Jay Farber was a complete unknown before he was the $5.7 million runner-up in the 2013 WSOP Main Event. Yet, as Michael Kaplan discovers, that win was just another episode in Farber’s crazy, Vegas-fuelled life
After finishing second in the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event, the heavily tattooed, muscled-up Jay Farber did something smart: He took a portion of his money and bought a house in Las Vegas. It sounds way more logical than slow-bleeding your bankroll with flights on private jets or risking it all on a wrongheaded bid to beat the Phil Iveys of the world. In the egocentric milieu of professional poker, Farber seems to be showing admirable restraint. Arriving at his place, inside a suburban development on the west side of town, I notice a well-worn Toyota parked in the driveway. Good for Jay, I think as I step up to ring the doorbell. He’s taking it slow and not blowing money on poker-stud worthy Bugattis and the like.
He answers the door dressed in gym shorts and a t-shirt, appearing to have recently rolled out of bed. A newly acquired puppy trails him as he gives a quick tour through his nice but not-yet-furnished home, of which the swimming pool seems to be a particular point of pride. No stranger to Vegas, Farber has long worked there as a nightclub host, taking big spenders around to the glitziest clubs on the Strip. So he knows how badly things can go for gamblers who are careless with windfalls of cash. Additionally, even though he won $5.7 million in the Series, a little less than half went to investors, mostly poker pros who kicked in on his $10,000 entry fee.
I tell him it must be nice to have friends, including the insanely high-rolling Dan Bilzerian (he famously posted an Instagram picture of his $m-plus cut from Farber: a fortress of banded $100s), who helped cut down on the pain of a $10,000 tournament entry fee that seemed an odds-on favourite to go up in smoke. ‘Actually,’ Farber says, settling down at his kitchen table, ‘it’s the opposite. I took the backing as a favour to Dan and the other guys. I didn’t need their money. Without having a big poker ego, I can tell you that I am better than a good chunk of the field. So I am not an underdog to cash. My friends recognised the opportunity cost, and I wanted to give them a sweat. If I lost $10,000 of my own money, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.’
Friends in the right places
Whether or not he would have truly felt that way if he had actually dropped $10,000 of his own money – prior to the Series, Farber had been on a poker hiatus as a result of running bad and being busy with his hosting business – we’ll never know. Uncontestable is that Farber never seemed to be in any real danger of disappointing himself or his backers. He finished each day of the tournament with high chip counts, got lucky when he needed to, played very well, and found himself paid off in situations when unknowing opponents figured him for having a loosey goosey style. ‘You get huge coolers and take huge coolers over the course of a tournament like the WSOP,’ explains Farber. ‘Through the whole thing, I went all-in only twice. Once was against Noah Schwartz. I had Aces, he had Kings, and we went set over set. It was the classic bad beat. I don’t like crushing my friends. And, yeah, I know, there are no friends in poker, but I’d much rather crush people who are not my friends. Like the other time when I got all-in for my tournament life: I had A-T and my opponent had a pair of Nines. The hand was stressful, since it was against an Argentine nightclub owner who kept getting the best of me.’
Not that time, though, and Farber made a steady march toward the final table. He says that he never let himself get too worked up, taking each day on its own terms. Then it got to Day 7, and things became very real. ‘My friends were there, hanging out, watching the tournament, and suddenly there was a ton of pressure,’ he remembers. ‘Once I made the final table’ – with the second largest stack of chips – ‘it was surreal. Then it was like, holy shit, I made the final table. But it didn’t really sink in for about two weeks.’
Momentarily breaking up our conversation is the appearance of a pretty, sleepy-eyed, bed-headed brunette who has emerged from Farber’s room. He introduces us and she tells him that she’s going to head out. He asks for a kiss before she leaves and gets one. A few minutes later, I refer to the woman as his girlfriend. Smiling, he responds, ‘Please, she’s just a friend.’ I’m left with the impression that Farber is a man of many such friends.
Through the tournament, Jay Farber wore a hat with the Hakkasan logo. He wasn’t paid to wear the club’s colours and pretty much did it after a friendly taunt from one of Hakkasan’s managers. ‘He told me that good things would happen if I wore it, and they did.’ Lucky as the hat may have been for Farber, it was even luckier for Hakkasan, which received a ton of publicity that would be tough to put a price on. ‘I got my payment in alcohol and partying for free,’ says Farber. ‘And my idea of partying is not just having a few drinks at the bar. Normally, my friends and I go to a nice restaurant for dinner. If it’s poker players, we play credit card roulette for the bill; if it’s normal nightclub people, we split it; and if it’s customers, well, they never let me pay. Then we go to a club, grab a table, and do a lot of drinking. I don’t like champagne. So, for me, it’s peach Ciroc and Fireball. There was a lot of drinking; I celebrated my birthday for the entire month of August. One night, a buddy and I walked into Hakkasan. They put us at a table next to Calvin Harris [who was playing there] and loaded it up with girls. That was a good night to be single.’
Things seemed to temporarily derail a bit in Europe during the WSOPE. Farber brought a girl with him, wound up not getting along with her, and sent her back to the States. That the Series took place in France, just outside of Paris, didn’t help.
