Over the next seven weeks BLUFF.com will have unfettered and candid access to Mike Leah as he grinds his way through the 2015 World Series of Poker schedule. While the normal narrative out of the WSOP is all about winners and bracelets, we’ll be able to show you the highs and lows of his run at another WSOP bracelet.
For most poker players the World Series of Poker officially started on May 28, or will kick off in the days and weeks to come as they get into Las Vegas. For a dozen or so players who enjoy a little more action and all those willing to share their action, things started a day earlier as they piled into a suite at the Aria for the annual $25,000 Fantasy Draft.
In this draft, each team is given a $200 budget to bid on eight poker players auction-style. Points are awarded for results in the 68 WSOP bracelets held during the summer, and the teams with the top three totals cash.
For 2015, 11 teams ponied up the buy-in and, for the first time, Mike Leah decided to throw his hat into the ring. He and his partner in crime in that endeavor, Chris George, sat down at Bar Masa – the sushi restaurant at the Aria – a couple of hours before the draft got underway.
Leah was operating on very little sleep following a missed flight in from Toronto, and while he was confident in the research he and George had done it wasn’t as intense as he’d initially hoped.
“Not as much as I’d planned because I just got consumed by SCOOP over the last little bit,” said Leah of his prep-work for the draft. “Over the last couple of weeks, [we] just sort of put together ideas and strategy and started to think of names and people and stuff. [Mostly] since I busted the SCOOP Main Event late Sunday night.”
A lot of Leah’s confidence going into the draft comes from experience elsewhere. Those who haven’t participated in an auction-style fantasy drafts before walking into that room would likely be classified as dead money, but Leah knows what he’s doing.
“I do a lot of fantasy leagues,” said Leah. “Poker, sports-wise and everything, so I just want to be as prepared as possible and I’m kind of a junkie that way. Whether it’s a $100 fantasy football league or a $25,000 poker one, I just want to be prepared and organized so I don’t make any mistakes. Just trying to give myself a bit of an edge on the rest of the field.”
While he’d never been in the draft room before, Leah had some more practical experience in drafting poker players before he decided to get involved in one this big. In a format that was a precursor to the popular contest run by David Baker over the last couple of years, Leah ran a much lower-stakes version of the contest.
“Starting a few years ago I kind of piggy backed off this and was running my own fantasy draft right before the World Series,” said Leah. “I ran that 3 years ago, and 2 years ago. Last year I didn’t want to come early to do it, which is why ODB ran his because I wasn’t running mine so he started his own.”
Each of the 11 team captains has their own way of ranking players and prioritizing how to utilize their $200 budget, and going into the draft Leah gave a general outline of how he ranked certain players.
“I sort of have tiers and sort of an idea of value of different guys,” said Leah. “We’re going to be looking for a combination of value, but only value for guys that we like and that we want. We’re not going to take someone that we’re not that crazy about just because we think it’s good value. As opposed to fantasy football where there’s only a certain amount of [good] players, there’s so many poker players that we’re just going to make sure that we get guys that we feel good about and that we like.”
The system, which was created by Negreanu, tends to favor bigger buy-in events and mixed games. This makes those that specialize in those formats incredibly value, and most teams will be chock full of those kind of players.
There are, however, a few players who play only No Limit Hold’em that still provide a certain amount of value in rounding out a team. In Leah’s mind, though, they’re not likely to be picked by him until the later stages of the draft.
As the hour of the draft approached Leah felt like he had a good handle on who he’d be targeting, and he was confident that by the end of the draft he’d have a team that would be one of the favorites to win the contest.
Leah and George headed up to the executive hospitality suite at Aria where the draft was taking place. Jason Somerville was setting up to live-stream the festivities in one room, and one by one team captains, their partners and a few other interested filtered in.
Negreanu himself was in California and drafted by proxy, but things were eventually called to order and the nominating order was set. Interestingly enough, Negreanu was the first player put up for auction.
Leah sat back early in the bidding process as the price quickly rose to $70, $80 and then $90. He then placed his first bid of the day, for $94. Todd Brunson popped it up to $95, but Leah quickly went to $96, which is what he got Negreanu for.
“We were really confident that we had a lot of guys that we could get at a lower price point, so we felt comfortable enough splurging on some top guys, guaranteed performers,” Leah said shortly after the draft had wrapped. “We were happy. Before we thought we’d be alright going up to about $100 for Negreanu as a solid number one overall guy, and confident that we could fill in our team with guys that we can get for cheap.”
