When you get nicknamed “The Unabomber,” you may like it or not, but one thing is for certain – you're probably not just an ordinary human being. And if you ask Phil Laak, he’ll probably agree. “Ordinary” is hardly the adjective you’d use to describe the third most famous Phil in poker.
Laak has always been quite a character with a strong table presence. But, unlike some of his fellow players, he didn’t become famous for a deadly stare or incredible soul reads.
While Phil Laak poker skills can't be denied, it is his personality that's helped make him one of the all-time fans' favorites. Often wearing a hood while playing (which is how the infamous nickname came about), pulling funny stunts, and telling interesting stories, “The Unabomber” is simply the guy you'd want to have in your home game.
There are many pros out there who seem to take Texas Hold’em way too seriously. Phil Laak is the exact opposite. While he still wants to win just as much as the next person, he also puts a lot of emphasis on having fun and enjoying his time.
This article brings you the full Phil Laak poker story from the very start up until today. If you’ve always wanted to know more about “The Unabomber,” keep on reading, as you’ll probably find out some new and interesting facts about one of the most colorful characters in all of poker.
Phil Laak Career Highlights
$3.8 million in tournament earnings
Owner of one WSOP bracelet & one WPT title
Appeared on numerous poker TV shows
Guinness world record holder for the longest live poker session
Phil Laak Early Days & Flirting With Poker
Although he’s spent most of his life in the US, Phil Laak was actually born in Ireland in 1972. His family moved to the States when he was just four years old, though, and he grew up in Massachusetts.
Phil got introduced to card gameswhen he was very young. His family loved playing cards, and young Laak was quite talented. He was quick to pick up rules and figure out any game that crossed his path.
Despite learning poker at a young age, Laak didn't take up the path of a professional player until later in his life. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts, receiving a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.
During the time spent studying, he was mostly fascinated by classes that weren’t so closely related to his professional field. For example, taking the Introduction to Logic course helped Laak develop a deeper understanding of certain concepts that would prove invaluable later in his career.
But, knowing what we know of “The Unabomber” today, it’s hard to imagine him working a regular nine-to-five job, regardless of the pay.
True to his character, after graduating, Laak took a long trip with his friends, moving to San Diego, California. He was far from ready to settle and was looking for some excitement and adventure, and California seemed like a great choice.
He spent the next few years going from one job to another, even working as a sports betting broker. Phil was searching for his dream job, but he just didn’t have any luck with it.
Since California failed to deliver, he decided to move on and found himself in New York City. It was here that the Phil Laak poker career would start to shape up.
“The Unabomber” (although this wasn't his nickname at the time) discovered underground clubs in the city and started frequenting them to play backgammon. After a while, he was better than most of his opponents. He had a good run, but, eventually, there wasn't any money left to be made in the game.
So, he finally moved to poker cash games, and, not surprisingly, he had quickly emerged as one of the best players in the underground scene.
After a while, Laak realized he could make a living playing poker and decided it was time to try the real thing. He moved on from underground games and set his eyes on much bigger goals.
The Phil Laak Poker Journey
With the backgammon action drying up completely, Laak decided to split his time between day trading and playing poker. Although he had a lot to learn about poker, things he was seeing in the games made him realize that there were heaps of money to be made on the green felt.
Laak witnessed rich businessman and happy-go-lucky gamblers consistently lose thousands at the tables in situations that even he, with his limited knowledge, knew were simply bad.
Spending his time between Las Vegas and LA, Phil was honing his skills and making some serious money in the process. During the 1999 World Series of Poker, he met Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari. The two would go on to build a strong friendship that lasts to this very day.
Laak spent the first few years of his poker career focusing mostly on cash games. In one of his early interviews, he stated that for a couple of years, he never found himself in a game where he didn't have a serious edge over some players.
Internet poker was booming, and there was an influx of new players, and things would only get better with the 2003 Moneymaker boom.
Eventually, Laak ditched his day trading completely and turned exclusively to poker. There was so much money to be made in the game during the early 2000s that he figured out that this was the time to give it his all.
As for his success on the tournament circuit, Phil has a decent resume for someone who’s never been that much into freezeout tournaments. He’s won more than $3.8 million over the course of his career and has one WSOP bracelet to his name.
But these official results are hardly something to go by. Those who know Laak will tell you he’s been consistently winning in cash games over the years.
And, sometimes, looking at his antics and some of his plays, one could wonder – is this really true?
But it seems that all of it is a part of the greater Phil Laak poker strategy. He’s not just playing the oddsand numbers. He's also playing mind tricks on his opponents, and it seems he knows what he's doing. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't still be around.
Phil Laak The Character: Hilarious Antics and Crazy Prop Bets
If Phil Laak were just another grinder making his money in silence and owning his opponents without much talk, he’d be just another poker-playing dude. Good at what he does, sure, but who cares? He’s not the only one – or the best one, for that matter.
