The producers at Poker After Dark like to group together top quality pros around a particular theme. Be it commentators or bracelet holders, there’s usually some cohesive property shared by everyone at the table. Despite being one of the most tenuous themes ever devised, ‘Nicknames Week’ still managed to collect together one of the show’s most entertaining and talented tables.
Phil “Unabomber” Laak, his good friend Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari, Phil “The Poker Brat” Hellmuth, Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, and Erick “E-Dog” Lindgren all returned to the PAD felt. Making her debut was Annette Obrestad, the online sensation who took down the WSOPE Main Event at just 18 years of age. She is known as Annette_15 online, but apparently decided such a pedestrian moniker wouldn’t cut it in front of the cameras. She settled on “The Huntress”, to the confusion and derision of the other players at the table.
The players on show were some of the most talkative, brash, raucous, and entertaining pros on the circuit. No one commands the camera quite like Phil Hellmuth, and Laak and Esfandiari are well known for their degenerate gambling and winning personalities. “The Mouth” and “The Poker Brat” are also good friends, but that didn’t stop Matusow from proclaiming Phil, “an idiot,” before play had even started. With so many conflicting egos gathered together, the chatty Annette Obrestad did well to get a word in edgeways.
E-Dog seemed practically comatose by comparison and barely had time to get into his flow, after taking an early race with Antonio Esfandiari. With a K-Q flush draw on the flop, a raising war ended with both players all-in. Antonio flipped up Queens and held a small advantage. Nothing arrived on the board for E-Dog and he was eliminated in 6th. He later explained that, given that the winner is only person who sees any of the $120,000 prize pool, he wanted to gamble early and build a stack or go home.
Instead it was Antonio with the stack and he wasted no time putting it to work. The Magician put in raise after raise, giving a consummate example of how to run over a table. While Antonio was stealing pots, Phil Hellmuth was busy needling his good friend Mike Matusow. The 11-time bracelet winner produced a copy of his new book Deal Me In, noting that it contained information on the 20 greatest poker players in the world and that Mike wasn’t one of them.
Next to leave the table was the Norwegian debutant Annette Obrestad, falling foul of the Unabomber. She elected to make a push with Ace-rag and was quickly called by Phil with K-Q. Despite beginning the hand with a slight lead, she could not fade the board and went home in 5th place. Shortly after her departure, Mike “The Mouth” committed the entirety of his dwindling chip stack with A-Q and found a caller in Antonio Esfandiari with pocket 3s. The flop completely missed Mike and even provided a 3 on the end to seal the deal. After the hand, both The Mouth and The Brat criticized Antiono for making the call, claiming that he did not need to take such a big risk with a large stack and a low pair.
With Phil and Antionio side by side, it quickly became a verbal war against Phil Hellmuth’s sanity. Increasingly annoyed by Antonio’s aggressive play, Hellmuth began to let more and more of his frustrations rise to the surface. Laak played wingman to The Magician’s needling, until eventually the Brat erupted, telling Antonio that he, “doesn’t know how to slow down,” and petulantly claiming that he would ante out of the tournament rather than take a risk on a marginal hand. True to his word, he was eventually all-in with less than the big blind, once again failing to hit anything. After his elimination he confided to host Leanne Tweeden that, Phil and Antonio were, “out of line,” but noted, “It’s okay because god knows I need some sympathy the way I act.”
In a replay of a previous PAD, the two best friends were then heads up. Antonio began the contest with a solid chip lead, but couldn’t hold onto it for long. The Magician appeared to be on permanent tilt against his good friend, claiming that Laak beats him at every contest they engage in. True to form, Phil would claim the title once again after a masterful slow-play. Calling pre-flop with A-J, the Unabomber checked an A-5-4 flop and then called a bet from Antonio, holding 10-2. A seven on the turn, and another check-call from Phil, preceded a Queen on the end. With his opponent sussed, Laak made a final sneaky check, prompting a large all-in bet from Antonio. Phil confided after the show that he had seen this kind of huge river bluff a few times before from Antonio and he was almost certain that he had the best hand when he made the call.
Phil “Unambomber” Laak took home the $120,000 and the title of reigning Poker After Dark champion. The next episode airs on March 15th. It will chronicle a $50,000 cash game between Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Antonio Esfandiari, Brandon Adams, and Todd Brunson.