Now that I’ve recovered from my unscheduled extended journey home and overcome, although only recently, the devilish burden that is jetlag, I see no reason why I can’t retell a few of my experiences from Vegas. Unfortunately, I don’t have too many tales of drugs, sex and rock n roll that I am allowed to nonchalantly spill into written form without suffering the previously avoidable consequences, but I can share an encounter with Phil Laak that will, hopefully, entertain you for at least a few moments.
Laak’s an interesting chap. Annoys some, but is admittedly highly endearing and hard to dislike. When I first saw him, I think he was undertaking press-ups on a WPT stage with his trademark hood concealing his true identity. At the time, I deemed this to be a detrimental practice that would do nothing but denounce the credibility of poker, but, as with Humerto Brenes, I have recently altered my views and now consider it to be a fun part of the game that is required to keep us all sane, even if they aren’t. If we take poker too seriously, then we’re all at risk of going round the bend, so it’s ironic that it’s the insane ones that bring a balance to what can sometimes be a very serious, conservative and restrained past-time.
I’ve reported on Unibomber events before, but never enjoyed an exchange with him. However, I did receive this opportunity at the World Series, and it was a confusing encounter that left both of us baffled. As I passed his table one time, I was glancing at his chips for a count, when he counted them out for me. Just to break the ice, as I do with many of the successful pro’s, I amusingly (although not in retrospect) said, “If you need any help, let me know and I’ll send you a text telling you what you should do.”
In response, Phillip, as his best buds call him, replied by requesting that I write my number down on a piece of paper for him to refer to. At first, although I was baffled by his serious demeanour, I assumed that he was merely playing along with the jovial banter. However, after he’d asked who I worked for and been bemused by my non-Pokernews response, it suddenly became clear that we were experiencing a small case of crossed wires with Phil believing that I was requesting he calls me up with any information if anything exciting happened at his table.
After some very bizarre dialogue where neither us knew what the other one was talking about, we did eventually defeat the language barrier that had been plaguing this highly unnecessary yet surreal conversation and reach a common ground, albeit after a temporary stunned silence. At this point of realisation, Phil said, “Aaaaaaaah, I see, it was English sarcasm.”
Although the moment of simple amusement that should have succeeded my one liner had turned into something rather more embarrassing, what did make me smile was that Phil was prepared to ring me, or at least give the idea that he was prepared to help even if he wasn’t, to retell any table info that may occur. Of course, my phone wouldn’t have rung, especially because that would have meant conceding his number to a seemingly mad Englishman, but the fact that he humoured me instead of telling me to fuck off showed how nice a guy he actually is and why he is so hugely popular among everyone within poker.
He didn’t tell me to fuck off, instead, simply enjoyed the fact that our wires had got crossed and offered his hand to shake as a meet and greet gesture. Of course I obliged, although almost ruined the very start of a friendship by saying that I wouldn’t wash my hand again as his had touched Jennifer Tilley. I opted against this in case my English humour was again misinterpreted, perhaps even as something rather more mischevious and sinister.
Later on in the tournament, which, I believe, was the 5k short-handed event, I heard a voice exclaim, “Snoop dog.” It was Phil, and it seemed like he had an enthralling story to tell me after all. As I skipped over, he whispered in my ear, “Have you noticed how big (although he may have used a more derogatory term) Dutch Boyd is?”
Slightly surprised, but simultaneously eager to continue along the line of humour that he’d drawn out, I said that he ought to focus on his game and that my offer to send him texts of tips while he plays was still open. He was reluctant at first, but seemed more intrigued when I informed him that my advice had seen Chip Reese through to H.O.R.S.E glory the year prior.
“I would, naturally,” he said, “but it’s an international call. I’d need at least 2 bucks.” “2 bucks!” I thought, “what a croc, me pay him for my advice, that doesn’t sound right.” Anyhow, although I did initially whip out my wallet naively, I ultimately rejected the suggestion and retracted my offer.
It was around this point that we (the bloggers) got to see the full Laak in action. After a bet and a raise (the initial action deriving from online pro Carl Olsen), the relatively shortstacked Laak pushed all-in on a raggy Flop with just about enough to get both players to fold.
Now, Phil isn’t known for a stoic poker face, instead opting for a more animated approach to concealing his hand, and this occasion was no different. Perhaps to relieve tension, Phil causally got his stuff together and started to pack away. He then put on his jacket, stood up from his chair and braced himself to leave, even positioning himself in a standing running position. After a long session in the think tank, the raiser folded and Phil survived, but I’d be interested to see what he had. Guess I’ll never know if his act was one of a bluffer or not.
Gradually becoming a bigger fan of the genuinely nice Laak as the day progressed, I decided to back up my offer of tactical aid by writing down my advice on a piece of paper rather than costing him the price of an international call. So, with 3 tips, one of them being “Always play Eye of the Tiger on you ipod” in hand, I headed out to share my pearls of wisdom. But, on exiting the pressroom, the solemn figure of Phil Laak was standing dejectedly in the corridor. “Out?" I asked hesitantly. “Yep, I’m gone,” he replied disappointedly and nowhere near the excitable childlike figure he was just moments ago. I decided it best not to give him my 3 tips at this point.
All blog entries should have a point of some kind, shouldn’t they? Well, this was just to retell my first encounter with one of the game’s most famous players and one which I’d witnessed countless times on the TV before, albeit with a slight annoyance. However, if I was to draw a conclusion of some kind, it would be that Phil Laak is a bizarre, zany character who is exactly how he appears on the small screen. He doesn’t simply ham it up for the cameras – he’s just as surreal away from them and you can’t help but think that there's a small screw clinging around in there as you speak to him. What’s most important though is that although his playfulness can give the impression that he either doesn’t care or doesn’t take poker seriously, that couldn’t be further from the truth. He loves his poker, and he loves to enjoy his poker, but when it comes down to it, he’s just as desperate to win as the Hellmuths and the Fergusons, and that was proven by his contrasting mannerisms and gutted lethargy upon elimination.