Poker is a popular game for many reasons. The challenge and competition from the game are major aspects. Channelling a bit of the Guinness Book of World Records, some players have taken that “challenge” to new heights.

Consider record numbers of hands at the tables to bankroll challenges. Many players have sought fame in the poker record books – and not just for a big title or major score. 

Here’s a look at a few poker challenges that stand out.

1. The Never-Ending Cash Game

🎮Player: Phil Laak
⚙️Type of Challenge: Endurance

Phil “TheUnabomber” Laak is a familiar face to many fans of televised poker shows. His gregarious personality has made him a fan favourite. 

In 2010, Laak decided he wanted to break the world record of 78 hours, 25 minutes. 

According to CardPlayer magazine, there were a few stipulations to set the record - 

  • The entire session had to be recorded
  • With witnesses present
  • And a five-minute break allowed every hour

After more than four days playing cards at the Bellagio, Laak accomplished the feat. The game was $10/$20 No-Limit Texas Hold’em. Laak was eventually in for $100,000. He went on to surpass the record by a wide margin – bowing out after 115 hours

He also walked away with a $6,766 profit from his play at the tables during that span. That’s about a $59 per hour return on investment. 

Phil may have hoped for more winnings but took pride in his accomplishment. 

“I believe we all have natural gifts,” Laak told Card Player. “You don’t find stuff, stuff finds you. Someone might be an amazing glassblower, but they will never know because they aren’t blowing glass. 

“If I didn’t get into the degen[erate] lifestyle that is poker, I would have never found out that I have a knack for super enduro-sessions. I accidentally discovered I have this in me.”

2. Playing Every Hand

🎮 Player: Trevor Savage
⚙️Type of Challenge: Strategy

Poker vlogger Trevor Savage created a unique challenge for his poker vlog Raising the Nuts. The vlog documents his life as a poker grinder in New Jersey. It also mixes in some comedy and family life.  It’s an interesting look at the average life of a full-time poker player.

The unique Play Every Hand challenge involved showing up at a casino for a $1/$2 or a $1/$3 No-Limit Hold’em cash game. 

When playing –

  • He’s not allowed to fold preflop unless there is an all-in
  • Or three-bet before the action gets to him

Savage documents his play in each session with some interesting results.

Playing every hand can undoubtedly make for some interesting play and reactions. He donated the winnings to charity and was up $800 after his first eight attempts. 

Not bad, and no doubt he’s good at dodging bullets.

3. Zero to $10K

🎮Player: Chris Ferguson
⚙️Type of Challenge: Strategy: Bankroll Management

2000 WSOP Main Event champion Chris “Jesus” Ferguson may have taken on one of the best-known poker challenges. The goal was simple but difficult – 

Start playing online with nothing and build that up to $10,000. 

How do you start with nothing and build that to five figures? Ferguson planned to use freerolls to get his initial bankroll started.

"One of the funny things about the challenge is that people would see me playing a freeroll and think I was fooling around,” he told “Are you kidding me? I was taking those freerolls dead seriously."

The challenge began in March 2006. Despite some setbacks and scrambling to build those initial dollars, he completed the challenge in September 2007. 

It was a long slog, putting in 10 hours a week at micro and small stakes at times. But he eventually  completed the challenge. Soon, the Full Tilt empire would come crashing down after Black Friday. Ferguson’s reputation took a huge hit with poker players.

4. Playing in the Dark

🎮Player: Annette Obrestad
⚙️Type of Challenge: Strategy

Norway’s Annette Obrestad made some poker history in 2007. At only age 18, she won the inaugural World Series of Poker Europe for just over $2 million. She became the youngest player in history to win a WSOP event. 

That tournament may have been big, but  Obrestad made some in the poker world take notice two months earlier.

Annette was determined to prove that poker was more about position and getting a read on opponents than the cards you’re dealt. Obrestadclaimed she played an entire 180-player online tournament for $4 without looking at her cards. 

