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Poker Legends: Phil Laak

"‘Sick’ is an expression to define abnormal statistical deviations from the norm.”

Phil Laak, aka The Unabomber, is one of poker’s most colorful characters, and not just because of his eccentric look of a hoodie with sunglasses or even ski goggles. He combines the showmanship of an actor, the intellect of a math professor, and the degeneracy of a gambler who will bet on just about anything, and we love him for it. With a World Poker Tour (WPT) title, a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet, and $3.8M in live tournament earnings—not bad for a cash game player—he’s got the credentials of a seasoned poker pro

His game may be top-notch, but it's his personality that keeps fans hooked. Between his unbreakable bromance with Poker Legend Antonio Esfandiari--they even had a TV show called I Bet You where they made hilarious prop bets on wild stunts and other random stuff—and his actual romance with actress and fellow poker pro Jennifer Tilly, Laak’s life story, combined with his gift for gab, makes him one of the game’s most beloved stars.

The Come Up

Laak’s family emigrated from Dublin to Massachusetts when he was just four years old, and he easily picked up games as a kid. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering and spending some time in a boring day job with a boss he hated, he saw people playing backgammon for cash. After watching them play, he knew that he could beat them.

From there, he became one of the most feared high-stakes backgammon players in New York City. That’s when he saw poker. He didn’t even know the rules, but when he watched a fish make a stupid huge call on the river, it blew his mind. “I didn’t know anything about poker,” he said in an interview, “but I knew that guy probably burns off a lot of money.”

Realizing that there were plenty of others just like him, he sat down at the poker table to make some money. 20 minutes into the game, it hit him: this game is great. He was hooked. Within a week, he was playing way more poker than backgammon. The rest, as they say, is history.

The World Record Holder

He may not be the most winning poker player or hold the most WSOP bracelets, but he does hold one very amusing title in the Guinness Book of World Records: poker endurance. Starting on June 2nd, 2010, The Unabomber played for 115 hours straight at the Bellagio, smashing the previous record of 72 hours and 2 minutes.

In the video recording, not only does he claim that he achieved this monumental feat of poker endurance without caffeine or other stimulants, but he also used the opportunity to raise money for charity.

His girlfriend may have been worried that he was going to die of sleep deprivation, and Esfandiari joked that he was going to lose brain cells even though he couldn’t afford to lose anymore, but he had a different perspective on it.

“This is manic fun. It’s so much fun.”


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