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Phil The Unabomber Laak

Profile by Shirley Rosario

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Phil LaakPhil Laak is definitely a person people remember in the poker world. He received his nickname, "Unabomber", because he always wears a hooded sweatshirt (hood up) while sitting at the poker table.

He started playing poker in 1999 but before 2003 he only entered eight tournaments, including the main event at the World Series of Poker three years in a row. His appearances on the World Poker Tour have made him one of the most popular players on the circuit and has also helped him land many television gigs. At one time, he was the host of E! Hollywood Holdem. He has also appeared on GSN's Poker Royale, High Stakes Poker and NBC's Poker After Dark.

I saw him win at the Hollywood Celebrity Invitational in 2004 and he kept me entertained. I got the impression he is always the life of the party and I asked him about that. He said, he has his moments, but on that particular day, he was having too much fun to take it easy. He didn't have to make adjustments since he was doing okay while he was having fun.

Phil was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1972. For several years he lived in the Bay Area with another well known player, Antonio Esfandiari, before moving to Los Angeles.

Phil Unabomber Laak Shirley RosarioI asked Phil if there are any players that he tries to learn from. He said, "Yes... anyone and everyone... from the POWS (Pay Off Wizards) to the GWIDS (Genius Wizards In Disguises) there is something to learn all the time. Sometimes it may come in the form of what NOT to do... but I am always trying to develop my skills." I also asked if No Limit Hold'em was his favorite game and he said, "I like Pot Limit Omaha and Ultimate Frisbee more than No Limit Holdem."

He became interested in tournament poker because of the competition, test of patience and the many various strategies that come into play during the different phases of tournaments. He believes one of the key features that helps him play poker (live action and tournament) is he is very good and getting better at not being too involved in the actual outcome - win or lose. He examines whether he is playing well, not if he is winning or losing. This is something I admire about him and something I am continually working on. He said, "Playing well is what drives me. Not winning. Of course, it is hard to avoid being a winning player if this is your focus." One of my favorite things he mentioned was, "When the session is over, or even between hands, I allow myself (sometimes liberally) the pleasure (but rarely the pain) of wins and loses. It is hard for me to see anything in poker as bad beats. Christopher Reeve (Superman) falling off his horse and ending up paralyzed -- that is a bad beat. Runner runner flush is not a bad beat. That is just poker."

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Phil has had a variety of past jobs, including being a repo man. He legally stole cars and said it was a bit dangerous and somewhat unstable. He also used to broker sports bets. Besides being a poker player, he is a part time stock market speculator and single family home real estate investor. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Phil Laak Jennifer TillyPhil placed sixth at the World Poker Tour at the Bicycle Casino in 2003, but the finish that will be remembered is his first place victory at the WPT Invitation 2004 (It is a must see program. I promise you will be entertained). One of Phil's mottos for life is "Living well is all about optimizing, and achieving a balance between fun, freedom and fulfillment."

Phil finished second to Johnny Chan in the 2005 World Series of Poker Pot Limit Holdem event the same day as girlfriend Jennifer Tilly won the Ladies No Limit Hold'em event.

Phil Laak and Ali Eslami made big news in July 2007 when they narrowly beat the poker-playing computer program, Polaris.
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Phil sent me the following story about his first experience playing poker that he could remember. This story was also sent to Ron Rose to use in his book about the best poker players:
I remember playing poker on a camping trip with family friends. There were probably 4 or 5 of us ranging from 7 to 12 yrs old. We were playing "Between the Sheets" (everyone antes into the pot and then, in succession, each player is dealt two random cards. Each player in turn, then declares the amount he wants to bet and if the next card is between the two he was dealt, he wins that amount from the pot. Otherwise he loses and his loss is added to the existing pot, now larger for the next guy. Table stakes. You could only bet what you had with you. Sometimes the pot would grow to, lets say 5 dollars, and a player only had 3 to his name. Well then invariably one of the players with more money could join in the action and take a part of the players bet.

Ridiculous, of course, but what did we know? Anyway, the more heavily financed players would make out like bandits, swooping in when the bet was a near lock. King Deuce, for example.

So there I was, seven years old and seeing how powerful it was to have money. I could see the dripping equity then. I did not have a name for it but I knew it was a good thing. At the time I was hooked on a chocolate bar called the "100 Thousand Dollar Bar", and knew that I needed to have these guys covered if I was going to be living large in the chocolate world.

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