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Thursday, June 03, 2004

VVPQotW: WPT Celebrity Invitational
I haven't seen anyone act so strangely on the World Poker Tour since Paul "X-22"/"Quack Quack" Magriel made the final table last year at the Reno Hilton. Phil Laak's behavior may have been odd, inappropriate, and possibly unsportsmanlike at a couple points, but I came away happy that he won, and this was certainly one of the most entertaining WPTs of the season. Antics aside, it was really very nice to see someone enjoying themselves so much at the poker table. I found myself thinking that the Unabomber would fit in great at one of our wackier home games (and while that could be read as an insult to his ability, I mean it as a decription of his likeability.)

Laak's trademark "hiding under his hood" maneuver, first made famous when he hid from a Howard Lederer staredown in last year's WSOP, was nothing compared to tonights antics. They started with his rooting for Antonio Esfandari to outdraw him when Laak was all-in, which Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten described as using "reverse psychology." Um, using reverse psychology againt playing cards? Lady luck? The metaphor didn't quite work for me.

When Joe Cassidy raised Laak in a later hand, Laak jokingly moved to take Cassidy's pulse before folding. Mike Sexton felt the need to explain to the home audience, "Now folks, you don't have to let a man take your pulse when you're at the table." Laak also did sit-ups and push-ups after winning key hands, and when he thought he was going to bust out, instead of getting up and pacing like most players, Laak would just start to put his shoes back on. One thing that would've annoyed me more than amused me, had I been at the final table [stifle guffaw], was that on all-in hands he would run around behind the dealer to announce the turn and river cards before they were even turned all the way over. The "dinosaur dance" cracked me up when he did it sitting down at the table, but it bordered on rude when he got up and was dancing around as he outdrew opponents.

But for the most part Laak just came off as bizarrely charming. At one point Mike Sexton said "Look at the guy. He's like a puppy. It's really hard not to love this guy." I don't think I'd go that far, but he did put on quite a show.

Both Laak and Humberto Brenes engaged in urging? persuading? pleading? cajoling? the dealer to turn over the cards that would help them. I guess they were doing it for the crowd, but I always find such behavior painful in casinos (you usually see it at blackjack tables) and I was suprised to see seasoned players getting that into it. One one of the final hands Laak put hs argument forth to the dealer: "He owns a mountain! I've got, like, an old car."

Gotta feel for John Juanda. He really seemed dazed when he finally busted out at the end, after having things go against him all night. He can take some small consolation in the fact that this was one of the lowest prize pools of the WPT season--only $100,000 to the winner, as compared to the $1.4 million that Antonio Esfandari won at the Commerce in the previously aired L.A. Poker Classic. Well, maybe that knowledge isn't all that comforting, but I guess it's better to have bad luck at a smaller prize pool event than a bigger one.

And finally, the Vince Van Patten Quote of the Week. This came early, when VVP remarked on Laak's gambooling it up by going all-in early:
This is a degenerate gambler's mind at work.
Pure VVP hyberbole: Laak was the short stack, and if he wanted to win he needed to gambool it up to some degree. But the best part was that VVP's quote was answered later in the "player profile" segment on Laak, when Laak said "I'm not just a poker degenerate. A sliver of me is a poker degenerate, and the rest of me is like a civilian."

So ask yourselves, fellow poker players, what is your own personal poker degenerate/civilian ratio?

Click here for last week's VVPQotW.

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