Luxe Life Blog
‘Everything about my life has become better,’ says Phil Laak after record
Professional poker player Phil Laak’s mind-boggling 115-hour endurance challenge at the Bellagio tables here in Las Vegas captured media attention around the world, and it won him a Guinness World Record for longest-ever card play. Phil told me Monday that although he’s thoroughly positive about the experience and would recommend it to everybody, he won’t be doing it again.
“And unless some crazy poker player tries it in the next few months, I think that record may well stand for five years -- maybe forever,” he laughed. “It’s like when I was growing up, I went into the wild Florida swamp and touched the tail of an alligator and lived to tell without being snapped in two. Once you’ve done it, you don’t do it again. Same with this!”
Vegas DeLuxe followed Phil’s incredible poker feat that began June 2 and ended nearly five days later, and contributing photographer Tom Donoghue captured the celebration for posterity. Phil’s task was to exceed the existing 72-hour record and then beat an unofficial record of 78 hours. He went aces high past both!
Phil, who ate yams to fight off hallucinations, and shadow boxed to keep his eyelids from shutting, told me: “I guess it was less than 2 minutes when I got back home that I fell asleep. I slept for 12 hours straight and woke up because I was so thirsty. Then I went back and slept another 6 hours straight. Then it was nearly a week of dozing and falling asleep at odd times before I got back to normal. Now I’m back on my regular schedule: Go to sleep at 4 a.m. and wake about 11 a.m.”
He says his life is completely different as a result of the experience: “I have noticed a great many changes in myself. All positive. All amazingly positive. My new advice would be to stay awake for 100 hours or so. Just do it. Trust me. You will be the better for it. My life is better than I had it before. Being awake for 4 days and 19 hours straight was interesting in and of itself, but it is nothing compared to the experiences that I have had since.
“From the outset, I did my best to approach this whole thing as a Man of Science. Out of the gate, I was happy to be my own human guinea pig in my own little experiment. But I never expected such a remarkable difference in my day-to-day living post-challenge. I expected to become massively tired on my way to beating the record, beat the record, go a little bit more, then go to sleep and wake up refreshed sometime later and return to my life as usual. What happened was so much different.
“First, I never anticipated feeling so strong at 80 hours, and clicking along for as long as I did, and secondly, I never expected to feel so awesome in the weeks to follow. Since the moment I woke from the challenge and straight through to now, things have been different. My confidence is higher than ever and doesn’t seem to be waning. My general love for mankind, the universe and all things is higher than ever before.
“My poker game is greatly improved. I have won seven of the last eight sessions. I feel as if another door of the matrix has opened. I am seeing way more than I saw before. It is hummingly trippy on so many levels. I am fairly sure that this version of me would have a huge edge over the version of me that was playing a month ago.”
Phil even admitted that one of those subsequent nonstop games ran another 30 hours without sleep!
He revealed that the most incredible change, though, is with his emotions: “My empathy levels are super high. While on the life cycle at the gym, I watched a show about singer-songwriter Pink. Pink shared a sad moment, and it really hit me. I started to cry. I was sad, so I cried. I didn’t catch myself and remind myself that I was at the gym, nor did I see this as something to be embarrassed about. Part way through my cry, I realized that this was for sure a new behavior for me.
“I don’t recall ever crying in a public place except at funerals and weddings. Certainly not at the gym watching a TV show on the life cycle. Ten or so seconds into the cry, I found myself happy that I was not finding it at all embarrassing. The old Phil would have his directionals on and not let this happen at the gym. But here I was: I did not care one iota that I was on a life cycle machine at the gym crying. I felt like I had taken a step closer to being self-actualized, and it felt wonderful.
“I also saw the new Karate Kid movie. There were many moments designed to evoke emotion, and I let myself get swept away in each and every one. I must have teared up or cried four or five times in that flick. The new Phil had become more emotional than the old Phil. The newer and more sensitive Phil that I have been living with is, I believe, a better Phil. I love this guy. I want to hug him.
“So score one up in the sensitivity department, as I have more of it. I’ve also become very patient -- off the charts. Never mind the poker stuff. It goes without saying that patience can really help a guy in a tough cash game, but that is not what I am talking about. Just regular stuff. My patience now seems to be infinite. It feels super human, and I love it.
“There’s also been crazy improvement with my athletics. I am hungry for the gym. When I get there, I can't seem to get enough. I have been playing racquetball for about two years now and have never beaten my opponent Michael Binger. The most points I think I ever got against him was 7 or 8. But I felt it was going to change, and it did. The last three games went 15-11 and then 15-13 to him. Then 15-12 to me. I did it, I finally cracked it. I went from never having a shot against this machine to finally doing it! Amazing.
“I know it has only been two weeks, but for sure I have been happier overall. I was always fairly good about this. Happiness is a choice, after all. However, that being said, something extra has found its way into my life. Hard to put my finger on it, but it is real, and I am living it. I only hope that it keeps on ticking well beyond just these two weeks. A distinctly powerful and solid feeling of happiness and well-being has enveloped me since the challenge, and it feels great!
“My overall passion for everything for sure has increased. I can only hope that whatever changed in me stays with me forever. I have had some crazy lucky turns in my life, but this really takes the cake.”
Phil told me he began getting himself in shape for the endurance challenge some six months before playing. He flew to England to work with a sleep deprivation expert. He changed his diet with his favorite nutritionist and dropped weight. He even dropped another 5 pounds during the 115-hour ordeal.
Phil said he’d gone from three traditional meals a day to five smaller meals a day and, for example, just very healthy vegetables and instead of sushi switched to no-rice sashimi plus certain nuts. He also ditched all tea, coffee and caffeine drinks. “I assure you no drugs or stimulants either,” he added, noting that he’d lost a best friend from overdosing, and no way was he following suit.
He did admit that there was just one weird “hallucination” that kicked in about hour 92. Phil said he’d returned from a permissible break to the table and went through a short experience where everybody was apparently speaking French, and he couldn’t understand even the game that was being played.
“That was weird,” he told me. “It was like an out-of-body experience. I thought I was in a foreign land and not in Las Vegas. None of it made sense. I kept giving the cards back to the dealer like I was folding. I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. My nutritionist told me to eat yams to get my brain fed and back on track.
“I knew I had to get my brain kicking in again. I’d exercised it fully in advance of the enduro challenge. It was in a constant state of thought processing. I trained for the endurance by exercising the brain. I knew if I got the brain in a constant state of exercise and thought and challenge, I could go without the sleep. It’s the most powerful muscle in the body.
“Furthermore, it burns the most calories, so you have to keep it properly fed. I lost count of how much water I drank, too. Once I ate the yams, my brain returned to normal. That was the only time I lost it. I was completely gone for 4 minutes, but by 12 minutes, I was right back at normal.
Phil says his eyelids became very heavy numerous times behind his sunglasses. “I’d get up, stretch, do push-ups and shadow box. That got the adrenaline going and would make me feel refreshed again.” At one point in his Camp Sunshine fundraising feat, he did 30 pushups to raise additional money.
“It was the fittest I’ve ever felt during the challenge, and now I feel even fitter and stronger,” he commented. Phil says he thinks a couple of poker players might very quickly try to top him. “They’re a crazy group of people,” he told me. “They may want to try it, but I think if nobody knocks me off by the end of this year, it’s going to stay intact for at least three to five years. If nobody gets close, then it could stand forever.”
Phil had the final word: “Everything about my life has become better and felt better since this. I never believed that would be possible. It’s heightened absolutely everything. As I always say, I’m the happiest poker-playing degenerate to have ever lived.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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