Monday, July 07, 2008

Most intriguing WSOP story of the day

I just finished reading over the PokerNews live blogging reports from the last half of day, wondering what I might have missed while I was out playing poker at the Palms. Almost the last post of the day was reported by PN's director of tournament reporting, Garry Gates, stepping in himself (and stepping out of his lovely toga) to tell the tale:

The Amazing Phil Laak

We've got to give some credit to one of our frequent Shoutbox posters,
"fastasleep," for sparking the following investigation, as it looks like we've
been duped by the very clever Phil Laak...

On our WSOP registration list for Day 1d, Phil was slated to be in Amazon
Blue, Table 33, Seat 8. Our reporters then scanned the area and informed us that
he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps an error with the registration list? No
worries... it happens. He'll turn up eventually, right?

Hours had passed and there was still no sign of Laak when we noticed
fastasleep's Shout Box post:fastasleep [37 minutes ago]:

"Guys - what's up with Phil Laak....I read a news article that saud [sic]
he showed up today with an altered appearance, courtesy of a latex mask,
make-up, and a false mustache....? Did anyone get any pictures?"

To borrow one of Phil's most frequently used lines, "Sick... So

At this point, we started doing some investigative reporting and spoke with
a few players at the table who'd been there all day.

"Was Phil Laak in the eight seat to start the day?" we asked Alejandro
Parada and Cary Anderson.

"Never," said Parada. "That guy was old and he never said a word."

"The guy in that seat came in late, but he was real old. I watch that show I Bet You all the time and I'm sure it wasn't Laak," said Anderson.

A brief discussion ensued at the table and soon thereafter, Anderson
altered his original supposition:

"You know, the more I think about it, the guy had a big scar... like a big
worm. He wore a Texas hat, but I think he was older. I don't know -- it's
possible, I guess," he added.

Moments later, Anderson put the pieces of the puzzle together, giving us
the following explanation (paraphrased):

"You know, the guy did come in late and when the dealer asked for his ID,
he didn't have any. They then called the floor over and the man in question had
a quick discussion with the floorperson away from the table before eventually
returning to his seat. 'He's OK,' said the floorman to the table and the player
took his seat without saying a single word."

The conversation sparked whispers and "What-ifs" amongst the remaining
players on Table 33 and suddenly, the mystery was solved...

The dealer at the table had been sifting through the registration cards of
fallen victims amidst the commotion and then he found it... Amazon Blue 33, Seat
8 -- Phil Laak.

Needless to say, we missed his bust-out hand.

A clever stunt made for TV? Perhaps... An "I Bet You" prop bet with Antonio
Esfandiari? Certainly plausible.... Being Phil Laak and playing an entire Day 1
of the WSOP Main Event incognito? Ab-so-freakin-lutely awesome.

Mr. Phil Laak . . . PokerNews salutes you!

I was curious what news source the PokerNews tipster had read, so I did a Google news search. I doubt this is what did it (because it's dated too late), but this story adds a little bit more information:

HE SAID WHAT?: "On a scale of one to 10 I thought it was going to look like a
nine and a half. It's like an eight. But if they see something's funny they
don't know it's me, so it's huge." — Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, explaining the
disguise he used to keep opponents from recognizing him. Instead of donning his
usual sunglasses and hooded sweat shirt, Laak spent all morning with a makeup
artist who used a latex mask, paint and a fake mustache and beard to make the
player look completely different.

There's a thread on the twoplustwo forums about the incident, but with just random comments and speculation, no additional information. I did a Google blog search, and found a couple of mentions of the incident, but with no more real facts.

The WSOP sends a photographer around to snap pics of every player, then sells them in various formats, at outrageously jacked-up prices, to the rubes who want an official, custom souvenir of their Vegas adventure. Laak was at Blue Table 33, seat 8, and those photos are found here. This one should be him, and certainly matches the players' descriptions of the mystery man:

It is likely that other photos will pop up, as both media venues and ordinary folks hear about Laak's ruse and scan through their shots to see if they unwittingly caught him in a frame. But given this one available photo (assuming it's the right one), no wonder he wasn't recognized.

The obvious question is why he did this. As Gates wondered, was it a prop bet? Something to do with his TV show? Or was it simply so that he could play poker without recognition? I can see possible advantage in that, because there are surely some amateur players who will take shots at busting him just so that they can brag about it. Of course, that could be an advantage, too, since anybody trying that in a situation where it isn't favorable to do so means an edge for the pro. Maybe he wanted to not be hounded by autograph-seeking fans and media camera and just be left alone to play.

Being who he is, though, I'm quite certain that he will, before too long, emerge from behind the curtain and explain everything, maybe in his next Bluff Magazine column. He's not exactly one to dodge the spotlight for too long.

Addendum, July 9, 2008

As predicted, Laak has now told all. See his very entertaining 29-minute interview with Card Player TV here. It includes an explanation of how word of the ruse got out via Associated Press while it was going on (which, in turn, explains how it got back to PokerNews). His reasons were primarily the gamesmanship of taking on a different persona and exploiting what other players would think of how an old man plays, and the attention he knew would attend the revelation (e.g., ESPN camera time). I found that link, as well as a better photo of Laak's disguise, at Michele Lewis's blog here. Also, contrary to what the PN post said, he has not busted out, but will be returning for Day 2b today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Poker Grump,

I had been asking for updates on Phil Laak in the PokerNews shoutbox all day, and couldn't understand why they didn't have any - usually they're great about such things. So I did a Google News search and found the story about Phil disguise at the International Herald Tribune and Associated Press sites - the story had literally just been released, not more than an hour or so before. I then passed info this along to PokerNews, which then led to their investigation. I stumbled across the pic the next day - it was already doing the rounds somewhat, after the word had gotten out about what Phil had done. I think it's hilarious, by the way. I just hope Phil makes it to the final table now, if he is indeed still in (no-one appears to know), as I have something of a vested interest in that!

All the best, Fastasleep.