Phil Laak is one of my favorite poker players of all-time, and it has nothing to do with his legendary status as ‘The Unabomber’, or even how he talks Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow down in this classic episode of Poker After Dark. Laak stars in this classic hand whilst playing at a fun table including his own partner, Jen Tilly, former WSOP Main Event winner Johnny Chan, and Daniel Negreanu. But it’s not his obvious poker star quality that makes him one of my favorites. Laak and I actually have a history.
Around four years ago, I happened to be editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine. When I joined, I was told that several poker pros would be contributing to the magazine and that part of my job was to edit their words. I scoured the names with a feverish interest. Whose text would I have the fortune of checking? Well, amongst them was Phil Laak, one of my favorites to watch on TV. He’d been box office for years, but he got even better after he survived a fight with an all-terrain vehicle at high speed in 2010. It made him look invincible in real life as well as at the poker table. But it wasn’t even his ability to cheat death that made me love Laak.
This hand is a great demonstration of why I love Laak. You can access all of PokerGO’s on-demand service for $10 a month, and that’s the kind of value I’m always chasing. You can watch hands like this one, where Laak is just all over Matusow from the moment he looks down at KdQd. The fact Matusow has Big Slick and goes all the way to a $7,000 river bet with Laak’s words ringing in his ears is sweet justice enough. After all, Matusow has been famed for years for his deadliest weapon – a seemingly endless supply of words. The king landing on the river is, as they say, adding insult to injury.
And here’s where we come to the reason I love Laak – his words.
It’s said that William Shakespeare invented over a thousand words of the English language in his lifetime. Impressive? If you consider that the Bard scribed 37 plays and 154 sonnets, that’s a little over 5 words per piece. Imagine how many drafts he went through in quill and ink – he’s hardly come up with any new material. By comparison, when Phil Laak’s first column arrived on my desk for sub-editing, it was peppered with more unique words than there are pebbles on the beach. I cast my eye over the complex arrangement of prose I’d previously never heard of.
I emailed Phil, saying something like: ‘I love the piece Phil, but I’m not sure some of the words quite fit.’ I retouched a couple of the sentences and sorted a couple of grammatical errors that we’re all prone to. I removed a word of Phil’s invention.
A to-and-fro ensued. Polite, of course, but also passionate, after all, when it comes to words, accuracy is important, but so is expression. Phil made a stand; the word should stay and I should make sure to include the other inventions too. I had to admit that I liked the way the words looked, even sounded, but as risks go, it’s about as all-in as my side of the felt ever gets.
Publishing that issue, I wondered if the new words would garner an online trolling or complaint letters. Maybe even phone calls to the subscription line, demanding money back for content which in theory, did not exist as approved words of the English language.
I needn’t have worried. Not one complaint, indeed there was praise for another unique column from the ebullient Laak. That popularity continued over the following months and I left his invented language in. Laak-speak. Original or not, The Unabomber always had a way with words.
As you might expect, it’s a lot of fun for me to watch Laak surmising Matusow’s predicament in this hand.
“He, on the river, has three kings and I have a full house. He’s just in a barrel of pickle juice.”
There’s no editing that. As commentator Ali Najed put it at the time:
“Matusow was now in an impossible situation.”
Matusow’s call is glorious. He even talks us through exactly why he’s committing the chips:
“I just don’t play good enough to fold this hand.”
Laak revels in victory in the exclusive Director’s Cut behind-the-scenes interview after the game. Matusow eulogises on his defeat too, and that’s why I love classics like Poker After Dark being On Demand via the PokerGO Vault.
We get to hear words that have never been heard before.