Nigerian-Born Femi Fashakin Lives Poker Dream, Turns $500 Into $1M

Femi Fashakin
Nigerian-born Femi Fashakin turned a dream into reality when he won the WSOP $500 Big 50 for $1.147 million

The poker dream is alive in all of us. At the 2019 World Series of Poker, Femi Fashakin enjoyed living out his dream as he turned $500 into $1.147 million in a single poker tournament. This wasn’t just any poker tournament, though. Fashakin won the world’s largest-ever live poker tournament, the WSOP Big 50, from which he topped a record-setting field of 28,371 entries to earn a life-changing payday and his first WSOP gold bracelet.

“It’s huge,” Fashakin said. “I’ve always felt I could play a lot of poker, and I have room for improvement and I have some skills, but obviously this will help with a lot of buy-ins. My goal would be to play more main events where I can actually develop my skills and keep playing.”

Born in Nigeria, Fashakin came to the United States in 2001 for college. He attended Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, on scholarship and studied computer science. After graduating, Fashakin went to work as a software engineer for a handful of different companies, some of them Fortune 500 companies. He eventually became a consultant and that opened the door for him to play a bit of poker.

Fashakin used to play a lot of chess and became pretty good at it, but there came a point in time when Fashakin would either have to start studying chess a lot in order to get to the next level or accept that he wasn’t going to advance his ability. That’s when Fashakin drifted, he said. That’s also when he found poker.

“When I found poker, I couldn’t believe it,” Fashakin said. “This was a game where I could analyze it and use my mind. So I got a little more interested in the game, started watching WSOPs and WPTs.”

Bitten by the poker bug in 2010, Fashakin began playing in his wife’s cousin’s home game, mostly for fun, and graduated from there.

“I started playing at local bars where they had hold’em games, and I played those for about six months to one year,” Fashakin said. “I thought I had graduated, so I started going to Hard Rock in Tampa because it’s just a short drive. I was playing $150 buy-in tournaments. In the first one, I cashed. I had a few little runs here and there, then I started going to South Florida and playing $360 buy-ins, then $570 ones. I had very modest cashes that I don’t think speak well to my skillset. I like to think that I’m a little more skilled than that.”

Most recently, Fashakin took some time away from his career to truly focus on the game.

“It’s been a side thing, but for three months I kind of took off from my work and I’ve just been playing poker, cash games, just to build some bankroll,” Fashakin said. “I’ve always played tournaments and usually I satellite into main events. Late last year, I had a few good runs but couldn’t just close it, so this is amazing, words can’t describe it.”

In 2018, Fashakin cashed in 60th place in the WPTDeepStacks Tampa Main Event and in 41st place in the WPT Seminole Rock N Roll Poker Open Main Event. He also had a 28th-place result in the $360 opener from that same WPT Seminole Rock N Roll Poker Open series. Back in Tampa in December, Fashakin finished 39th in a $570 buy-in 2018 Winter Poker Open tournament. Those were solid runs but nothing quite like what Fashakin experienced in the Big 50. He also previously cashed in the 2016 WSOP Colossus, which could likely best compare to the Big 50 in that it was at the same buy-in level with an enormous field of players – 21,613 entries. According to Fashakin, though, the Big 50 and the Colossus were much different because of the structures.

“It can’t compare,” Fashakin said. “Colossus, I think any poker player would agree, there was less skill to prevail because you’re so short. With a 50K stack, there’s room to stay alive. My whole strategy, different from Colossus, was just to stay alive.”

Fashakin ran up his starting stack of 50,000 in chips to 350,000 on Day 1c. He turned those chips into 950,000 at the end of Day 2c and headed into Day 3 a little ahead of the average with 1,597 players remaining. Day 3 is really when Fashakin made some big moves, and this was also the day he really began to feel like he just might have a shot.

“I remember two or three incidents,” Fashakin said. “Even though I wasn’t at risk to bust, another regular from South Florida had queens and I had ace-jack of hearts. I three-bet him with my ace-jack suited, he shoved, and I called. I spiked the ace, so that was the first one. Then, somebody had kings, this was Day 3. I spiked an ace with ace-king. So now I’m like, ‘Woah, what’s going on here?’ And it happened a third time and I thought, ‘I’m running really good, so I might have a shot.’ I just wasn’t sure if it was going to stall, because that happens all the time, right? You get a little boost and then it just stalls and you’re like ‘Ugh!'”

Fashakin ended Day 3 with 21.825 million and was 11th on the leaderboard with 126 players remaining. Already guaranteed $7,169, Fashakin was quickly pushing towards earning the largest live score of his career. Ahead of the Big 50, his largest live score stood at $11,250 and Fashakin needed to reach the top 81 places to earn a new career best. With such good chip position entering Day 4, he was a favorite to do so.

Not only did Fashakin reached the top 81 and earn a new career high score, but he climbed into the chip lead that day. Fashakin finished Day 4 atop the final seven players with 314 million.

On Day 5, the day Phil Ivey arrived at the 2019 WSOP by hopping into an event across the room, Fashakin maintained his chip lead at the final table while he watched other players take one another out. But then, with five players left, he started to slip back to the pack. That was followed by a slide down to the bottom. The next thing Fashakin knew, he was the short stack. As the short stack with four players left, Fashakin found a double and worked his way back up the leaderboard. He eventually reclaimed the lead and began to put distance between himself and the others. Fashakin knocked out Nick Chow in fourth place and Rafi Elharar in third place to set up the heads-up match with Paul Cullen. Nine hands later, it was all over and Fashakin was a millionaire.

With a seven-figure poker score added to his bankroll, Fashakin looks forward to putting his skills to the test in bigger events. Other than that, he doesn’t plan on doing too much with the money for six months or so and said he’ll see how it goes.

“My wife is going to beg me to go play now,” Fashakin said with a big smile. “I told her that my goal was to cash for $50,000 and she let me go. Now, I have more than that.”