Exclusive interview with Full Tilt Poker FTOPS winner Niall ‘firaldo87’ Farrell!

Niall Farrell has one of the biggest personalities in British poker and has become one of the most feared regulars on the tournament circuit. And the man from Scotland is also now the reigning champion of Full Tilt Poker’s biggest tournament festival of the year, FTOPS.

With his wallet bulging from that career-best online cash of $236,232, we caught up with ‘firaldo87’ to talk about winning six-figures, swapping percentages with 2011 WSOP Main Event champion Pius Heinz and coming up against the tournament machine, Mike McDonald…

PokerPlayer: Hey Niall, you’re just back from Canada, what were you doing out there?
Niall Farrell: Yeah, I just got back in yesterday, my girlfriend lives there and she’s studying for her PHD so I’m out there about half the year or so.

Congratulations on winning the FTOPS main event last weekend! Given you were in Canada would you say it’s a lucky place for you to play poker?
Yeah, it seems to be! I love it out there, the time zone is so great for grinding full-time. I’ll be heading back out there after EPT Monte Carlo to grind SCOOP.

The FTOPS result must be a pretty big deal for you? What does it mean for you in terms of your career and just how happy were you to get a big score like that?
It was just great to get a big ‘title’. I’m a very competitive person and I hadn’t really had that massive online score yet. It was just a fantastic feeling to finally put that to bed. Financially it’s obviously great as well, even better as it happened within six months of me playing on my own as opposed to being backed!

Will it change the events you’ll be playing?
Well, in the day-to-day online grind I already play the highest stakes available – It will just mean I’ll sell a lower amount of myself in the bigger live buy-ins. I’ll also be playing the $10k six-max at the WSOP now too, that’s my treat to myself haha!

Do you feel any pressure when you hit the final table of a huge online tournament like FTOPS?
To be honest, it was more excitement than pressure. I’ve been playing professionally for around four years now, so you kind of become detached from the pressure aspect after a while. Final tables can go lots of different ways, so all you can really do is make the best decisions and have no regrets.

Mike McDonald was on the final table too and ended up chopping with you three-handed. What was it like going up against him?
Playing against Mike is always challenging. Fortunately I had position on him for this final but to be honest, there were several really top players at the final, so it wasn’t just him I had to worry about.

Easier playing him online than live we’d imagine… or can you feel the stare down through your screen?
Haha well we were both deep in EPT London in season nine, so I got a lot of the stare down there! I know him fairly well off the felt and I’m a fairly confident person so the stare down doesn’t really affect me too much!

You mentioned the win was within six months of playing on your own money again. What made you decide to stop playing backed?
It was basically when I had enough money to have a secure bankroll again for the stakes I want to play. I was playing on my own money after Pius Heinz won the main event (I had a 2% swap with him), then I lost a lot of money backing other players (just say no, kids) and had to get backed to keep playing the highest stakes.

Then after around nine months or so I’d won enough money for myself that I could handle the swings of high stakes tournaments and went out on my own again, hopefully for the final time.

Not a bad swap with Pius then…
Haha, it was definitely a very good swap! We swapped on Day 1A and I think that November Nine rail was the drunkest I have ever been!

You’ve started making your mark on live poker too, with a couple of deep runs in EPTs and a second place in a WSOP event last summer. Are you going to be focusing a lot more on the live game in the future or do you prefer playing online?
I plan to keep playing live poker a decent amount and I’m going to be playing pretty much every NLHE event at the World Series, trying to win Scotland’s first bracelet! It was pretty gutting to miss out last year. I’m sure Vampy [David Vamplew], Rory Matthews, Ludo [Ludovic Geilich] and some of the others will have something to say about that!

I’ll also be grinding the EPT circuit – EPTs are definitely the best tournaments around, very professionally run and great value. Next one for me is Monte Carlo for the Grand Final so hopefully I can do something there.

You’re known for being particularly aggressive at the poker table… How has your game changed since you first started playing?
I’ve actually calmed down a lot since I started! When I first started playing online I was out of my mind aggressive – overly so. It was definitely my biggest leak. I do think it’s much easier to come from being too aggressive than too tight though. I definitely play a lot tighter than I used to and to be honest, I think I play a lot tighter than I’m perceived by a lot of my peers, which can be very helpful sometimes.

When you’re playing live can you visibly see your playing style annoying other players at the table or do you think they see it as more of a challenge?
I think it can be somewhat intimidating to play against someone who applies a lot of pressure. I like to have a laugh at the table though, meet new people and generally enjoy myself so I’d hope anyone playing against me has it tough, but enjoys themselves and the challenge also.

What’s next for you?
I’m flying over to Dublin for the Irish open early tomorrow and then to Monte Carlo straight from there. No rest for me, even though I could just do with sleeping for a few days! My brother’s coming to Ireland though, so I can see that trip turning into a drinking holiday pretty quickly!

Photo courtesy of the PokerStars blog.

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