Home Games and Poker Heroes; PROfile Mike Leah; Cities to Launch Your Poker Career


doyle brunson


Gavin Griffin: Poker Questions Asked And Answered

Griffin Tackles Questions On Home Games And Poker Heroes

by Gavin Griffin  www.cardplayer.com

People in the poker community often come up to me and ask about whatever is on their mind. Some of these questions are good questions, and some are bad beat stories in disguise. I’ve been through quite a few things in my poker career and I like to help whenever possible, and in this new Card Player series, I’d like to share my experiences and knowledge. Feel free to ask any poker-related question, and I’ll do my best to answer it in the space below.

Question: I was recently invited to a home game. I have heard they can be juicier than casino games, any thoughts? – Joe B

Gavin: For quite a while the only games I played in were basically home games. They were slightly more professional operations than that, usually in strip malls or industrial complexes. Where I started playing casinos weren’t legal, so a network of these games started up. You would go to one because you knew a guy who could get you in and then meet someone there who knew about another game and got you in there, etc. I have played in my fair share of these games and they are where I met some people who really helped elevate my game and get me started on the path I’m on today.

Where I live now, however, there are about 7 poker rooms within a one hour drive for me so I don’t have to worry about finding private games to play in. In addition to that, in California, any home casino game that has a house edge including poker games that charge a rake to play is illegal. I don’t want to get involved in games like this because they pose a stronger risk of being robbed and/or busted by cops, neither of which sounds particularly great to me. Finally, many of the games I’ve heard of have a pretty high rake making them harder to beat.

If I lived in a place that had no casinos and it was pretty hard to find a game however, I might be tempted to play in these games. Because I have some experience playing in them, I do have some tips should you decide to go to this home game you’ve been invited to.

First, make sure you’re aware of the legality of what you’re getting involved with and whether you feel comfortable with it. If the home game you’ve been invited to is raked, it’s probably not legal and in some states it’s not legal whether it’s raked or not if you’re playing for real money. Unfortunately, in other states, they’ll even crack down on bar poker leagues just for playing for freeroll prizes.

The second thing I’d make sure of is that you’re comfortable with the stakes and the people you’re playing with. You have to be completely sure you trust the person who has invited you. If you don’t trust them, don’t go. Don’t bring as much money to the game as you would for the same size game at a casino in case you do get robbed or just find the place to be untrustworthy and sketchy.

Finally, be sure to pay more attention to the dealers and the other players to catch any cheating or team play. Because the people in these games are often less seasoned than those at a casino, they might be bigger targets for people looking to cheat by using a paid off dealer or by colluding. Be on your guard.

If you make it to this game, I hope you adhere to some of the tips I’ve laid out and be sure to leave your phone in your pocket because if the game is good, they usually don’t mind that you’re a winning player as long as you can keep everyone around you entertained. Good luck!

Question: I know who my poker heroes are, who are yours? – Tom C.

Gavin: I’m not sure that I would call anyone in poker a hero of mine but I can tell you who I’m impressed by. The only person that has ever made me nervous while playing with them may surprise you. In fact, if you were forced to guess I’m sure you’d say Phil Ivey. He has the look, the stare, the presence, and the reputation. Or perhaps Phil Hellmuth with all of the bracelets and the berating if you make a mistake. Either one of those guys could definitely make some people shake in their seat.

The only person that made me nervous to play with them, though, was Doyle Brunson. I have only ever played with him once as far as I recall, back in 2006 at the Bay 101 Shooting Star tournament. He was the shooting star at the table and he pretty much owned me from the start of the day until I busted. I tried my best to beat him in some pots but it didn’t work out for me and I definitely remember that every time we entered a pot together I got nervous. He had this easy air of competence about him and it was difficult for me to wrap my head around what he had, most likely because of how nervous I was. If you had asked me before that day if there was anyone I was scared of at the poker table, I definitely would have told you there wasn’t. I was wrong though, I was scared of Doyle Brunson.

If you have a question for Gavin, send it to editor@cardplayer.com.



mike leah

Poker Player PROfile: Mike Leah

Leah Off To Incredible Start In 2014

by Julio Rodriguez www.cardplayer.com     

Canadian pro Mike Leah has spent the last five years tearing up the tournament circuit and proving he is one of the best online players in the world.

The Innisfil, Ontario resident is currently tied for the most Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS) wins with four and in 2011, he finished third in the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) main event for $663,816. In total, he has won approximately $2.5 million in online tournaments.