But if you’ve ever seen a televised game featuring “The Unabomber,” you know exactly why he’s so popular.
It seems that the word “normal” just isn’t in Laak’s dictionary. I guess it's fair to say that what most people consider normal, Phil finds boring and dry. He likes to spice things up, and he always comes up with new ways to do it.
When at the tables, you’ll often see him rocking oversized headphones or super-large shades that look like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. This style is accompanied by his monologues explaining how his brain works and how he gets signals from the “mothership” (or something to that effect).
The best part is, it’s not just the same monologue over and over again. Laak has such a big imagination that he'll come up with the wildest and funniest of stories all the time. And you can never tell if he's just joking or if he actually believes some of the outrageous things he's saying.
Whether he’s winning or losing, “The Unabomber” is always in a mood to put up a show, especially when involved in a hand with his good buddy Antonio. But he does it in such a way that you just can’t help but laugh at him and with him, which makes him a great character to have on TV.
“The Unabomber” has even contributed to the poker lingo, coming up with funny but well-thought-out phrases such as “upstuck,” “felted,” and “POW” – as in Pay Off Wizzard.
Thus, it’s no surprise that Laak was featured on all prominent poker shows, including High Stakes Poker, Poker Night in America, Poker After Dark, and much more.
Phil Laak Playing Poker for 115 Hours Straight
Normal people consider a long poker session to be 12 or maybe 24 hours. For Phil Laak, however, that’s just not enough of a challenge. So, in 2010, he decided to go after the Guinness World Record for the longest-ever live poker session.
He sat down at the $10/$20 cash game table at the Bellagioand started an adventure that would end up breaking all expectations – even his own.
Initially, Laak planned to play for 80 hours, but, apparently, he enjoyed the experience so much that he moved the bar and kept on grinding for another 35 hours. He finally got up after straight 115 hours of play.
This blew the previous record of 78 hours out of the water, and it will be some time before anyone even thinks of challenging this Laak’s achievement because it’s really crazy.
The man spent almost five whole days playing poker! If that’s not passion, I don’t know what is.
To make things even sweeter, Phil ended in the black. His profit for the monster sessions and after who knows how many poker hands was $6,766, all of which he donated to charity.
“The Unabomber” wasn’t in it for the money, as he tends to play at much higher stakes. But after the challenge, he said that he’d never had more fun playing poker in his life.
Of course, he did have some short breaks during the period, and he was allowed to “collect” his five-minute breaks and exchange them for a single longer one, but these are really small details.
It’s just another Phil Laak oddity that makes you wonder if he’s really a human and if all that talk about the connection to the “mothership” isn’t just him joking around.
Phil Laak Net Worth
The Phil Laak poker career has been a long and successful one, but how much money has he actually made playing cards? What’s the current Phil Laak net worth when all things are considered?
Well, like with many professional players, it’s hard to say exactly. As mentioned, tournament results hardly paint an accurate picture of the Phil Laak net worth, and his cash game results aren’t publicly available.
But poker isn't the only thing “The Unabomber” is involved with. He's appeared on TV, done some consultancy work, invested in real estate, and who knows what else. An intelligent and active person, Phil certainly knows how to put his money to work.
With all that said, the current Phil Laak net worth is estimated at around $18 million. This may or may not be the correct number, but several sources mention this figure, so that’s the best available information.
Phil Laak Personal Life
While the Phil Laak poker career can be described as colorful, his personal life isn’t any less so. “The Unabomber” is best known for his relationship with Jennifer Tilly, a successful actress who gained fame for her role in “Chucky” horror movies.
Tilly and Laak have been together since 2004, and Phil introduced Jennifer to poker and helped her hone her skills. Over the course of the relationship, Tilly has also developed a passion for the game and started playing a lot.
Because of her relationship with Phil, Jennifer has been nicknamed “Theunabombshell.”
Laak has also been a good friend with Antonio Esfandiari, one of the best poker players around, and this friendship has been the source of many entertaining TV moments. Both men clearly take great pleasure in inflicting pain to each other on the green felt, and their poker needles are legendary.
Away from the felt, Phil Laak likes to keep himself busy and leads an exciting life. In addition to his poker exploits, his Twitter is filled with posts of all sorts of exciting outdoor activities. In 2012, for example, he went to the Burning Man festival, and he shared that experience with his fans and followers.
Phil Laak in 2021 and Onwards
Laak hasn't been nearly as active in the poker world in recent years. Even his last Twitter post is over two years old, dating back to March of 2019. As for his poker career, he hasn't cashed in any tournaments since January of 2020, and he's barely played any poker (that we know of) since the summer of 2019.
What does all of this mean? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s hard to believe that Laak is done with poker. More likely, given the current situation, he decided to take this opportunity to devote himself to some other interests and spend more time with Tilly.
Laak will probably be back on the grind soon, adding some color to the poker scenery. Unless, of course, that ship has finally decided to reclaim him and take him back to whatever planet he came from!