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How To Win on Poker Night – Tips From Poker Pro Phil Laak

Phil Laak
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Phil Laak is one of the best known and widely recognized professional poker players in the world. Known as “The Unabomber” for his hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses at the table, Laak has a World Poker Tour title, a WSOP bracelet and has amassed nearly $3 million in live tournament earnings in over 14 years of professional card-playing. With these credentials, it’s no surprise that the makers of the new action film ‘Runner Runner‘ starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake– a thriller set in the attractive and dangerous world of online poker — would turn to Laak for advice on how to make the poker in the movie look as realistic as possible. (Note to non-poker aficionados: “runner runner” is the poker term for the hand that’s made by the two cards after the flop — the turn and the river — and it can be either devastating or miraculous).

“It’s not fun when you see a poker scene in a movie and there’s something that doesn’t happen in a poker game,” Laak said about his role as a poker consultant for the film which opened nationally on October 4. “End shifts, stack sizes, little poker things. When something unrealistic happens at a poker game there’s always a little, ‘Wow that’s a big budget film – why didn’t they just ask any poker player in the world and they would have said that doesn’t happen here.’ Antonio [Esfandiari] and I tried to make it as authentic as possible.”

Poker is big time and big money, from Vegas to home games. Chances are you’ve played in a poker game recently. And chances are good that you didn’t win as much as you wanted to, right? (Let’s face it, you’re not playing just for the conversation and the cigars and beer) Well, if you want to learn how to win more money at poker, you talk to someone who has been there and done that. Someone like Phil Laak. A self-confessed “games junkie” (he was a world-class backgammon player before he played cards), Laak has been on the winning and losing end of runner runner and everywhere in between.

Here are five tips from Laak on how to make sure you leave with your buddies’ money at the end of poker night.

Preparation Is Key

“Everyone has the will to win, but few have the will to practice,” Laak said. “Practice is a daily, regular never-ending endeavor. In poker everyone comes with the spirit of ‘Yeah, I’m gonna crush’ but the way you crush actually has to do with how much homework have you done, how much studying have you put in, how much work have you done. It’s a little bit about the cards but it’s all about handling them optimally. And you only learn that with experience and with time. Practice and the preparation into the game before you arrive is very important.”

Mind Over Matter

“Poker is almost more philosophy than gambling and science and math and the games,” Laak explained. “The actual learning how to play poker is relatively straightforward; the hard part is putting it into practice. Many times when you’re in a hand you say, ‘Oh this is when I’m supposed to fold,’ but if you fold you don’t get to see what he had and he might have had a bluff. You know in the long run some spots are bad to pursue and some spots are good to pursue. Don’t be married to your hand. Have the spiritual discipline to say, ‘Ok I’m beat’ and get out. A lot of money is lost by just calling when you know you’re beat.”

Manage Your Money

“You don’t want to play with the rent money because that’s just stupid,” Laak said. “If you start gambling then make sure that whatever money you come to the table with is disposable income or it’s not gonna kill ya if you’re out fifty bucks. It’s the same stuff as Wall Street you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. If you’re coming to the poker game you don’t want to bust yourself in one night because the next night if there’s a poker game you can’t get into it.”

Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When To Fold ‘Em

Just because they’re the lyrics to a Kenny Rogers song doesn’t mean they aren’t true. “Winning poker is actually a lot of folding and then when you finally get a hand being very aggressive,” Laak explains. “So in a very simple nutshell: fewer hands but the few hands you play, play more aggressively. It takes discipline to fold. When you fold a hand you’re actually theoretically earning money if playing that hand was a long-term minus ev [expected value] spot. Tight is right and fit or fold are just two really super pithy one liners that go a long way in truth.”

Keep Your Cool

“You learn the game, it’s about who doesn’t crack,” Laak explained. “The gambling thing delivers cracking moments where the probability gods just want you to crack because they offer up something so grotesque, some painful beat. It’s woven into the game. Accept it. You are going to destroy people with one-outers and people will destroy you with one-outers. You have to be Kung Fu David Carradine-style — catch the hatchet without seeing where it’s coming from. You have to walk the rice paper without leaving a trail. That’s the only way to survive in gambling. You have to be a philosopher first and a games player second.”

Watch the ‘Runner Runner’ Trailer

NEXT: THE BEST POKER GAMES FOR YOUR PHONE

Photo by Aaron Savage
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