Leah’s also on a bit of a hot streak when it comes to live tournaments as well. In 2013, he made three World Series of Poker final tables and in January, he won a $5,000 prelim event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for $119,770. A month later, he took down a $1,000 event at the Fallsview Poker Classic for another $107,084 and most recently, he won two WSOP Circuit rings in the same day at the Winnin’ O’ The Green in Los Angeles. The Team Ivey Pro now has over $2 million in live earnings.

Card Player caught up with Leah to discuss how he splits he time between live and online tournaments and how he became proficient in mixed games.

Julio Rodriguez: In 2009, you cashed 25 times, made nine final tables, won three titles and earned almost $700,000 playing live tournaments, finishing in 11th place in the Card Player Player of the Year race. Then you kind of pulled back a bit on live tournament to focus on online events.

Mike Leah: I left my career in September of 2008, so 2009 was really my first full year on the tournament circuit. I really wanted to test myself, so I set a goal to win Player of the Year and traveled nonstop. In the last few years, however, I’ve gotten to a point where I’m more secure financially and I know that I’m going to be playing for many years, so I’m trying to find a balance between work and my personal life. I’ve been taking some time off and enjoying friends and family.

JR: Living in Canada, you can continue to play both live and online. How would you say you split your time between the two?

ML: I’d say I split my time about 50/50 these days. I only play online on Sundays or if its part of a big series. I never grind online from Monday to Saturday unless I’m playing in an FTOPS, SCOOP, WCOOP or something like that. When picking a live event, other than WSOP events, I’m looking for convenience along with big fields and big prize pools. For instance, I just played in a WSOP Circuit stop at the Bike because I was already going to be in Los Angeles for the L.A. Poker Classic. I try to keep it to just one poker trip per month.

JR: Most U.S. poker players haven’t been on PokerStars or Full Tilt since Black Friday. What changes, if any, have you seen in the traffic and competition?

ML: PokerStars is basically back to what it was like before Black Friday. The competition is probably a little bit tougher because we lost all of the recreational players from the U.S. while the better players relocated to keep playing. Also, the players are just that much better at no-limit hold’em all over the world. Full Tilt is still recovering. The volume isn’t what it used to be, so I really only open it during a big series, which is great for me because I love playing all of the different games and variations. The start times are now a little bit earlier to accommodate European players, but it’s not too bad having to get up at 10 a.m.

JR: Last summer at the WSOP, you took third in the $5,000 stud eight-or-better event, fifth in the $1,000 stud eight-or-better event and have other cashes in pot-limit Omaha, Omaha eight-or-better and stud. When did you begin playing games other than no-limit hold’em?

ML: When I started playing these online series tournaments, I jumped into all of the tournaments, even the ones that weren’t no-limit hold’em. I’ve always learned by doing, so over time, I got better and then really focused on becoming great. A few years ago, I started to play the mixed game events at the WSOP and every year since I feel that I have gotten better by about 100 percent. Now I feel like I’m not giving up anything in these events. In fact, I feel like I have a pretty good edge.

JR: Where do you find your edge? Is it against mixed game players who don’t regularly play tournaments, or tournament players who don’t regularly play mixed games?

ML: It’s a combination of both. For example, in a stud eight-or-better tournament, I think I’m going to have a big edge over tournament specialists that don’t normally play the game. However, I also think I have an edge over stud specialists who don’t normally play the game in a tournament setting. I’ve got the best of both worlds.

JR: Do you ever take these mixed games skills into cash games or do you stick to tournaments exclusively?

ML: I’ve dabbled in high-stakes mixed games online. Again, I try not to play too much when I’m at home and there isn’t a series going on, but if I’m bored and have nothing to do, I’ll jump in. Sometimes when I’m in Atlantic City or Los Angeles, I’ll even play the live mixed games at $100-$200 or even $500-$1,000 if I sell some action. I think I can play with anyone, so that allows me to be flexible when it comes to picking a game.

JR: You’ve played in tournaments with $50,000 buy-ins. How hard is it to stay on top of your game in a $300 tournament?

ML: I play better when I’m motivated. I set goals and then I work hard to achieve them. For me, it’s about pride, because I know if I do well then the money will take care of itself. Whether it was sports, my sales career or poker, I always tried to treat everything the same way. I’m never going to wear a WSOP Circuit ring or one of my FTOPS jerseys, but they are good reminders of what I’m playing for. If I didn’t have those goals, I might have trouble getting up for a $300 event. I think I play at my best when things are meaningful for me, even if it’s not for monetary reasons. It would be easy to play on autopilot in a smaller buy-in tournament if I didn’t have that pride.

