Five-year Las Vegas resident Jay Farber started working in the nightlife industry as a promoter at Hard Rock Hotel after moving from Santa Barbara, Calif. Not even three years later, Farber was on his own as an independent host and poker player. The time at the tables was well spent for the 29-year-old, who took second place in the World Series of Poker November 5, to the tune of $5.17 million. Not bad for nine days of work between July and November.
Though Farber came into the Series’ final table with only about $2,000 in documented tournament winnings, he was hardly the amateur television made him out to be. Farber had been playing for 14 years, spending time in the Wynn and Aria poker room cash games before buying into the main event.
After battling with Ryan Riess for the title, Farber spent a couple of days in Los Angeles before returning to Vegas—where he plans to stay, active in the nightlife industry.
Between July and November, what was the big layoff like? What do you do to prepare?
I honestly didn’t do a lot of preparation. I talked to some of my friends who are very good poker players, some of the best in the world. We came up with a game plan and strategy. They told me what would be really stupid for me to do, which was stuff I wasn’t going to do anyway. I just kind of partied a lot, had a good time and tried to do everything I could to take my mind off the break. If I sat around and thought about it the whole time, I think I would have gotten stressed out. It actually was really stressful anytime I would have downtime, sitting there thinking about the final table.
What was your approach to the final table?
Coming into the final table, everyone definitely thought I was an amateur. There was no research to be done on me. No one really had any clue how I played besides tight. I feel like that worked out really well for me because they all expected me to play a certain way. You saw when I came out with some big bluffs, no one expected that from me. I was able to come out and surprise a bunch of people.
Did you hedge at all?
No, I bet on myself. I was buying the line anywhere from plus-600 to plus-900. I was hammering it as much as possible. It’s a small chunk of change, but it would’ve been really nice the extra paycheck and the extra ha-ha.
You could’ve Floyd Mayweather’d that ticket.
It was an incredible experience. Poker as a game should be fun. I’ve seen a lot of tournament players, a lot of grinders and they’re just miserable. They hate it. One person told me it’s an awful way to make a good living. I want to enjoy the game of poker. That’s the reason we all started playing. I don’t want to lose that.
You got everyone’s attention in your hand with JC Tran, when you had pocket sixes.
It was blind versus blind. I felt like JC was going to play aggressive versus me because he felt like he was the better player. When he raised I looked down at the pair of sixes and I figured I’m ahead of most of his range. He could be raising with any two cards. So I’m going to three-bet him there. I have a lot of chips. When I three-bet him there, in my opinion, he wasn’t at the top of his range. I thought he really had what he had, which was ace-queen. When he four-bets me, I know he has a hand, but I don’t think he has jacks-plus, something monster like that. My cards become irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that I have sixes. I could have seven-deuce offsuit at that point. I’m going to five-bet him small because it looks really strong. Nobody’s going to expect me to bluff in that situation, given my chip stack and given the way they perceived me. I’m basically representing queens, kings, aces or ace-king.
What does a hand like that do for your confidence? How were your nerves to that point?
I really wasn’t nervous at all. Nobody expected anything of me. I really wanted to do well, but I was just going to come in and play poker and have a good time. Whatever happens, happens. People were taking it way too seriously. It’s the experience of a lifetime, so you may as well enjoy it. I think most of my friends were freaked out about how calm I was at the time.
After things wrapped up on Day 1, you told your crew to call XS. Did you wind up going?
Oh yeah. I wasn’t going to not party. Getting heads up in the final table of the main is the greatest thing of all time. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep. It was still early. My nerves were going and I was really excited.
What’s that night like when you know you have $5 million in the bank?
It was a lot of fun. I always go back to this, that the money was really nice, but when you make it that far, the only thing you want to do is win. It was like being the biggest bridesmaid of all time. It was really unfortunate. I wanted to win that thing. I expected to win at that point. I felt like going into heads up I was going to be a big favorite regardless of the chip stacks.
You go into the next day with a slight lead—what was your gameplan at that point? What did you know about Ryan at that point?
I had some ideas about Ryan and how he played, and how I expected him to play and what his perception of me was. I played the game I intended to play. I let him bluff me in some spots, but in reality, he kept getting better cards and better hands than me. I wanted to take a lot of flops and do a lot of postflop play. It’s really tough to beat somebody postflop when you know they keep making top pair or better. He’s a great player, and we play again, he might beat me again, but it’s really tough.
With the live broadcast, were you able to go talk to people watching it at the same time?
Basically, we’d talk. Everybody was doing the same things on the break. We’d go over to our rails and catch updates on hands, what they had. It was nice to get feedback. I had friends with iPads. Other friends were getting text messages from other people who were watching.
What happens that night? Are they wiring the cash to your bank account? Do they take taxes out right then? How do they take care of you?
Basically, I got paid the next day. They call us and let us know this is your appointment to come in. I just had them wire the money to my account. We worry about taxes ourselves afterwards.
Ryan tweeted the next day he bought a Bugatti. What was your big buy?
He didn’t by a Bugatti. No way. I think that was a dig at me, because when I was in L.A., I tweeted “I didn’t wake up in a new Bugatti, but this isn’t bad” and then a few hours later he said “I woke up in a new Bugatti.” I’ll just take it at face value. I haven’t purchased anything really big yet. Obviously TMZ caught me saying I was going to buy a Ferrari and an Aston Martin. I’m going house shopping tomorrow.
I’ve been very fortunate with 888 Poker, Anheuser-Busch, some of my sponsors that are going to let me travel and play poker. I’m going to do that for at least part of the year next year. I’m just going to relax and enjoy the rest of the year, build my brand. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I might as well take advantage of it the best I can. The poker success is nice, but there’s so many other doors that will open from that, it would be stupid not to take advantage of them.
So you don’t think you’re going to be exclusively a professional poker player?
It’s hard to turn down getting to travel the world and play poker for free, get to play on the big stage. It’s really hard because I love my job. Working in nightlife in Vegas is awesome. I don’t have a family. I’m single. I don’t have anything stopping me from going out and enjoying myself. I get paid to party with people. It’s really hard to walk away from that.
Have you had the official celebration party?
I had the official celebration party [Nov. 10] at Hakkasan. We’re going to have another good one this weekend because Tiësto is there. He promised that if I won, he would throw me a party. I feel like second is almost winning, so we’ll see what he does.