Laak was born in Dublin, raised on the East Coast, and now lives in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a degree in mechanical engineering and worked as an engineer, a repo man, a stock day trader, and a real estate investor, prior to getting into open poker games in California. He is a former roommate of fellow professional poker player and close friend Antonio Esfandiari.
Laak learned to play poker as a child. His first major tournament victory was at the World Poker Tour (WPT) Celebrity Invitational in February 2004. He has made two other WPT final tables since: sixth place in both the season two Battle of Champions and the 2005 Five Diamond World Poker Classic. At the 2005 World Series of Poker (WSOP), Laak finished second to Johnny Chan in the $2,500 pot limit hold ‘em event. Laak defeated Ram Vaswani to win the inaugural William Hill Poker Grand Prix, taking home the £150,000 first prize. He has also competed in numerous Poker Royale series. Laak appeared on seasons two, three and four of High Stakes Poker on GSN, and served as the dealer on the short-lived television series E! Hollywood Hold’em. Laak was a winner of NBC’s Poker After Dark, earning the weekly prize of $120,000. The tournament was entitled “Phil Phil” because both himself and Phil Hellmuth were contenders. Apart from Laak and Hellmuth the table consisted of Doyle Brunson, Antonio Esfandiari, Jennifer Harman, and Erik Seidel.
At the 2007 conference of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence in Vancouver, British Columbia, Laak and fellow professional player Ali Eslami competed against, and beat, Polaris, a poker playing computer program developed at the University of Alberta, in two of the four rounds with the remaining rounds being a loss and a draw. As of 2008, his total live tournament winnings exceed $1,750,000. Laak has written a monthly column called “Being Phil” in the poker-themed Bluff Magazine since late 2005. Laak co-hosted a show called “I Bet You” on the (MOJO network) with his friend Antonio Esfandiari where they can be found betting on any and all things.
Laak also played in the 2009 Aussie Millions cash game Invitational.