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Poker Pro And Bobby's Room Regular Keith Lehr Will Bet Anything, Even His Own Eye

Two-Time WSOP Bracelet Winner Vows To Play More Tournaments

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Keith Lehr has more than $3.4 million in live tournament earnings, two World Series of Poker bracelets, a pair of high roller titles, and even a WSOP Circuit ring just for good measure.

Despite holding a resume that would make any full-time tournament poker professional jealous, the 55-year-old is only now saying that 2019 is the first year he’s going to be a mainstay in WSOP events.

“The last two years I’ve been in Bobby’s Room most of the time,” said Lehr. “This year, I’m going to take a break and play some tournaments. I usually don’t play many tournaments, but I wanted to play a full schedule before I get too old.”

If the early returns are an indication of how the rest of his summer will go, Lehr is in for a very profitable 2019 campaign.

In just the first few weeks of June, Lehr finished tied for third in the $10,000 heads-up no-limit hold’em championship. He followed that up with a 13th-place finish out of 8,809 entries in the Millionaire Maker just a couple of days later. Add in another cash in the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event and Lehr’s earnings for the 2019 WSOP are already at more than $150,000.

When Lehr was getting his first taste of poker 30 years ago, however, the Louisiana native didn’t even know tournaments existed. It was just a game that he was playing against some fellow golfers.

“I was playing golf four-to-five days a week,” said Lehr about his poker beginnings. “Guys had a gin game after golf, and they had a poker game every Tuesday or Wednesday or something. I was like 18 and somehow, they invited me to come play with them. I was gambling with them on golf and gin and I just kind of started playing poker with them.”

Lehr started playing poker well before the Moneymaker effect, so he didn’t cut his teeth playing no-limit hold’em. His first poker game was a dealer’s choice rotation.

“We played anything from low Chicago to follow the queen,” Lehr recalled about the game at the golf course. “We were playing all the games. I started beating them pretty regularly every week.”

Eventually, the game found some new players and one of them spotted Lehr’s innate ability. Charles Glorioso, who won a WSOP Circuit ring in 2006 in Tunica, convinced Lehr that he needed to take some shots at tournaments.

“It’s Father Glorioso now,” said Lehr. “And he noticed that I was beating the game. He had been to the World Series and he had played with a lot of the old-timers. And he said, ‘Man, you’re good. You need to come out to the World Series.’ This was around 2000 or 2001.”

It took a couple of years, but Lehr finally made the trip to Vegas in 2003 to take his shot at his first WSOP. He had a very specific goal for that trip.

“We were playing pot-limit hold’em weekly. And there weren’t many pot-limit hold’em games in the country and I just said, ‘I’m going to go out there and win this $3,000 pot-limit hold’em event,’” said the Bossier City native. “And I came out and I won it.”

Lehr beat 218 entries in that event and won $225,040 along with the first of his two bracelets. Aside from the money, his first piece of WSOP gold gave him the confidence he needed play at the game’s highest stakes.

“The first bracelet had Chris Ferguson, Erick Lindgren, and Devilfish [Dave Ulliott] at the final table,” recalled Lehr. “When I beat Chris heads-up, that’s when I knew I could play with the best.”

That same summer he also finished runner-up in the $1,500 A-5 triple draw. That first trip to the WSOP gave his bankroll the boost he needed to take shots at bigger games and ultimately take his poker career to the next level.

“I came out here in 2003 and won a tournament and started making a lot of money playing poker and I just got to it,” he said. “I moved my way up from $25-$50 to the stakes that I play now.”

The stakes that he plays now are about as big as you can find. He’s a regular in the nosebleed stakes big bet mix games at Bellagio. It’s why he is in Bobby’s Room, to begin with.

“I’ll play anywhere from $50-$100 PLO to $3,000-$6,000 in Bobby’s Room,” Lehr stated. “I just kind of play them all.”

His second WSOP bracelet came 12 years later when he beat Paul Volpe in the final round of the $10,000 heads-up no-limit hold’em championship event for $334,430.

In between those two wins, he was splitting time between the Amazon Room at the Rio, Bobby’s Room at Bellagio, and his home in Louisiana. He still managed to put up impressive results in some of the most elite fields of the summer.

He made the final table of the $5,000 pot-limit hold’em championship in 2007, finishing eighth for $43,959. He also finished runner-up to Greg Merson in the $10,000 no-limit hold’em six-max for a career-best score of $701,757 in 2012, and then took eighth in the $25,000 no-limit hold’em six-max in 2013.

