"I wanted this one really bad."
Those were some of the first words spoken from the mouth of Keith Lehr following his victory in Event #10: $10,000 Heads-Up No-Limit Hold'em Championship at the 2015 World Series of Poker. Lehr captured his second piece of WSOP hardware and $334,430 in first-place prize money after he defeated Paul Volpe in the final match early in the afternoon on Thursday.
"Fields are bigger, harder, players are better," were Lehr's comments when asked about why he felt this bracelet was much more meaningful than his first.
In 2003, Lehr won his first gold bracelet in the $3,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em tournament. In that event, he defeated Chris "Jesus" Ferguson in second place. Days later, Lehr found himself heads up once again, this time against Men "The Master" Nguyen in the $1,500 Ace-to-Five Triple Draw Lowball event. Unfortunately, Lehr fell short of another title, a loss that he said devastated him at the time.
"As I get older, it's a kid's game," the now two-time bracelet winner went on to say. "It wears you out, and I don't know how many more years I am going to play tournament poker, so I was really wanting to get one or two more, hopefully, or maybe three, who knows."
Lehr's road to the final match saw him defeat six others. In last night's final four, Lehr faced off against Dee Tiller.
"Yesterday against Dee was pretty tough," Lehr said. "He actually played pretty good and I got lucky against him, I think twice, but I mean the hands play themselves."
Looking back on the other matches, Lehr remembers having to fight hard despite getting down early to his opponents.
"The other ones — I got short in pretty much all of them," he said. "I just hung in there and I didn't really catch real good, but I caught some hands at some key times and got some double ups. That's about it. None of them were really any easier than the others. They're all tough players."
The final match against Volpe was the quickest along Lehr's path to the top, lasting only 24 hands. While the final hand sealed the deal for Lehr, it was Hand #16 that gave him the big edge. In that hand, Lehr three-bet preflop with the after Volpe opened the button with the . Volpe called, and then Lehr led with a continuation bet on the flop with top pair. Volpe floated the bet and then pounced on the turn after Lehr checked to him. Lehr called, and the river was the . Lear checked, and Volpe bet a bit 1.2 million. Lehr tank-called and was right, picking off Volpe's bluff for a key moment in the match.
"I knew he was going to try and bluff me," Lehr said when asked about the hand and the match in general against Volpe. "I knew he was going to try and run me over."
Known as a high-stakes cash-game player who dives into the occasional tournament here and there, the win sparked interest as to whether or not Lehr would now ride his early success to a bigger WSOP schedule. Will he be playing more events now to chase a third piece of gold?
"No, I kind of planned on playing maybe seven or eight, and that's it," Lehr was quick to answer. "I'll be going home to spend a week or two home, then come back a week. I kind of had the tournaments I planned I wanted to play — the $10Ks. I'm not going to play any of the stud events or anything like that, and I'll play the two big Omaha events."
On his road to the winner's circle, Lehr faced Valeriu Coca in the elite eight. Coca has been the talk of the town recently, as some of players he faced en route to the elite eight have suspected him of cheating. After his win, Lehr was asked about the allegations.
"Somebody warned me about him, and other than that, I really don't know," he said. "There's some insinuations about him, which we don't know if they're true or not, about him being barred in casinos in Prague and other places. The World Series of Poker is looking into that. They hired outside resources to find out if he really is. I'll let them do what they do, and they can take care of that."
In response to being asked if he noticed anything different or deliberate about Coca's play, Lehr said, "Like I said, we'll let [the WSOP] handle that. I protected myself if he was, so I don't know if he was or wasn't."
Going into the match against Coca, Lehr did mention he was informed of the allegations ahead of time, so he was prepared to do his part to combat it.
"I got a text saying that he had been barred for cheating somewhere else, but that was just on a thread somewhere," Lehr said. "It's not published anywhere, so I don't know if it's true or not. Knowing that going in, I tried to protect myself the best I could by holding my cards, hiding my cards, and not letting him see my cards. He was watched, so we don't know."
Lehr's knowledge ahead of the match and active protecting of his cards might've proved a hinderance to Coca if the allegations are in fact true. Cheating or not, though, Lehr defeated him to move on and the rest is history.