Phil Laak: Irish-American Poker Player
Phil Laak, otherwise known as "The Unabomber," because of his tendency to wear sunglasses and a hoodie to hide his face, is one of the best cash game poker players of his time, having won over $3 million dollars throughout the course of his career so far.
Laak earned his first and only WSOP gold bracelet in the 2010 No- Limit Texas Hold'em championship, but prior to that he won a World Poker Tour title and a myriad of other poker tournaments as well. His career has truly only begun and we are excited to see what he will bring to the table in the years to come.
Phil Laak was born on September 8th, 1972 in Dublin, Ireland. His family relocated to the United States to the small town of Wellesley, Massachusetts when he was only four years old. His family loved playing cards together, and Tripoli was their game of choice. When he was first introduced to poker while on a camping trip with his friends, he easily picked up the rules, as card games in general came natural to him.
Laak attended the University of Massachusetts and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering. His favorite class was the Introduction to Logic, which taught him valuable skills that helped him win various games against his friends including backgammon, spades, chess, and of course poker.
Journey to a Career in Poker
Upon graduation, Laak and his friends went on a 1700 mile road trip until they reached San Diego, California. Laak stayed there and had a variety of different jobs, including being a repo man and a sports betting broker, but he always seemed to get bored and was ready to move on to the next thing.
His pursuit of the perfect job caused him to move from place to place until he finally settled in New York City. He happened to stumble upon an underground club/ restaurant where he began playing backgammon and discovered he was better than most of his competition.
He eventually moved on to playing poker, as there was more money to be made in poker cash games as opposed to backgammon. When his skills and strategies improved, he started entering casino-sponsored tournaments and left the underground scene altogether, realizing that he could easily make a living by playing poker.
Laak started playing twice a week at Lucky Chances Casino, but he soon realized it was in his best interest to move back to the west coast if he wanted fiercer competition and the chance to make millions. He stayed in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas, playing cash games and tournaments at the various casinos nearby.
Laak placed sixth at the World Poker Tour at the Bicycle Casino in 2003, but it wasn't until the following year that he really became known for his poker playing abilities. He entered the 2004 World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational and won first place for $100,000. He has made two other WPT final tables since, including the Five Diamond World Poker Classic and WPT's Battle of Champions in 2005.
He also took first place at the inaugural William Hill Poker Grand Prix, coming in second to Johnny Chan in the $2,500 Pot Limit Hold'em event at the 2005 World Series of Poker, and finishing fifth at the 2006 Seneca World Poker Classic.
Laak finally won his first WSOP bracelet in the No-Limit Hold'em championship at the 2010 World Series of Poker (Europe), bringing home a whopping $186,000. In the end, it was a head to head match against Andrew Pantling for the win and Laak managed to come out ahead.
Laak often makes an appearance on televised poker shows, having played on seasons two through seven of Game Show Network's High Stakes Poker and also competing in several seasons of NBC's Poker After Dark. In the first season of Poker After Dark, he placed second overall and in the fourth season, he landed a smooth first place finish for the grand prize of $120,000.
In recent years, he has come really close to winning at both the 2014 World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker by getting a sixth place finish at the $5000 Pot Limit Omaha WSOP event and a second place finish in the WPT Monster Invitational tournament.
Laak holds the Guinness World Record for Poker Endurance from his 115 consecutive hour session at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. He played $10/$20 No Limit Hold'em poker the entire time and was able to raise $6,766 dollars for Camp Sunshine, a summer camp designed for children with terminal illnesses.
His Unique Strategies
Laak claims to use the process of "lucid dreaming," to master his strategies. This involves playing hands over and over again in his dreams to see different outcomes, so he can get a better understanding of people's reactions to his moves. He's also credited with coining the poker term "felted," which means losing all of your chips and only being able to see the green felt in front of you.
As we mentioned earlier Laak can almost always be seen with his hood up in competitions and in an Interview by Ask Men Magazine, when he was asked to explain why, he said, "The hood was initially about trying to operate from the ivory tower without being observed. The more I wore the hood, the more it became like Linus' blanket. I put it on and I would be in the zone."
Laak and his best friend, Antonio Esfandiari, started off by doing WSOP promotional segments together, instantly having a great on-camera chemistry. Laak and Esfandiari decided to take on the TV industry by producing and co-starring in the show called I Bet You. The two friends would walk the streets of America betting and daring each other on anything and everything. The show ran for two seasons on MOJO HD; a third season was filmed but it never aired because the network went out of business.
More recently, in 2014 the duo teamed up to start a new television series on the Discovery Channel called, Underground Poker, where they would search the streets of New Orleans for real money games. After the first episode aired, the network's producers were seemingly unimpressed as they quickly cancelled the show just two week later. Laak and Esfandiari still believe the show has potential and if they make some improvements, it may have better luck on another network in the near future.
Laak is currently married to Jennifer Tilly, a famous actress and professional poker player. She won her first WSOP bracelet in the 2005 Ladies' No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em event. Among other things, Laak and his wife are very adventurous and can regularly be found scuba diving, skydiving, and performing tricks on their motorcycles. They currently have homes in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Laak wears many hats, as he's not only a professional poker player, but a real estate investor, an author, and an actor as well. He's best known for his roles in Poker Royale: The James Woods Gang vs. The Unabombers, Revelation 666, and Deal. On the side, he writes the monthly column called "Being Phil Laak", which is featured in Bluff Magazine.
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: February 2016