How to be Sammy Farha
01 February 2008
Once upon a time, there was a young Lebanese lad; a pool, Pacman and pinball champ, who left his homeland for Wichita, Kansas seeking a college education with nought but a pocketful of change and a bunch of big ideas.
Somewhere along the line, young Ihsan Farha became Sammy Farha, the world’s most glamourous poker player. Admit it: you want to be Sammy Farha, don’t you? Just for one day? Well, luckily for you, we’ve condensed the path to Farha Nirvana into just 18 steps. Here’s Bluff’s guide to becoming more like Sammy
Adopt a “crazy” style
Sammy’s table image throws people off-kilter. They don’t know where they are; they make mistakes. They get too deep in pots when they shouldn’t be there at all. They call too thinly. They try to out-Sammy Sammy. But Sammy’s better at being Sammy. He’s had more practice.
“When I started playing poker, I said I wanted a certain image all to myself. I said I want to make money; I want to make a living out of this. So many Hold’em players, they can’t make a living out of the game. I started out playing Omaha, but that’s a dangerous game, and I wanted to learn it to the max and win the max. Omaha is an action game, so you’re either going to win the max or lose the max. I built this image that’s different to every other pro. Poker is all about knowing what your opponent has and where you’re at – of course, you could be wrong – but in the long run, you’re going to be right. So I built an image for myself that would allow me to get paid off on the hands I play. I want people to think I’m giving them a lot of action because I’m going to get them. A lot of pros, they won’t play against me, because they think I’m crazy. I have too much gamble in me. I know what they have and they can’t ever put me on a hand. I don’t play poker, I play you. Sometimes I don’t look at the cards. I play the player and see what he has.”
Million-dollar question: Was Sammy Farha ever a nit?
“I didn’t play as loose as I do today when I first started out, but every time I ever had a hand, I went all the way with it. A lot of players are scared to play the hand all the way, especially in Omaha.”
Image is everything
Boo to maths!
To some, poker is a cold, hard science, but to Sammy it’s an art and a joy….
“To me, poker is so exciting – the action! It’s unbelievable. The social aspect, too – you get to meet so many personalities. And it’s because I love it and enjoy it so much that I became successful at it. Whatever you do in life, if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll never be at the top. I enjoy every moment I play. Sometimes I’ll be a big loser, but I still have fun. The main thing is you come out on top in the long run.”
But just how mathematical is Sammy’s game?
“There’s no math before the flop – you don’t know what you’re up against and the math only comes into play once you open up those cards and get involved. Sure, in Hold’em there’s more math than the other games, but in general, poker is not only math; it’s bussiness, psychology, instinct and experience. Some pros, they play certain hands against me, and they talk about the math, and I think 'You shouldn’t even be in this hand. You contradictyourself.' I remember once, against a certain pro, I had Q Diamonds J Diamonds; I raised and he reraised me 10% of my chips – he spotted some weakness in me. I made the call and the flop came K-9-2 with two diamonds. So I checked, and he checked with A-K. The turn was a diamond. I have the flush, so I bet and he calls. On the river, I bet him a lot, and he calls. He stands up and he says, ‘You play those hands!That’s why you never get to the end of tournaments!’
“That was back in 2003. In 2004 we played together again. He had 8 Hearts 9Hearts, I had A-K. The flop came with two hearts. I checked, he checked. The turn is a blank and I bet him huge. He calls. A heart hit the river and I gave up, I checked; and do you know what he did? He checked and won. In his book he said that there was no point in betting here because Sammy won’t call him unless he has him beat. But that’s not true! He was a big underdog to hit that last card, so why would he gamble to make the hand and then not benefit from it by betting? Where was his math? If you compare it to the previous hand, I made him pay. I punished him. I don’t like that way of thinking – “There’s no point in betting because he’ll only call with a better hand.” It’s not true in this situation. If you think your hand is best, bet! And there’s no sense in chasing if you’re not going to make a lot of money out of it.”
Life is Art and Art is Poker.
Acquire some “gamble”
As a responsible poker magazine, we generally advise our readers to steer away from the table games. They’re sucker games, after all. However, if you really want to be Sam Farha, it’s crucial to be seen at the Bellagio rakishly propping up the high stakes blackjack tables. Sam confesses all.