JR: The average poker player is better today than they’ve ever been in the history of poker. What are your thoughts on the learning curve and what kind of longevity you expect to have in the game?

ML: There are so many decisions and so many ways to play a hand on each and every street, that I don’t think that the game will ever be even close to solvable. As good as everyone has become, the game will always evolve and the best players will adapt in order to take advantage of it. You look at some of the big winners from ten years ago and many are gone. The longer you stay in the game, the more experience you can draw from to make the best decisions possible and the people who work the hardest will be rewarded with a long career.

You can follow Leah on Twitter @goleafsgoeh



mohegan sun poker room

The Top Five Cities To Launch Your Poker Career: Part One

A Look At The Places That Just Missed The Cut

by Card Player News Team


Note: This is part 1 of 2. (Part Two will be in next week’s edition)

After looking over your records (you are keeping records, right?) you notice that you turned a nice profit at the tables the last year or so. Maybe it was much more than a small profit. Perhaps you won a couple of tournaments, dominated your home game, or are considered one of your local poker room’s top players.

Perhaps you are asking yourself if you have what it takes to play full-time, as a poker professional. If so, where do you go, geographically, to take a shot?

Due to a lack of games and stakes in the majority of the United States, if you are truly serious about taking your game to the next level, you might consider a move to a part of the country with better options.

Thankfully, these days poker players have more options than ever. In decades past, poker players were restricted to just a few cities nationwide. Today, there are hundreds of card rooms from coast to coast that spread low, mid, and high-stakes games around the clock.

Card Player has scoured North America and has come up with a look at the top five cities where a player can access the types of games that make launching a poker career possible.

But before we get to the top five, let’s look at some of the places that just missed the cut. These regions have top-rate card rooms but the surrounding areas may lack of multitude of options. Nonetheless, they have more than enough games to get started.

Foxwoods Casino Connecticut

Connecticut is home to just two casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, that are located just 10 miles from each other. Mohegan Sun has a massive poker room with 42 tables, but that is dwarfed by Foxwoods and its 104 tables. Both rooms offer a wide variety of small-stakes games with the occasional high-stakes games running during a big tournament series.


Believe it or not, there are 26 card rooms in the state of Oklahoma. Besides the five largest, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a $1-$2 no-limit game and low stakes limit hold’em action in most of them. The state is home to wonderful poker properties such as WinStar Casino in Thackerville with 46 tables. The Choctaw Casino in Durant, which hosts a CPPT event, and Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa each have 30 table rooms. Other notable poker rooms include the Riverwind Casino and Firelake Grand Casino in Oklahoma City, with 24 and 19 tables respectively.


There are 15 poker rooms in Mississippi, most of which are split between Tunica and Biloxi. Although Tunica used to be a regular stop on the tournament circuit, that honor has been shifted toward the coastal city of Biloxi and the Beau Rivage Casino, which has 16 regular tables and adds more during a series. Other notables rooms in the state include the Gold Strike, Sam’s Town, Imperial Palace, and Harrah’s.

Parx Casino Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania has become the second largest gambling market in the U.S. in recent years and unsurprisingly, poker has played a big part. The Philadelphia area leads the way with the Parx Casino and its 61-table card room. Harrah’s, located in the same city, has a 35-table room of their own. Just an hour drive north in Bethlehem is the Sands Casino Resort, with another 30 tables.


Casinos are a recent addition to the state of Ohio, which has opened a total of four properties in Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati. The four poker rooms have a total of 117 poker tables, but they are spread far apart. It would take about four hours to drive from Cincinnati to Cleveland, which isn’t ideal for a player looking for variety.

Random Poker Facts, According To Bravo Poker Live Data

1. On an average weeknight, there are upwards of 500 $1-$2 or $1-$3 no-limit hold’em cash games running in the U.S. at any given time. There are nearly 150 $2-$5 games, around 50 $5-$10 games, and usually around 15 $10-$20 games. Those numbers increase by about 25 percent on weekends.

2. High stakes games, which are no-limit games of $25-$50 or higher and limit games of $100-$200 or higher, exist with regularity at only 15 casinos nationwide, the majority of which are in California or Nevada. The biggest games occur at the Borgata, Parx Casino, Commerce Casino, Aria, and Bellagio.

3. Mid-stakes ($30-$60 and above) to high-stakes limit hold’em games do not exist regularly outside of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Los Angeles.

4. The most popular game outside of $1-$2 no-limit hold’em is $4-$8 limit hold’em.

5. Small-stakes pot-limit Omaha games are scattered throughout the United States, but the only place to regularly spread it for higher than $5-$10 everyday is at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles

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