‘I don’t particularly like the French,’ says Farber. ‘They have great food and Paris is a great city, but I don’t like the people. They think we’re arrogant, but they’re way worse.’ Feelings for the French aside, Farber had one consolation: cashing in Europe’s Main Event with a 34th place finish that paid €20,250.
Stylin’ and profilin’
Considering how his life has progressed, 29-year-old Farber has been on a jet-fueled rush for the last eight years. He learned to play poker as a teenager, buying into cheap games at a pool hall near where he grew up in Santa Barbara, CA, 95 miles north of Los Angeles. From there, after turning 21, he began hitting local poker rooms and going to Vegas for weekends of partying. Often he was able to finance Sin City jaunts by playing low-stakes hold’em. His predilection for nightlife led to gigs promoting clubs at Hard Rock and Wynn. By the time he went out on his own, working as an independent host, he had established a clientele of affluent clubbers who counted on him to bring the fun. Generally, that boils down to booze, girls, and a good table for a decent price. But sometimes it goes a bit further too (see boxout for details)…
Farber lives it up as stylishly as any of his clients. And now that he’s got World Series infamy, he’s sometimes the man commandeering a table, ordering bottles, and calling the shots. That said, like most poker players, he’s not dropping the truly big bucks in clubs. As Farber explains it, the same guys who’ll sit down with seven-figure chip stacks are disinclined to get too carried away with heavy-duty bottle service. ‘With the exception of Phil [Ivey], poker players are not big ballers,’ says Farber. ‘You never see a poker player spending $100,000 in a nightclub. But many of them have no problems spending $10,000, and for $5,000 you pretty much get whatever you want. They look at $50,000 as a buy-in and won’t blow it in a club.’
Encouraged by his Hakkasan freebies, Farber took his streak of nocturnal debauchery right to the wire. Even on the night before the final table, he was out with friends until 2am. ‘I knew that my nerves wouldn’t let me sleep,’ he recounts. ‘I knew that I was not going to pass out at midnight. So I stayed out partying rather than sitting home and psyching myself out over the fact that the other guys at the table were great poker players.’
One monkey, one tiger, 18 girls
Farber describes his second place finish as ‘the best feeling in the world and the worst feeling in the world. It’s all a heartbreaker for you if you don’t win. But nobody had expectations for me. I came in there as the unknown, people underestimated me, and I showed that I belonged.’ Still, he acknowledges, getting so close to snagging poker’s most coveted bracelet smarted more than a little bit. ‘Winning the Main Event is once-in-a-lifetime, and I wanted to say I was world champion more than I wanted the $8m. But I enjoyed the experience and don’t regret how I played a single hand.’
In the wake of the final table, millions of dollars richer, you could argue that Farber celebrated as if he had actually aced the thing. ‘After winning I went to Los Angeles with Dan [Bilzerian],’ recalls Farber. ‘I partied with him there and he bought me an Audemars Piguet panda-edition watch [Farber had taken on a cartoonish Panda as his final-table trademark]. Then he took me to Mexico, to Puerto Vallarta, on a private jet. It was me, Dan, two of our buddies, and 18 girls’ – plus one monkey and a baby Bengal-tiger. ‘We had three houses and partied for three nights straight before going to Miami. Dan had promised me an awesome party, and this was it.’
What happens to Farber next is anybody’s guess. One thing he won’t be doing, he says, is earning his living as a tournament grinder, travelling the world and trying to replicate his World Series success. But games in Vegas and L.A. remain alluring. Despite his run-bad prior to the Main Event, he has played in some very large cash sessions, including mixed games with Eli Elezra and Jennifer Harman among others. Another time, he played in Bobby Baldwin’s game at Aria. Baldwin apparently picks and chooses who is let in, so you’re not likely to be up against the world’s most gifted pros. ‘It’s a lot of money, and yes-and-no I’m comfortable,’ admits Farber. ‘I’ve won a couple of times and lost a couple of times. I got killed at a game in L.A. But it’s poker. You have upswings and downswings.’ He continues to host select clients at the Vegas clubs (his compensation comes through tips), has been firing it up a bit at the sports book, and clearly enjoys the notoriety that comes with a stellar Main Event performance. TMZ stalkerazzi called him by name outside of an L.A. nightclub – which left Farber a bit miffed – and Johnny Chan recently congratulated him
in Bobby’s Room.
All and all, just by taking in Farber’s almost perpetual smile and good-natured personality, you can make a case for him being one of the happiest WSOP finishers in recent memory. He seems grateful for the windfall of cash and appears to be enjoying his post-Series life. Plus, I’m figuring, the money will provide him with an enviable cushion. Finishing the interview and walking out of his house, I’m expecting the Toyota in the driveway to remind me of his relatively sensible ways. But as Farber shuts the door behind me, I glance to my right and notice that the car is gone.
So I ring the bell and ask Farber if his Toyota has gone missing. ‘That car in the driveway?’ he asks. ‘It belongs to the girl who was here, my friend. I have my old 1969 Camaro and a new Mercedes Benz that I bought after making the final table. This year I’m paying taxes and getting on the list for the new Lamborghini.’
If he’s talking about the 2015 Lamborghini Huracán, which I assume he is, the car looks amazing and will retail for some $200,000. It may not be sensible, but, honestly, all things considered, it does make sense.
Get the best interviews with the biggest stars in PokerPlayer magazine each month – subscribe today for just £12.99!