“Blackjack is my weakness. I don’t win at blackjack. I never win. I play to win big, and you can’t win at that game. Blackjack is a skilfull game and I think I play… about average. I start playing to entertain myself and then I get stuck, and I say ‘Please let me get lucky,’ but I never win a hand! One time I won good, but there are no good blackjack stories. It’s Once upon a time, there was a young Lebanese lad; a pool, Pacman and pinball champ, who left his homeland for Wichita, Kansas seeking a college education with nought but a pocketful of change and a bunch of big ideas. Somewhere along the line, young Ihsan Farha became Sammy Farha, the world’s most glamourous poker player. Admit it: you want to be Sammy Farha, don’t you? Just for one day? Well, luckily for you, we’ve condensed the path to Farha Nirvana into just 18 steps. Here’s Bluff’s guide to becoming more like Sammy hard to beat the casino, that’s why they’re in business. I do a certain amount, then I quit and I go to poker to make it back.”
What he just said.
Adopt strange peccadilloes
Most of us put bad luck down to variance. Not Sammy. It’s because he’s wearing the wrong shirt. Or not eating enough. Clearly.
“My superstitions have developed over the years. I do something and I see my luck change and it becomes a bad habit. Like the cigarette – although it isn’t that bad a habit because I don’t light it. Another one: every time I lose I eat. I eat until my luck changes. It’s all in the head, I know. And it’s crazy. I need a psychiatrist.
“The cigarette happened because I was losing one day, and a friend of mine who’s a smoker, suggested we go out for a smoke break. I said, ‘No, I don’t feel like it. I’m losing.’ He put the cigarette in my mouth and said, ‘Keep that there and your luck will change.’ And it did. So then, every time I was running bad I put that cigarette in my mouth, and it worked. But I don’t use it unless I’m losing or I need some luck.”
The million-dollar question: How do you stop the filter from getting soggy, Sam? “I take it out from time to time and let it breathe.” And there you have it.
There's a fine line between
Only someone like Sammy could win $100,000 in five minutes playing 10-20. Here’s how he did it.
“The game had broken up at the Bellagio and I was bored, so I joined a $10/$20 No Limit Hold’em game. There were five players sitting, and one of them had more than $110,000 in front of him – most of the rest had a couple of thousand each. I thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to take a shot at that money.’ The guy with the money was complaining that nobody was giving him any action – I guess he was controlling the table. So when I sat down, the guy next to him said, ‘Well Sammy will give you action, for sure.’
“Five minutes later, I have 7 Hearts 2 Hearts on the button and I call. This guy makes it $500 and the guy with the big money re-raises to $3,000. I had been ready to muck my hand, but when the guy re-raised I called within a second, because I wanted to take a shot at all the money he had. The first guy was all-in, so there was no way I could bluff him out. You have to make sure you have enough money to outplay your opponents if you play a hand like 7 Hearts 2 Hearts. The first guy had A-K and the re-raiser had A-A. Now watch this: The flop comes K-8-5, with two hearts. The guy with the aces checks to see where I’m at. I bet him 12,000. He only calls with aces! The turn comes 6 Diamonds.
“Now I have a flush and an open-ended straight draw. The guy with the aces checks again. So I figure I’ll take the side pot there and then. On the turn, I bet him $30,000 and he calls. He’s playing the aces badly, but he’s scared because we’ve got so much money in front of us. On the river the 4 hits. He says, ‘I check.’
I say, ‘How much money have you got there?’
He says, ‘Don’t worry, buddy, I got you covered.’
The way he says that, I know he’s calling. I had the information already.
I say, ‘Well let’s see if you got me covered. I’m going to put you all-in.’
He says, ‘Call.’
I woke up the next day feeling like I’d won the World Series. That’s how you win $100,000 at $10-$20 blinds. At the end he couldn't complain because he got all the action and I got all the money.
The world's your proverbial oyster, if you have the proverbials, that is
Get an Italian tailor
It’s really time to smarten yourself up.
“I buy my suits from all over the world – all my life I appreciated quality. My favourite tailor is Kiton. You can get them in America, but it’s different – the difference between American and Italian fitted – I buy unique stuff; unique designers – it’s about the quality and the uniqueness.”