With tape on her computer screen to hide her cards, she went on to win it.

Obrestad admitted she didn’t complete it perfectly. She peeked one time at her cards when considering calling one player’s all-in. It may not have been a perfect challenge completion, but Obrestad made her point pretty well. 

She now has more than $3.9 million in live tournament winnings and considerable winnings online. No word if she played more events in the dark.

5. Sit and Go Machine

🎮Player: Bertrand Grospellier
⚙️Type of Challenge: Volume

France’s Bertrand Grospellier has plenty of accomplishments. He has almost $15 million in live tournament winnings and more online. One of these achievements goes beyond wins and titles.

In 2009, he was at a tournament stop in Monte Carlo. Grospellier attempted to play as many sit and go tournaments online as possible within an hour. Sitting behind four computer screens, he played up to thirty $6.50 turbo sit and go tournaments.

A live audience gathered to watch the challenge take place. As part of the rules – 

  • He was allowed to finish any tournaments he’d already started playing after the hour.
  • He also had to remain profitable to consider the challenge completed.

After an hour, Grospellier had completed SIXTY-TWO sit and go tournaments for a profit of $23.90. He paid a total of $403 in buy-ins – a return on investment of 5.9 percent

While it was a busy hour for Grospellier, it beats staying up for four days straight like Phil Laak. 

6. A Long Night of Poker

🎮Player: Joey Ingram
⚙️Type of Challenge: Volume

No stranger to poker challenges, Joey Ingram took another big one on in 2009. The goal was to play 50,000 hands in a single day. Playing multiple tables for long stretches was nothing new for Ingram. But playing that many in only 24 hours was a stretch, even for this online poker specialist. 

The effort was part of an overall effort to set multiple records. Those included – 

  • Most hands played in a day 
  • Most hands played in a month

He would record the entire session. Ingram booked about $30,000 worth of side action on whether he could do it or not. 

Part of completing the challenges was to be profitable after the full day was complete. Reaching the goal wouldn’t be easy. Just being at the tables wasn’t enough. He had to be involved in hands. He took that into account as he battled.

“I managed to get all this action because I played a 25,000-hand session, I was down, and people saw that,” he said later. “I was just trying to get in hands to see if I could accomplish the goal of 50,000 while just playing a C-level game.”

Grinding it out at $0.10/$0.25 No-Limit Hold’em, Ingram reached the 50,000 hands mark after 20 hours, 2 minutes. Fuelled by Red Bull and gummy bears, Ingram continued playing and reached a total of 51,312 hands. No doubt a nap and a shower were in order.

7. Big Money on the Line

🎮Player: PhilGalfond
⚙️Type of Challenge: Heads-Up Cash

High-stakes Omaha player and poker entrepreneur Phil Galfond made some news in 2019. He challenged virtually any player in the world willing to face him. 

Galfond reached out on social media offering to play anyone in heads-up  - 

  1. No-Limit Hold’em 
  2. Pot Limit
  3. Limit Omaha

The stakes would range from $25/$50 to $100/$200. Phil would stream all games on his Twitch channel.

The challenge made some news after it was issued, but even bigger waves after he began playing. In February 2019, Galfond suspended the challenge for a while after losing a bit over $990,000 in PLO. He ultimately ended that match early. He appeared to take a step back from the challenge to regroup. 

He took to Twitter to comment on his play: 

“I've experienced downswings of this size before, but this is the first time that one has begun precisely as I kicked off a high-stakes, public challenge that I was incredibly excited about,” he noted. 

“I don't really know whether it was the gained and lost hope, fatigue from day after day of intense poker and study, or something else, but I know that I've become unable to play my A or B game.”

Poker players are competitive people by nature. Look for more of them seeking out an interesting challenge in the coming years. 

They offer a bit of fun mixed in with some competitiveness and creativity.

About the Author
Sean Chaffin is a poker writer who appears in numerous websites and publications. He is also the host of the True Gambling Stories podcast
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