Through personal experience and obsessive poker viewing on TV, Paul Seaton delivers a weekly throwback to some of your favorite poker hands on Poker After Dark. This week, it’s a classic class of BFFs as Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari put their stacks on the line.

There are so many friendships that are put to the test in poker. This week on PokerGO, I’ve been watching another classic episode of Poker After Dark prove that any true friendship will stand the tests of both time and poker.

You can watch a whole host of archive shows on PokerGO, from the most recent World Series of Poker which saw John Cynn win $8.8 million when he defeated a final table featuring former world champion Joe Cada to the latest Deep Issues at the felt. I tuned in for this latest Poker After Dark episode and reveled in the banter between the legendary felt frenemies Antonio ‘The Magician’ Esfandiari and Phil ‘Unabomber’ Laak. I know that the two of them are best friends, because in 2014 when I was trying to get hold of Antonio for his monthly magazine column, I needed to work around his weekend with Phil. They’re best buddies away from the baize and even manage to maintain their friendship at the felt in this all-in clash.

It wasn’t in this instance, but friendship can be tested by poker. There are numerous occasions in poker where friendship away from the tables can only help. Most great players are part of a friend group who support them through the good times and bad. Good friends outside poker are important too, to keep you grounded when you win big and build you up when you’re enduring a downswing. But at the felt, in the heat of battle, how hard must it be to maintain total love from your friend when they really put you to the test?

A Story of Poker & Friendship

I vividly recall reporting on a fantastic tournament in 2012 – the English Poker Open. I was a kind of roving correspondent, trotting between the live tables and the live stream commentary, which, as most are, was 30 minutes behind. Imparting tournament knowledge where necessary and yet maintaining the suspension of disbelief that comes with any delayed stream is a tricky business but, if done well, heightens the enjoyment for thousands of fans.

As the tournament progressed, I was witnessing a pretty special last few tables. The £2,000 buy-in wasn’t the biggest ever recorded, but it was a strong field. Along some of the best British players who’d gathered at the now defunct Fox Poker Club in London were some of Europe’s finest poker professionals. Dave ‘The Devilfish’ Ulliot was sat next to Sam Grafton. Chris Bjorin and Mickey Petersen were dueling on another table (the pair would eventually battle heads-up with the younger man prevailing). But one of the most interesting clashes was between two men I knew were friends. Best friends.

Sam Trickett and Chris Sly have been pals for years, and they still are to this day, having shared England’s incredible journey to the World Cup semi-finals together in Russia in the summer. The pair has been largely inseparable since they began playing poker together and have often frequented the same tournaments, especially back then.  In 2012, they didn’t just participate in the same tournament, they were at the same table. Having managed to avoid each other for a few orbits, the inevitable clash came late on the penultimate day when three tables were about to become two. What started as a raise and a three-bet turned into a four-bet, a five-bet and a serious stare-down between the pair on the bubble. How much of the raising was started off as banter I wasn’t sure, but one man would have to fold or it would be an all-in clash that could cost one of them a place in last 18 of that tournament.

Eventually, after some words, some smiles and a rueful lay-down from Trickett, Sly took the pot down. Neither Trickett or Sly made the final two tables in that tournament, but both were there to support their friend Jamie Roberts finish fourth. Although the hand was never revealed, Trickett said it was a big one, and he’d know. Just two months earlier, he’d bagged $10 million in the Big One for One Drop, losing heads-up to Antonio Esfandiari. Poker is a circle, isn’t it?

If you want to see what tricks The Magician could pull years ago, then check out the hand above or subscribe to PokerGO now to get exclusive access to the best live poker action and original programming all on-demand in HD at any time on your favorite device. Want to learn more about Sam Trickett? Listen to his life story on the Heads Up with Remko Podcast.

Just remember – when it comes to poker, there’s no hand worth winning that costs you a true friend.

Antonio Esfandiari, Sam Grafton, Sam Trickett, Phil Laak, Dave Ulliot, Devilfish, Chris Bjorin, The Vault, Mickey Petersen