With the popularization of poker after the game’s biggest boom in 2003, one of the challenges that some poker players would eventually take up was playing the longest poker session. There’s not much documented info on this prior to Moneymaker’s WSOP Main Event victory, but if you go to any random poker room in Vegas and sit next to some old school poker pro, chances are that he or she will tell you some incredible…incredibly ridiculous, that is…story. The old timer’s tale might be about some guys playing heads-up for their horses and wagons for two months straight until one of them finally noticed that his horse died from thirst and his wagon was stolen long ago, for instance.
Now, let’s look at the chronological progression of documented attempts to either set or break the record for longest poker session ever recorded since Moneymaker’s big win.
The earliest mention of someone attempting this feat dates back to 2004. Oddly enough, the attempt was made not by a professional poker player, but by Larry Olmstead, a traveling writer who had apparently decided to commit suicide by playing poker. Larry played for 72 hours straight, successfully setting the first documented record for the longest poker session. It’s not clear if he was attempting to beat someone else’s unauthenticated record, but judging by the round number of exactly 3 days it’s most likely that he was not trying to beat anyone individually. Instead, it seems like he just set a goal for himself.
Olmstead’s record held for 5 years, seemingly without anyone challenging it during that time. Although in 2006, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi gave an interview to askmen.com in which he stated that he once played for 75 hours straight at The Mirage. There’s no way to prove or disprove this claim and The Grinder never seemed to care much for holding the record himself, but considering how ridiculous some of the other things he said in the interview were it seems highly likely that this was also just a bunch of bull.
The next attempt to break the record came in 2009, when Paul Zimbler took up the challenge. In fact, Paul was never interested in breaking the record. He simply used the challenge for extra motivation while he tried to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
During his quest, Paul played heads-up games against anyone who wanted to participate with all the proceeds from each match going to charity. A lot of pros came by to take Paul on and a total of 183 games were played with Paul winning 102 of them. In the last stretch of his record-breaking attempt, Paul did not feel too well and his last opponent, Mike Matusow, gave him a lot of encouragement to get him through the challenge.
Eventually, Paul did break the record. In the end, Paul played for 78 hours and 20 minutes and raised £35,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the process. He gave an interview the next day in which he discussed the difficulties of his challenge.
With the publicity that Paul Zimbler’s record-setting playing session received, it was expected that many pros would subsequently try to beat Paul’s record. That is, it was expected until Phil Laak took up the challenge in 2010 and shattered the previous record, putting it out of the reach of the vast majority of people.
Phil’s original goal was to make it to 80 hours, but he eventually managed an incredible 115 hours. He ended his run with a profit of $6,766 which he pledged to donate to the Camp Sunshine charity organization.
Laak managed to singlehandedly increase the record from a little more than 3 days straight to almost 5 successive days. After that, it seemed that it would take someone extraordinary to beat Laak’s record.
With that in mind, a marathon nine player cash game was set to be held in Goa in 2011. The idea was that at least one of the nine competitors would actually break Laak’s record (pff, amateurs). Due to some Guinness World Record guidelines, however, the event was postponed for a year. Unfortunately, the event was ultimately scrubbed and never took place at all. Maybe Goa’s ban on booze after 11 pm, which was to be enacted before the re-scheduled attempt to break the record was to begin, had something to do with that.
In 2012, a worthy challenger, Barry Denson, stepped forward to challenge Laak’s record. Barry, a former soldier in the UK, managed to beat the record by more than 5 hours, ultimately clocking 120 hours and 20 minutes of non-stop play.
Like the two previous record-breakers before him, Barry’s main goal was to raise money for charity. Barry’s choice of charity was the Help for Heroes Foundation, a non-profit which supports wounded British soldiers.
Being a former soldier likely helped Barry a lot, but he later admitted that he needed five weeks of preparation leading up to the challenge. In fact, in those weeks, Barry shortened his sleep to 3 hours per night to get used to the pressure he would be facing and this tactic helped him tremendously during the challenge.
So, there you have it! The current record stands at just over 5 days straight. Now two years after the most recent record was set, there have not been any documented attempts made to break it to-date. It’s highly unlikely that we will see anyone who will be able to stretch the record as much as Laak did in 2010 relative to the current record, but you can bet that sooner or later someone will show up with the will and endurance to go for more than five days and 20 minutes straight!