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A Poker Life: Ryan Laplante

Laplante Earns Bracelet During 2016 WSOP

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Some poker players seek the spotlight, and others shy away from it. But few players actually have something of substance to say when the rest of the poker world is listening.

“I am so proud to call myself a World Series of Poker champion. I’m proud to call myself an openly gay man. I encourage all of you to be proud of who you are.”

These were the words chosen by Ryan Laplante at his gold bracelet ceremony this June. The 26-year-old grew up in constant fear of being outed, but his time in college, and the accepting and often supportive poker community, gave him the confidence to use his time in the spotlight to deliver the most heartfelt and moving speech at the WSOP this summer.

He also managed to show just how good a poker player he really is. In addition to earning his first WSOP bracelet by winning the $565 buy-in pot-limit Omaha event, he also managed to rack up a total of 12 cashes while finishing in the top 25 in the WSOP Player of the Year race.

Poker Beginnings

Laplante was raised in Brainerd, Minnesota, a small town of just 13,500 people two hours north of Minneapolis. Brainerd might not have a big population, but Laplante’s parents made sure that he and his older brother kept busy.

“When I was 13, my parents gave my brother and me the choice of either joining Boy Scouts or the Civil Air Patrol,” he explained. “Civil Air Patrol obviously sounded a lot cooler, so we did that.”

Although he enjoyed the cadet program, Laplante knew that his poor eyesight would disqualify him from ever being a pilot, so he turned his attention elsewhere.

“I was a good, lazy student,” he said. “I was taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes, but I would get Bs in everything. I never really studied and rarely did my homework, but I was a good test taker. I really enjoyed sports, but I wasn’t much of an athlete. The main thing I was into was playing Halo. I put a lot of time and effort into getting good at it, and eventually I started playing it competitively.”

Laplante was so good that he even made a team. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the funds to travel and play internationally, so he was replaced by another player.

“I had started playing poker back when I was just 12 or 13, right after the Moneymaker boom, but the truth is that I wasn’t very good. I took Halo very seriously, but poker was just for fun. Then, after I lost my spot on the team, I started to take poker more seriously. I found some online forums and read as much about strategy as I could find. When I turned 18, I made an online account and made my first deposit.”

Finding Acceptance

Laplante enrolled at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, but quickly found out that finding time for his studies would be a problem.

“I wasn’t a very social person in high school, simply because I very afraid people would find out I was gay,” he admitted. “I only came out to one person in Brainerd. But once I got to Duluth, I felt like I could be myself and be comfortable. I came out and all of a sudden I had a great social life.”

Laplante came out to his brother, and then his mom and stepfather, just two weeks into his freshman year. It was in Duluth that he met Jonatan Mitchell, who had started a student group. The group included about 20 regular poker players, which gave Laplante an immediate circle of friends who shared his interest in the game.

“Every single Sunday we would play cash games and tournaments,” Laplante recalled. “We even had a ten-week long poker league that was a lot of fun. Between online poker and new poker friends with a much bigger social life, I didn’t have time to go to class. The entire time I was in school, I only went to one class each week, which was my public speaking class. I was terrified of public speaking and it was something I really wanted to fix. But the rest of the classes didn’t go so well.”

The Initial Struggle

Laplante dropped out, but he didn’t really have the bankroll to start playing full-time. In those early days, he did what he could to stay in the game.

“I was making some money playing poker, but I wasn’t crushing it or anything like that. I wasn’t making enough to live off of, so I had a job at Subway. I remember when my computer broke and gave me the blue screen of death, so in order to play, I would walk a mile and a half each way to the campus computer lab. I wasn’t a student anymore, but I still had my ID card and could get in. Every day, I would have to download the PokerStars software again and I would play for three or four hours before walking back home, even in winter. One day, I won a $7 turbo and an $11 turbo within ten minutes of each other and won something like $3,000 or $4,000. I took that money and kept running it up to the point where I could quit the Subway job and play full time.”

In the summer of 2010, Laplante moved to Milwaukee, where he met his now-fiancé Chris. He continued to build his bankroll and had his biggest winning month ever before Black Friday put everything on hold. He had canceled plans to go the WSOP, but a friend offered him a place to crash and Laplante sold a package that allowed him to make the trip to Las Vegas.

“The first two weeks were terrible,” he admitted. “I bricked everything and was miserable. Then I managed a min-cash and followed that up with a final table in a $1,500 event, finishing eighth for $51,000.”

From there, he moved to Toronto, where he had a terrible three months and lost a lot of money by suffering from tilt. Deep in makeup, he knew he needed to make a change.

“I made a concentrated effort to control my tilt,” Laplante explained. “One way I did it was by stacking my windows for online poker instead of tiling them on the screen. That way when I made my decision, a new screen would pop up and I wouldn’t even get to see what happened. By focusing on each decision and not the variance of the outcome, my results improved dramatically.”

Getting The Gold

Laplante continued to see ups and downs for the next few years. He had his worst month ever in September of 2012, losing $85,000, but grinded it all back. He lost backers, but then somehow managed to win his way to the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo on just 500 frequent player points. He lost another backer after a bad WSOP in 2013, but has since strung together the best results of his career.

In 2014, he finished fifth in a $3,000 buy-in WSOP no-limit hold’em event for $113,796. Later that year, he took third in a Heartland Poker Tour main event at the Stratosphere for $60,672. In 2015, he won an event at Planet Hollywood for $46,000. This summer, he cashed 12 times at the WSOP and managed to win his first bracelet for $190,328 in the $565 buy-in PLOssus event, which was the largest-field live non-hold’em tournament in poker history.

Securing the bracelet was at the top of Laplante’s bucket list and his dream come true, so he could have easily made his winner’s ceremony all about him, but after the horrific shootings at a gay Orlando nightclub, which took place during LGBT Pride Month in June, he decided he needed to speak up. Fortunately, the poker community has been relatively one-sided when it comes to issues such as gay rights.

“I had no idea how accepting the poker community would be, to be honest,” he admitted. “I spent a lot of years terrified about coming out but it was surprising how little it mattered in poker. I have obviously experienced a few nasty comments here and there, but it’s almost always a drunk recreational player or something like that. Overall, it’s been almost entirely positive.”

Moving Forward

Laplante and Friends After Winning BraceletLaplante isn’t the first openly gay poker player, and he certainly won’t be the last, so is he annoyed that his sexual orientation, and not his poker accomplishments, is the first thing brought up in interviews?

“I don’t mind being that guy at all,” he explained. “The gay rights movement has obviously made huge strides, especially here in the States, but there are still places in the world where it’s illegal to be gay. There are something like 40 countries where you can be jailed or even put to death for being gay. About half of the world is cut off to me because of a lack of gay rights. Even here in the United States, there are only about 20 states with protections in the workplace for the LGBT community. I understand that it may get tiring for some people to constantly hear about it, but unfortunately, there’s still a lot of work needed to be done.”

While he continues that fight, he is spending more time than ever at the tables. Laplante has always dabbled in live cash games, but is planning on playing some more pot-limit Omaha. He’s also learning mixed games and coaching in his spare time on his site PokerProtential.com. With so much of his day taken up by poker, it’s no surprise that he’s still madly in love with the game.

“I’ve been playing poker professionally for the last six years. When I was really young, around 12 years old, I decided that I was going to do whatever I loved for a living and I would give zero f@#*s about whatever money was involved. There will be times in my life when I have a lot of money and times when I don’t, but the accomplishments will stay with me forever. I know its cliche, but I love what I do and I wouldn’t do anything else.” ♠