deals away from the public eye simply makes poker look shady. Something an industry with far too many truly shady incidents in its past hardly needs.
Lead image courtesy of WPT/Flickr