Jeans and stinky T-Shirt won't wash no more. Literally. Kiton's most famous suit model is the “K-50”, so named because it takes 50 hours to make. You can pick one up for a snip at $50,000.
Manage your bankroll
If you’re going to play high stakes poker with flair and bravado (and we really think you should) bankroll management skills are key. Here’s how Sammy does it.
“With the style I play, I experience big swings. I had a bad run in December and you just have to slow down. I play a little but smaller, get the confidence back, and build the bankroll a little bit. If I lose a big figure, I have to manage myself; change my strategy. I can’t gamble too much anymore. When they bet me a lot, I just stay a little bit more conservative. But that’s what’s good about myimage. No one will notice I’m playing conservative. This goes for any stakes you’re playing at. If you want to do this for a living, bankroll management is everything. There’s a lot of emotion in poker, and you can’t go with your emotions. If you feel sad that you lost, you have to forget it. And fight back.”
Sometimes you have to work hard for the glamour. Never put your whole bankroll on the line, or you'll have no money to buy italian suits.
Become an international jetsetter
The discerning gentleman is a well-travelled gentleman and the world should be your playground. Sammy’s favourite place to visit is Capri in Italy.
“It’s so relaxing. It’s by the beach, with beautiful scenery, great weather, great food... I never play any of the events in Europe. I hate to gamble when I’m there, because I love Europe so much. I just want to have a good time.”
There's no point winning all this money if you don't know what to do with it. Pick a retreat, and keep it that way.
“I only play about five tournaments per year, so if I win one, that’s great. There’s a big edge playing tournaments. If I really wanted to concentrate on them, like the other pros do, I could do very well because there are so many bad players that don’t know what they’re doing – they’re giving you the money, and you have to keep fighting and going back to play them. I don’t do that... because I’d rather have fast action; it’s my weakness – no, not weakness… it’s my style.”
Know your fine wines from your sour grapes
Don’t play tournaments very often
“I only play about five tournaments per year, so if I win one, that’s great. There’s a big edge playing tournaments. If I really wanted to concentrate on them, like theother pros do, I could do very well because there are so many bad players that don’t know what they’re doing – they’re giving you the money, and you have to keep fighting and going back to play them. I don’t do that... because I’d rather have fast action; it’s my weakness – no, not weakness… it’s my style.”
Only wanabees play tournaments - fact. Sammy has bigger fish to fry.
Accept fame graciously
“I don’t really see it as fame, but people are very kind to me. A lot of people come up to me in Vegas and say, ‘I’m a poker player, I’d love to be on the same table as you!'
Be courteous at all times. Just for the record, we’re poker players, and we couldn’t think anything worse than being on a poker table with Sammy. In fact, we’d really hate it.
Keep it real
“Gambling was much better before. Everyone’s got a deal to seal or a plane to catch these days. Poker’s too publicised; it’s a different business now. You can’t find a mediocre game any more – they’re either too big or too small. It’s hard to find a game like we used to have. I’m known for playing the best players in the world, but truthfully I prefer a combination of good and bad. I’m an action player and bad players give me action and, when the good players get involved, it’s easy for me to put them on a hand.
“The amateurs, now, they attack me. They’ve seen me of TV and they don’t think I have a hand. I don’t bluff any more in tournaments.”
Actually, don't keep it real. Always do the opposite of what people expect. Now everyone knows that he doesn't bluff in tournaments, Sammy can go out bluffing again. We repeat: Sammy Farha does not bluff in tournaments! Got that?
There’s nothing wrong with coming second
In 2003, Sam Farha really should have been World Champion. He was a whisker away from calling that danged Moneymaker fellow with the best hand. But he doesn’t really care too much:
“People often ask me, if I’d beaten Chris Moneymaker, would it have changed my life? I say, no! The money would have been nice. Like I’ve said before, he offered me a deal, and in hindsight I should have taken it, but as a businessman it made no sense to take it, because I had a lot more experience than him.”
Always think ahead. Let's not forget that, had moneymaker not won the WSOP in 2003, there would have been no moneymaker effect and maybe no poker boom. Genius bluff? Rubbish! That was the most valuable fold Sam Farha ever made, if you consider the implied odds. Now there's a thought...
