Phil Laak Breaks World Record
Poker Pro Plays Over Four Days of Continous Cash Game Poker
Phil Laak can outplay biological processes.
Early Saturday evening in the Bellagio poker room, the 37-year-old poker pro set the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous poker session on the felt. Laak passed Paul Zimbler’s mark of 78 hours, 25 minutes and 45 seconds set in 2009.
The rules of the record attempt were simple: The entire session must be video taped, witnesses must be present and a five minute break is allowed every hour, with the option of accumulating unused break minutes.
At the stakes of $10/$20 no-limit hold’em, Laak bought in for $4,000 during the first few hours, but eventually loaded up with $100,000, in order to have the rest of the table covered.
With a meticulous handmade chart by his side, Laak kept record of his upswings and downswings. About an hour before he passed the record, Laak was stuck about $17,000, until a hand with friend and fellow poker pro Antonio Esfandiari put him in the black.
Esfandiari raised to $120 from early position and action was folded to Phil Laak in the small blind. Laak amassed a stack of randomly assorted chips for a massive reraise. Esfandiari made the call and the flop came 652. Laak and Esfandiari got all the money into the middle and agreed to run it four times. Laak exposed the AA and they held all four times against the apparent queens of Esfandiari.
Shortly after the hand Laak’s line graph displayed a profit of $6,500, half of which would go to the charity he was playing for — campsunshine.org
Even with a stack of over 5,000 big blinds at the table, the decision for $10/$20 no-limit was an easy one for Laak, who routinely plays for some of the highest stakes in the world.
“If I start to melt down, I don’t want to lose too much of my net worth,” Laak said while digging into one of his prearranged meals — a container with brown rice, chicken and broccoli. “The trick to staying awake is to be active with your brain. So I plan on playing my regular game the whole way.”
Laak’s assault on the world record began Wednesday afternoon, but the preparation started much earlier.
“When I was a kid, I would go to bed at like noon and my parents would get mad because they would have to wake me up for dinner,” Laak said. "That was the only time we had to be anywhere and I didn’t think that was fair. They didn’t care when I went to bed, so that would often be night owl sessions. I was already, without even knowing it, training for [this].”
In addition to a childhood of mild insomnia, Laak’s entire summer, thus far, has been in preparation for this one session. He has not played in a 2010 World Series of Poker event. According to Laak, event No. 55 ($10,000 pot-limit Omaha championship) on July 1st is tempting. However, the main event is definitely on his schedule.
Laak said he would love if the WSOP created a bracelet event with no breaks, but doesn’t think it will ever happen due to possible medical emergencies.
WSOP Media Director, Nolan Dalla is also doubtful about the prospects of such an event.
“We have a lot of other [possible events] that are on the queue list of what belongs on the World Series schedule,” Dalla said. “Something like that is way, way down the list. I don’t think it would appeal to a wide cross section of people. I think the World Series is about bringing everyone in. It might be interesting to watch from the train-wreck perspective, but I don’t think it is good from the poker perspective.”
Even with the possible consequences, the concept has been tested before.
The Commerce Casino recently held the $2,100 Iron Man no-limit hold’em event at the 2010 L.A. Poker Classic. The one-day event, which featured no scheduled breaks, wasn’t popular, attracting just 64 entrants.
At least 64 people were sweating Laak when the countdown to world record began. When the laptop timer final passed Zimbler’s mark, the Bellagio poker room sounded more like the Amazon Room after a bracelet victory.
With the record broken and Laak appearing in good condition, no one in the room, including the “Unabomber” himself, knew when the endurance session would end.
“I am never revisiting this moment,” Laak said. “So since I know that, I want to pull the shred to the nothingness of it. Maybe I taste where my body can’t go. I am pretty aware of my body because it’s mine and I use it all the time. I feel like I am playing with one of nature’s instruments to the edge.”
The talkative nature of Laak’s personality remained constant, even at times when it seemed like he was losing his mental acuity.
After a lengthy anecdote about a man who was able to free himself after having his arm pinned down by a rock, Laak concluded, “Wow I’m really coming down from being tired, or being awake, because none of that really made sense. Yeah, that was rambling, I’m pretty sure that was a lot of rambling.”
While most poker players who sit through marathon sessions rely on coffee or some form of caffeine to stay awake and alert, Laak has avoided all stimulants through his chair swiveling toward the record books.
Behind the thrill of chasing records, all the drowsiness, confusion and short term memory loss that was seeping into the brain of one of poker’s deepest thinkers, is a kid that likes staying up late and takes pride in a quirky talent.
“I believe we all have natural gifts,” Laak said. “You don’t find stuff, stuff finds you. Someone might be an amazing glass blower but they will never know because they aren’t blowing glass. If I didn’t get into the degen[erate] lifestyle that is poker, I would have never found out that I have a knack for super enduro-sessions. I accidentally discovered I have this in me.”
NOTE: At the time this article was released, Laak was at hour 102, further distancing himself from the record of 78 hours.
Update: Early in the morning on June 7th, Laak called it quits and went to bed. Exactly 115 hours were on the clock when Phil stepped away from the table. He finished with a $6,766 profit en route to smashing the record by 37 hours.
Card Player TV caught up with Laak at different stages of his endurance challenge:
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