‘Youth is wasted on the young’ as the song lyric goes. But in poker, is youth the elixir of life, or the curse of inexperience? In this latest throwback classic, Poker After Dark proves that when youth and experience mix, it’s the best recipe for drama at the poker table.


So much has been written about Tom Dwan that to speak in any authority about him is to add to the enigmatic illusion of his existence. He’s that most enviable of young men at this stage of his career, someone whose sense of mystique grows with every hand he plays, and doubly so with every interview he turns down. To say nothing is to say everything. To disappear is to be omnipresent in the world of ‘Durrrr’.

By comparison, Phil ‘The Unabomber’ Laak is a man for whom no introduction needs making, often because he’s made three himself by the time he’s shaken your hand. In this classic Poker After Dark clash, it’s the exuberance of youth meeting the ebullience of Phil Laak, and, just like the best hands of poker, it’s for all the chips.


One quality that youth provides is a complete lack of fear for trying new things, broadening horizons, and often, being quite reckless. Tom Dwan was all three of those things and a lot more besides in his pomp and he demonstrates the power of that positive belief in this hand, raising all-in on the river to create merry hell in the mind of Phil Laak.

Should we be so fearless as young men and women, or do we put on a front that belies the frailties that many teenagers and young adults feel? In today’s society, courage is not a natural by-product of youth, with many young people confused about their role in society or the opportunities open to them. Tom Dwan was a roaring torrent of confidence, but he was also of his time. He’s not the same player now. He may be better, but the arena in which he was so dominant was bulldozed and replaced by a new playing field. Poker is nothing if not a changeable playground in which to prosper.


Phil Laak has always been one of my favorite players, not least for his ability to surprise me as a viewer. So often, I’d enjoy watching him simply because I didn’t know what he was going to do. We love these characters because of the unknown, and in Phil Laak, we never knew what we were going to get.

Laak is faced with the decision in this hand, and it’s clearly the agony of choice that fries his brain. Could Dwan be bluffing? Of course. But both men are so aware of each other’s perception of them that a certain amount of leveling is going on. Laak is essentially dueling with his own perception rather than the move made by Dwan. Dwan, having made the move, merely has to sit back and not give anything away.


While Dwan gets the better of Laak in this hand, over time, both men have forged hugely successful careers. In doing so, they’ve proved that the fearless nature of youth cannot beat experience. Dwan has moved towards the heart-pounding drama of short deck poker and the biggest swings since Poker After Dark. Although he plays less frequently these days, Phil Laak continues to be a star at any table he joins.

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Tom Dwan, Phil Laak, The Vault