Be old school and proud
“I played online poker once, in 2003. I didn’t enjoy it. I played for 24 hours and I said, “This is sick!” You can make a lot of money on the internet, but I love poker. It’s about the enjoyment, the atmosphere, the social thing. You don’t have that over the internet. It’s not a poker game; it’s just “action”. All you hear is about people winning a lot of money. No one seems to be losing!
“I love playing against the young internet stars, though. I played against Brian Townsend and I think he’s one of the best Hold’em players I’ve played against. This was the biggest game I’ve ever played. We played two games: Hold’em and Omaha. No Limit Hold’em – it’s so dangerous. The guy’s aggressive, I’m aggressive – almost every hand went right to the end. I was losing a lot, and then I ended up getting some of it back. It got so big because we were both gambling. It was a great game and he’s a really tough opponent. I’ve never played anyone like this – someone who’s willing to take so many chances. I used to be the suicidal one on the table – now there’s someone else like me.
“He sat down with a lot of money, which I don’t like to do because I don’t know how he plays. So it was a really tough game for me. The guy isn’t scared to a put million dollars in on a bluff and there aren’t many people in the world that can do that.
“What bothered me about him, though, is that every session we play, he goes on the internet and tells the world about it. As professional poker players, we should have the utmost respect for our play and not announce it to the whole world, because poker is about long term success and not short term.
The internet is not for real men.
Write a book
In order to be a fully-rounded human being, it’s essential to be a man of letters and Sammy is no exception. His first book, Farha on Omaha, has just been published by Triumph Books. We advise you visit Amazon. co.uk or samfarha.com immediately.
“Omaha is where the money is! Omaha is the real poker game because your hand will change on the flop, on the turn and on the river. You can outplay your opponents on any street if you know where they’re at. That’s the beauty of this game. It takes a lot of skill and pressure and this is what poker is all about. Omaha is so much fun to play because there are so many players involved in a hand and this creates action. If you play Omaha for a living, there is more money to be made than in any other poker game.
“My book is different because I discuss to kinds of play: The "correct" way, which I recommend for beginners, and Sammy’s way where they get more familiar with the game. I’ve been playing successful Omaha for many years and this is how I made my money.
Buy Sammy's book and learn Omaha, for Heaven's sake!
Play Omaha like this
Here’s the best tip you’ll ever hear for playing Omaha.
“I made this play against a very good friend of mine. There were five players in the hand and I had the button. The flop came 6-7-T. Everybody checked. The turn came a deuce. My friend, who was first to act, bet $35,000. Everybody mucked. I had A-T with the nut flush draw. I figured he had a straight. Now, if a blank hits and he bets me at the end, I muck my hand. But the board pairs on the turn. He bets the cap, which is $100,000. Now I think about it for about ten minutes. I don’t have a hand to call, but I’m thinking there’s something wrong: If he has the straight, what is he putting me on with my call on the turn? Why did he check the flop? If I’d had trips on the flop, I now have a full house and he knows he’s committing suicide – he should check. If he thinks I’m bluffing, he could check and call. Instead, he decided to lead and that showed me weakness. If he has the straight, why would he bet when there’s a full house out there? I called with A-T. He showed me pocket nines ( which we call blockers). That’s how you analyse a hand.”
To be Sammy, you have to think hard. Just don't let it stop you from gambling!
Acquire super powers
“My longest poker session without sleep was probably about three or four days. The strange thing is that the longer I stay up, the more energy I get. I get sharper. But it’s a really bad habit because it gets you later on.”
Sleep is for girls
Sammy says relax
Life’s not all poker, poker, poker. A true gentleman is happiest relaxing at home in his slippers.
I like to come home from Vegas after three weeks of poker: I relax with my girlfriend, go have a nice dinner, see friends; just take it easy in the house without thinking about money or poker or anything like that. I never even discuss poker when I come home. A lot of players, they call each other and they say, Oh, I just had a bad beat, and they torment each other like that - you know, the funny thing is that no-one discusses the bad beats they put on other players. I forget poker and do what I want to do. After I’ve recovered from Vegas, I go travel and enjoy the world.