Heart-to-heart: Phil Laak, the great poker eccentric


Ask ten people who is the standout in the poker world. Nine of ten will call one name: Phil Laak! Even now when all the noticeable quality poker TV shows are gone, people remember talkative, hyperactive and seemingly always under the influence of something Irish American named Phil.

Laak was born in Ireland in 1972, grew up in the USA. He first played cards when he was 7-8 years old when he and kids of his age together with their parents went to vacation. Future pro has won his first prize and pot there – it was a chocolate bar.

First taste of his poker life was felt back then.

Our hero has an engineer diploma. However, he was never going to work at one place and has always tried something new.

“I always tried to get out of system using my brain and wanted to get out of matrix ending the routine: earn money, pay for the mortgage, pay your bills and start a new month”.

Love from the first pot

Phil was playing backgammon professionally back in the days and his friend got him into the poker club. It was NY, 1999. There was a pool table in the club, and Laak was playing at it for a lot of time.

And he tried to play poker one day.

“Money was my motivation and 20 minutes later I was enjoying it, felt in love. And that is awesome, it doesn’t matter how much money you make – if you do not love it, you’ll stop playing with time”.


Phil has read a book about poker that same night. A year later he was travelling around the world, in London, Paris, Vienna, Costa Rica, USA – searching for the best game.

Shotgun in the face

Phil Laak has changed numerous professions during his lifetime. He was trying himself in the role of game developer, programmer, trader and car confiscator. The experience on the latter profession was short but Phil calls this job the most entertaining and horrible at the same time.

Once Phil and his friend was in the wild America. You know, like they show in movies: desert, abandoned water hydrant, mud everywhere, bearded public in the same hats.

They have found the needed car and were about to leave (it was in the night) and the owner of the vehicle came running of the house with a shotgun:

“He smashed the car window with the shotgun, pointed it at my partner and told: “You’ve got three seconds, then I shoot. He wasn’t joking around, he was furious”.

It ended with the running to the cold desert while half-drunk men were throwing rocks at them.

A crash, a bracelet and a marathon

In 2010 Laak together with Antonio Esfandiari and his old friend Bryan Rust, Alec Torelli and some other poker players went to ride on quad bikes in the desert. Laak flew off one of the dunes – his iron horse went in the wrong direction…

He got his arm broken and had eye injury. Phil could have become one-eyed but it all went good.


A little over month later Laak had won his first World Series bracelet – at WSOPE in London!

Phil owns the world record on the longest poker session – 115 hours! He had 5 minutes rest and no stimulators, not even coffee was allowed. Right after this unreal record was set, according to Laak, he started to think in a different way and started to win in 80% of all of his cash games.


As for numbers. Phil won $3,371,715 in prize money in live tournaments – very nice figure for cash specialist. His biggest prize - $265,290 – was won back in the days – in 2005.

Previous episodes:

Heart-to-heart: the man of the world Igor Kurganov

Heart-to-heart: cutie Xuan Liu

Heart-to-heart: high-principled prodigy Daniel Colman

Heart-to-heart: Vladimir Troyanovskiy or The Perfect Russian Gambler

Heart-to-heart: Kind Maniac David «Viffer» Peat

Heart-to-heart: Russian genius Alexander Kostritsyn

Heart-to-heart: Tony Cousineau, The King of Nits

Heart-to-heart: Brian “Steel Balls” Rast

Heart-to-heart: Sammy Farha, Mr Raisy Daisy


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