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
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
upon an underground club/ restaurant where he began playing
backgammon and discovered he was better than most of his
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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