He’s an online crusher, live poker triple crown winner, Scotland’s #1 all-time money winner, and the country’s only World Series of Poker bracelet holder.
We caught up with Niall ‘firaldo87’ Farrell a couple of weeks after his €25K WSOPE bracelet win for €745,287, to find out how he went from a $4 online sit & go grinder to one of poker’s elite.
Here’s Farrell’s story, in his own words.
On his humble (but confident) beginnings:
“When I first started taking poker seriously, I saved up and bought a lesson from a PocketFives Training instructor. I was becoming okay, beating the $4 180-man sit & gos online. I had a ridiculously small sample but I just ran really well.
“I’m probably overconfident in my own ability, because at that point I quit my job at the Carphone Warehouse! I was just fed up of working there anyway.
“Back then you’d see all these posts on forums with people saying they were going to quit their jobs to become professionals, asking ‘What should I do?’, and the answers were always ‘Don’t do it unless you have six month’s expenses’. I just quit, took a grand out on a credit card, and called myself a pro. I was playing $4 180-mans, as a ‘professional’ – in very big air quotes.
“The main guy I looked up to back then was David ‘ghettofabolous’ Randall. He was one of the lead coaches on the training site and he ended up backing me for a while and coaching me. He was a real mentor and the guy who enabled me to be able to play professionally at the start of my online career.
“We became really close friends. I’d stay with him in Vegas, and he came to stay with me and my girlfriend at the time in Glasgow for a few weeks for holiday.”
On getting backed:
“I remember when my biggest score was $1,800, and then suddenly there was a night on PokerStars when I won what is now called the Big $55 and an $11 re-buy for like $18,000. I’d just ten-exed my biggest score right after I started a backing deal.
“My backer, Jerry Watterson, then said, ‘Yeah, that’s great, you should play higher’. So I did, but I just lost a lot of money for a long time playing too high. I got moved back down in stakes for a while and that’s when I met David.
“Jerry was a good guy but he was kind of losing confidence in the situation. We went out for a poker retreat in Florida for all the horses, and I had close to no money. I had expenses to pay and I hadn’t been making money for six months, so I had like $12,000 and that was running out due to rent.
“I was playing lower stakes than a lot of the guys who were there, and me and David started rooming together. We were talking poker and he was like, ‘I’m not sure why Niall is playing lower stakes than these guys, I think it should be the other way around.’ We talked poker a lot and eventually I was able to clear make-up and make everyone some money.
“David then started his own stable which I joined, and at that point it was the first time I went to Vegas. I bricked everything, but eventually you get a bit better and it went from there.”
On a fortunate swap:
“I’d won the partypoker major about fix or six times for like $50,000, and I’d won the $100 re-buy on PokerStars, but my first six-figure score was the second place at the 2013 WSOP ($366,815).
“That was my biggest personal score, although I’d actually had a big one before through a swap in 2011. I swapped 2% with Pius ‘MastaP89‘ Heinz in the WSOP Main Event and he won obviously, so I won $180,000 and at that point I just said ‘Right, I don’t need to be backed anymore.’ I was literally just handed a bankroll big enough to play what I wanted to play.
“I was still backed by David at the time and had made him some money. By that time he was more of a friend than a backer, so I told him I wanted to go on my own and he said he understood.
“I went on my own, went on a massive downswing immediately, and ended up having to be backed by Pius. The $3K WSOP second place was for Pius and Pratyush Buddiga. Me and Pratyush actually backed a few players ourselves and we just lost a lot of money. We got scammed by a UK guy for a lot. But yeah, I gave Pius and Pratyush the money from the $3K and then that meant I could go on my own again. I’ve been good ever since.”
On the UK crowd:
“I didn’t know any of the UK guys until a lot later in my career though (now I count them as among my best friends). I’d already been a professional for maybe a year or two before I met any of those guys. Now we travel together and stuff.
“A lot of the UK guys got a lot of money very quickly. Some of them could be playing the High Rollers if they wanted, but they don’t play that much poker anymore because they’ve already got all the money.
“I’m talking about guys like Toby ‘810ofclubs‘ Lewis and Craig ‘mcc3991‘ McCorkell. I’m really good mates with all of them; me and Craig go to Vancouver every year for SCOOP, and I seriously think that might be the only time he plays online. He just shows up, wins $200K and then takes the year off. He’s done that for the past three years. He’s like ‘I could go and play poker in Rozvadov, or I could just go to New York and watch UFC.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, good point you just made there mate.’
“These guys are all smart guys. They could be playing $50K-$100Ks, but I just don’t think they’re as dedicated to poker as they were. Someone you will see in these Super High Rollers soon is Sam Grafton. He’s been working super hard, and is super dedicated at improving his game, so over the next 12 months I believe you’ll see him rise to top of the UK hierarchy.”
On High Roller fields:
“Although the One Drop buy-in is higher (Farrell finished eighth in the 2016 $111K WSOP One Drop), it’s actually a much softer tournament than say an EPT €25K. It’s a bracelet event which makes it soft; you have the old-school American pros in the field trying to win bracelets, but they’re just not winning players in those fields anymore.
“In the One Drop, I had a table where it was me, three old school American pros, Andrew Robl, and Christoph Vogelsang. And apart from Christoph, I felt I was the best at the table.
“Take people like Robl and these nosebleed cash game guys; Robl could probably be an elite level player again if he gave a fuck, but I mean…he’s just already so rich. If all you’re doing is playing massive stakes against businessmen, what’s the point for him?
“The German guys are obviously very good. I mean, you never want to see Fedor (Holz) at your table. I personally really struggle against Steve O’Dwyer. Table of death would be like: Adrian Mateos, Christoph Vogelsang…(Farrell trails off).
“Nick Petrangelo is super tough to play against, but he’s such a nice guy I have fun playing with him, so it doesn’t feel as bad. Daniel Dvoress is a fantastic tournament player. I really struggle against him, he plays very well. I’m just lucky that every time we’ve played he basically outplays me but then I just cooler him for all the chips anyway. Ike Haxton’s obviously a fantastic player too. To crush the highest stakes online you have to be great.”
On future goals:
“My soft target is to win a partypoker Millions. I think the way they’re going, those events are going to become one of the majors. Someone referred to winning one on top of a triple crown as The Grand Slam, and I’m like ‘Yeah, I want to be a grand slam winner, that sounds fucking cool.’
“Although it’s somewhat arbitrary, I’d also like to be #1 on the GPI. I was up to #9 recently but I’ve dropped a little bit as I’ve not been travelling to every stop. I want to go super hard next year and give it a go.”