The Poker Hand I'll Never Forget: Phil Laak

Phil Laak

It's the hand that put you over the top. Or the two cards you held that time you were rivered for a monster pot. Everyone has "the hand," that one that you remember no matter how many more tournaments or cash games played. PokerNews takes a look at those hands that stick with players and relive the glory, or misery, depending on the results.

With the World Series of Poker Europe coming to a close at the King’s Casino in the Czech Republic, Phil Laak recently spoke with PokerNews about a memorable hand that led to his first bracelet during the series in 2010.

2010 £2,650 WSOP Europe Six-Handed No-Limit Hold'em

The WSOPE kicked off its third year in 2010 with festivities again held in London at the Casino at the Empire in Leicester Square. As the second day of action began, Phil Laak found himself in the middle of the pack among 31 players remaining. Only 24 players would make it into the money, and by the end of the day the event’s final table would be set for Day 3.

Early in the day, Laak was locked in battle with Vincent Dalet of the first event of the series, which featured 244 entries and a £610,000 prize pool. Dalet is a French player with minimal tournament winnings, but Laak still remembers a big hand in which the Frenchman got the better of him.

The two players were heads-up on a board of {j-Spades}{9-Diamonds}{7-Hearts}. Dalet bet out (the amounts Laak can’t recall), and the Unabomber made the call. Similar action occurred on the turn card, the {7-Spades}. With a healthy pot built up, the river brought plenty of action from Dalet and lots of pondering from Laak.

"After winning the event and looking at it again I had new perspective."

The final card turned out to be {a-Spades} to create an interesting board dynamic. Dalet could now hold a flush, a straight, three of a kind, and even two big pair. When his opponent made a big overbet, three times the size of the pot, Laak was left deciding the fate of his remaining 67,000 in chips.

Laak had an agonizing decision and went into the tank for several minutes before reluctantly folding – a hand that would prove to have been the winner had he made the call. But what was his decision?

“I semi-hero folded trips to my opponent’s huge river bet,” Laak says.

He sent his {6-Clubs}{7-Clubs} to the muck while Dalet showed his big bluff with {k-Clubs}{q-Spades}.

“At the time it sort of stung,” Laak says. “However, after winning the event and looking at it again I had new perspective. The entanglement matrix is a funny thing, huh? State of mind. I guess that is where I was going. State of mind.”

Laak won the event after three days of play for the only bracelet of his career (he does have six final table appearances) and £170,802. Dalet finished eighth for £17,318.

Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak
Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak

No More Needles

With almost $3.7 million in tournament winnings, Laak has become one of the more popular players in the poker world with numerous appearances on “High Stakes Poker” and “Poker After Dark,” and his resumé also includes one World Poker Tour title, the WPT Celebrity Invitational in 2004 for $100,000.

Although he has numerous five- and six-figure cashes, winning a bracelet had become a bit of a mission for Laak after longtime friend Antonio Esfandiari had won his first in 2004 and longtime girlfriend Jennifer Tilly won the WSOP Ladies Championship for a bracelet in 2005 (two more would follow in 2012) for $158,335. Laak commented on the situation with his unique sense of humor.

“The first bracelet really was more of a defense move,” he says. “Antonio's constant needles were never going to stop unless I did something about it. ‘Hey Phil, how does it feel that your girl is a better poker player than you?’ and ‘Hey Phil, what is it like that your girl has a bracelet and you don't?’ And endless variations of the same theme.

“He likes to sew, what can I say? He loves making quilts! Needles … get it? Of course more quilts are coming. But none of them will ever be as good as this one was. For a while it was was his go-to needle. Very nice to put that one to rest. It took me five years, but still very nice. Anyway, now that I have the defensive bracelet it would be nice to get more, put some offensive ones into the books.”

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