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Poker & Card Related World Records
Phil Laak has had an interesting and illustrious career in cards. Known worldwide as ‘The Unabomber,’ the 47-year old Californian isn’t the richest player by far. He’s ranked 376th on The Hendon Mob’s all-time money list with close to $4 million in tournament earnings. And he hasn’t won the most WSOP bracelets, just one. But there’s no denying his poker prowess. Crafty, confident, and always chatting, Laak is simply one of the best. And, he seems to have more fun than anyone at the table.
With his Irish-American blood seemingly pumping faster than his opponents, Laak is an animated character. He uses his table image to great effect. Like any true poker assassin, he’s able to take people’s money and leave them smiling and laughing in the process. He’s that good. With both a World Series of Poker Europe title (2010, ₤2,500 buy-in Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em) and a World Poker Tour title (2004, Celebrity Invitational) to his name, not to mention his multiple appearances on shows like High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark, he is one of the most recognizable faces in the game. Add in a cameo on the hit television series Knight Rider, and you’ve got one of the game’s leading men.
Who can forget those memorable scenes from the 2005 World Series of Poker when he came so very close to capturing his first ever gold bracelet in the $2,500 Pot Limit Hold’em event? He finished second to the legendary Johnny Chan, but not before entertaining the crowd by periodically stepping away from the table to do push-ups. And a series of other exercises to get his juices flowing. Of course, he was sporting his patented ‘Unabomber’ attire as well, a hoodie and sunglasses, as he often does. And yes, he was talking up a storm, too. It was quite the spectacle.
Oh, and he was also part of the team that competed against and defeated ‘Polaris’ in 2007 at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference in Vancouver. Polaris, a highly touted poker playing computer program, was developed by researchers at the University of Alberta.
Maniac or Insomniac?
So, what possibly could top all of that? How about a world record?
“He’s been talking about this ever since I met him,” said Jennifer Tilly, Laak’s girlfriend, as she watched him set the new mark for the longest continuous ‘live’ poker session more than a decade ago.
It happened in June 2010 at the Bellagio, and not only did he break the Guinness World Record of 78 hours, 25 minutes and 45 seconds set by Paul Zimbler the year before, he smashed it. As more than 117,000 people watched him achieve the milestone online, Laak played cash game poker for a staggering 115 hours. Almost five full days, wow.
Tilly, a Hollywood actress known for her role as Tiffany Valentine in the Child’s Play franchise. And an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Olive Neal in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, is also an accomplished poker player herself. She’s also won a WSOP bracelet. No stranger to the grind, and the toll it might take, Tilly understood what a monumental undertaking it was.
“Sleep deprivation makes you lose brain cells, and Phil can’t really afford to lose anymore brain cells,” she said jokingly.
Make no mistake, Laak is one smart cookie. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in mechanical engineering. No doubt he put in a few late-night cram sessions there. But certainly nothing like 115 hours without shut-eye. He admitted to reporters, as he approached the world record, that he struggled to push on at the 37-hour mark. And then again at the 67-hour mark, but got a second wind after 72 hours. When he officially crossed the line, absent were any signs of the wear and tear of no sleep.
“To embrace the spirit of this challenge, I had to embrace the sickness that evokes this sort of thing in the first place,” he said as he closed in on the record. “I’m in an experimental phase, and there’s no better place to be then some place you’ve never been. This is so much fun, it’s manic fun.”
You may be hard-pressed to break Laak’s record, which took all kinds of endurance and fortitude, but the benchmark for longest marathon online poker session seems far more reachable. It’s only 24 hours, and was achieved by Tom Maaswinkel of the Netherlands in May last year. Just 24 hours? It should be noted that Maaswinkel is the very first holder of this title because it’s a relatively new world record.
Will you be the one to shatter it?
One of Laak’s befriends, Antonio ‘The Magician’ Esfandiari, ranked 15th on the all-time money list with close to $30 million in live tournament earnings, isn’t listed in the Guinness World Records, but he too held a record once. In 2012, he captured one of his three WSOP bracelets by winning the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop for an incredible $18,346,673. At the time, it was the largest single payout in tournament poker history. It was eclipsed last year by Aaron Zang at the Triton Million High Roller Series of events in London, England. Zang banked £19,000,000 ($23,100,000) for winning the richest prize ever.
Given his former line of work, you might expect the ultra-talented Esfandiari to be in the record books for other things, like card fanning or chip stacking, but he’s not.
A Tower of Chips
According to Guinness, the most casino chips stacked in three minutes is 185 and was achieved by Italian Silvio Sabba in September 2019. In fact, he broke his own mark of 181 set just a few months earlier. He also shares the title for most casino chips stacked in 30 seconds (42) with compatriot Rocco Mercurio, who added his name to the list back in January. Sabba and Mercurio are also tied for the record of most chips stacked in one minute (75).
The pair are what’s known as ‘serial’ record breakers, with each holding many more Guinness World Records titles.
Cody Nguyen of Mooresville, North Carolina, wanted to leave his mark, and figured a world record was the way to do it. In June 2018, the American successfully shuffled the most casino chips into a single stack, 22. You see it all the time in poker rooms worldwide, players lining up two stacks of chips, maybe four, five, or six on either side, before shuffling them into one neat tower. How about 11 chips on either side? Not easy.
Fanning the Fame?
There is nothing more mesmerizing than a beautiful fan of the playing cards. It’s not an easy thing to do with a standard of deck of 52. But try fanning 326 cards at once. That’s more than six full decks. Almost impossible, with almost being the operative word, because Ralf Laue of Germany managed it in 1994. To achieve the world record, he was required to have the colour and value of every single card visible, using no aids.
When you eliminate the ‘fan’ requirement, the task is made much easier of course. Jack Webster proved in 2010 by holding no less than 992 cards in his hand at once. Nearly 18 standard decks.
Next week, Team Maple will have more world records for you, including details on the largest ever strip poker tournament. Until then, keep your clothes on.