“The first 15 times I came to the WSOP, I didn’t play more than five or six events,” he said. “I mainly came out here for a week, played one or two events, played cash games, tried to make a living, and went home for a week. Then [I would] come back out here for five days and then [repeat].”

You might be noticing the trend in Lehr’s results. Most of his success has come in short-handed and heads-up events. But unlike the players that typically run deep in these formats, Lehr never played much online, and by his own admission, he doesn’t put a lot of time into studying push/fold ranges.

He learned how to play short-handed and heads-up no-limit hold’em because he wouldn’t leave the cash game until the game broke.

“I was the last person to leave,” said Lehr. “I would get the game together and if the game started at noon, I didn’t quit until everyone else quit. Most of the nights, I’m the last one there. There might be two people left, three people left. I just really enjoy short-handed poker.”

The game has changed a lot since his days playing with golfers. Most of the world’s top players are working with solvers and are trying to construct an unexploitable strategy. Lehr hasn’t exactly embraced the new theories and strategies. He takes an old school approach to the game.

“I’m more of a people person. I know the math, I know probabilities and everything,” said Lehr. “I never really have learned any shove charts or anything. I just play by feel and by people. I just kind of guess what I’m supposed to do with 15 big blinds. Or I’ve heard people talking about it, but I don’t know exactly. I just kind of play by feel and by people.”

According to Lehr, the charts he is referencing have some flaws.

“They tell you what to do, but they don’t tell you if the big blind is weak tight or loose or whatever,” he said. “Once you play with people long enough, you kind of figure out what they are capable of doing and you just kind of play against that.”

Lehr may not use the same studying methods that some of the world’s best players do, but it doesn’t stop him from competing on that level. Last September, he won the $25,000 pot-limit Omaha event at Poker Masters for $333,000. He had won his first event with a $25,000 buy-in three years earlier in an Aria high roller event for $300,000.

That being said, Lehr is not a guarantee to be in every $25,000 high roller on the circuit. He’s the consummate professional that picks his spots and finds games he thinks he will be a favorite in.

“If it’s got like 30 or 40 or 50 people in it and a few recreational players, I’ll play,” said Lehr. “If it’s just Tom Marchese and Jake Schindler and those guys, I’m not really interested in playing.”

That type of self-awareness might be what sets him apart from some other elite professionals. Knowing which games and which lineups he is a favorite in have helped him be successful for the last 30 years and raise three children without ever having to hold a traditional job.

This is especially helpful in the high-stakes mixed games he relies on to make his living. He knows when to mix it up and when to pull back and play more conservative, based on the game type and the lineup.

“We play 11, 12, or 13 games,” said Lehr about the cash games he generally plays. “My best games are the lowballs and PLO and the no-limit hold’em. And I’m clueless in the stud. I play well enough, but still.”

Those kids that he raised off his poker winnings are now grown. His oldest, Keith, is 20, William is 18, and his daughter Brooke is 16. As a father with older kids, he doesn’t have the same responsibilities that he did a decade ago.

He recently moved out of Louisiana and set up residence in Las Vegas. He will split his time between his new home in Nevada, Louisiana with his family, and traveling to private games in other parts of the country. He’s also going to take more tournament shots and see new parts of the globe.

“I plan on going to Europe and other places to play some tournaments and travel the world,” said Lehr about his future. “My kids are in college and in high school. They are old enough now to where I can travel some more.”

One of the most interesting parts about spending time with a high-stakes professional gambler for more than 30 years is the wealth of stories they have acquired from their time on the felt and Lehr has plenty of anecdotes to choose from.

When Lehr was eight years old, he had an accident with a BB gun, which cost him his eye. He has had a glass eye in place ever since.

“It was about 2005 and I was playing a tournament in Mississippi,” said Lehr. “There was this one guy who was really annoying me. So I decided I was going to mess with him. I moved in on him and I took out my eye and put it in the pot with my chips. I said ‘I’m all in.’”

Lehr’s opponent, an elderly man, freaked out and immediately called for the staff to come over and make a ruling.

“He had a floor come over and he was yelling, ‘Is he allowed to do that? He can just put his eye in the pot like that? I need to know because if so, does a pair of dentures equal a glass eye?’ And then he took out his teeth and put them in the pot,” said Lehr with a laugh.

Players like Lehr are a dying breed. He doesn’t have a hoodie covering his face, he keeps headphones off his ears, he jokes with other players at the table, and instead of trying to solve the game mathematically, he opts for an exploitative style based on what he thinks other players are capable of.

The style has worked for three decades and over the next few years, the tournament poker world will finally get to see more of it.