Leah quickly got into a bidding war with Brian Hastings over Hastings himself, eventually falling out as he went for $68. He and George went equally hard after Scott Seiver but fell out once bids crossed the $70 mark.
They’d eventually grab Bryn Kenney for $62, and they were quite happy with the second player they picked too.
“With the roll that he’s been on and the schedule I know that he’s going to be playing, he’s really focused and really confident,” said Leah. “I talked to him before the draft and he’s pumped up and pretty determined. He told me to take him. Before I got to Negreanu I would have been willing to spend more for Bryn as a number one guy, but because we got Negreanu at so much, we couldn’t go too much higher than [what they bid] for Bryn. I was happy to get him where we got him.”
With so much of their budget sunk into their top two players, Leah and George sat on the sidelines for much of the next hour biding their time. Player after player went off the board and a couple of teams filled up while they sat with two players, but it was all by design.
Finally, there was a late run on Brock Parker, another one of the players they were targeting in a big way.
“Brock was like number one on our board,” said Leah. “I had him at about a $40 price point prior to the draft. Negreanu really wanted him but he was capped at $25 so when I saw that I was pretty optimistic that we’d get him at $26. I was really happy with that.”
This left Leah’s team with $16 in the budget, with the ability to make a max bid of $12. They soon added 2010 WSOP Main Event champion Jonathan Duhamel to the mix for $7, and it was another big pick-up in Leah’s mind.
“Duhamel, even though he only went for $1 last year, if I had to I probably would have spent up to about $30 for him,” said Leah. “I’m confident in the schedule that he’s going to be playing and he’s cashed the $50K twice, two years in a row. I didn’t think Duhamel would go for that much but I felt he was worth a lot.”
This came soon after Leah missed out on another player he thinks will have a big summer because of their budgetary limitations.
“Probably my one regret is that Dylan Linde was one of the guys I really, really wanted,” said Leah. “He only went for $26, but at that time in the draft we were a little bit handcuffed with the money that we had to spend.”
There was another short period on the sidelines for Leah as more and more teams filled up, but they picked up some strong mixed game veterans to start to fill out the roster towards the tail end of the draft. They nominated Eli Elezra, Mike Gorodinsky bid $2 and then Leah locked him up for $3.
They eventually reached an end game where they had five or six guys they were targeting as $1 and $2 players that they’d likely get with little fuss as there wasn’t going to be much competition.
At the end of the draft there were some guys that we really liked that we thought we were going to get for $1 and they ended up getting taken just before us,” said Leah. “Our $1 guys were guys that we had kind of circled. Darren Elias got stolen from us and we let him go because we thought we could get Tom Koral. Then Tom Koral got max bid right before us.”
Leah eventually picked up Bertrand Grospellier and Randy Ohel for $1 each, and finished out the whole draft by making Brian Tate the last pick.
“We were kind of deciding between about ten guys for our $1 guy,” said Leah. “That’s going to be the interesting one because we’ll be able to think back, oh we thought about him but we didn’t take him. My partner Chris George knows [Brian Tate] pretty well. He’s going to be playing some of the bigger buy-ins and could win the $50K or maybe some of the other $10Ks. Kind of just a risk reward kind of pick.”
The first few days of bracelet events that Leah played were eventful ones. After going out fairly quickly in the $5,000 No Limit Hold’em, Leah took his first shot at multi-tabling as he built up a stack in the $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo and played the $3,000 No Limit Hold’em Shootout.
Leah got short-handed in the Shootout and couldn’t go back to play his stack for awhile in the Omaha, and everything went awry in frustrating fashion.
Arrrrrrg max pain, lost Heads Up in the shootout while blinding down to very short stack in the Omaha, that could’ve gone better…. @WSOP
— Mike Leah (@GoLeafsGoEh) May 29, 2015
It wasn’t all bad, though, because despite his missing on the first few events his $25K fantasy team got a major boost in the very first open event of the summer. Kenney, his second pick, got heads-up with Michael Wang for the bracelet and Leah was in the commentary booth with David Tuchman to watch it all firsthand.
— Mike Leah (@GoLeafsGoEh) May 30, 2015
That finish is the only significant one so far in the contest, and while there’s a long way to go it gives Leah a nice head start going into the rest of the summer.
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