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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now - Sammy Farha

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

When I first got into poker around 2002, of course I was burdened with my own stereotypical thoughts of what poker was.  I thought it was a bunch of old men, dressed like cowboys, all cheating each other out of money.  Of course I very quickly realized that wasn’t nearly the case anymore, and part of the reason I started to change my tune was because of one Sammy Farha.  Farha was, at the time, seemingly on every poker show, wearing either a nice suit, or equally expensive looking clothing, looking nothing like a cowboy at all.  He was, and still is, seemingly having a good time; unlit cigarette in his mouth because smoking isn’t allowed on televised events, much to his chagrin. 

Farha is widely regarded as one of the best poker players in the world, particularly in the game of Omaha and his story as to how he got there is just as interesting as any of the other players we’ve featured in our “Where Are They Now” series.

Ihsan “Sammy” Farha was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1959.  As a youngster, poker was far away from his mind, but gambling was not.  From a very early age Farha began playing various games hoping to win a dollar, or in some cases $5,000.  Farha, a highly proficient player of the popular arcade game Pac Man, once won $5,000 from a fellow gambler when he was just a young teenager.  Farha was also on the cover of a Lebanese magazine being touted as one of the best “Pin Ball Players in the World.”  Farha also had the reputation of a pool shark, often winning local tournaments, and playing, and usually beating, people with years more experience than him.  Despite these early success stories as a gambler, Farha knew in the back of his mind that gamblers, especially during this time period were looked down on as being shady characters, but more to the front of his head was knowing his father would disapprove of such a profession.

As a teenager his family was forced to flee their home country because of the civil war that broke out in Lebanon (Joe Hachem shares a similar story).  The Farha Clan fled to Wichita, Kansas, where Sammy would finish his high school education and then enroll at the University of Kansas.  It was at college, as it is for so many other youngsters, that Farha first became interested in poker.  With friends he began playing low limit games, and by the time he graduated with a degree in Business Administration he had made about $2,000 dollars from the game.  Not quite as much as his day as a Pac Man hustler, but certainly not bad for a college kid.

After graduation Farha moved to Houston, Texas to be in a bigger city and for job opportunities.  While attempting various jobs in the business world Farha once again heard the calling from the poker table, and began playing the game with friends more and more often.  

On a trip to Las Vegas with his friends in the mid 1980’s, he turned $2,000 into $7,000 and it was then he began realizing he might want to be a professional gambler.  After all, all of his jobs in Houston were turning out to either be dead ends, or something he wasn’t very interested in.  The bright lights of Las Vegas and the thoughts of making more money in a couple of hours than he had in months back in Houston, were eventually too much for Farha to ignore.

As predicted, his father didn’t particularly like this choice.  For starters he didn’t feel like it was enough money, and more importantly his father had the continuing thought of gambling being a non-noble job.  However, Farha was now a grown man, and would be allowed to do with his life what he wished.  And he wished to be one of the best poker players in the world.  After four more years of debating on whether or not to turn pro, while also taking his game to what he thought would be an appropriate level, he decided to move to Vegas and take the plunge.

Farha, who’s specialty is Omaha, began earning his keep in cash games in Vegas in that game almost immediately.  Farha is probably both the best, and most famous Omaha player of this generation, becoming great at the game at a time when most people were still playing stud and Hold’em.  While it’s impossible to know how much Farha earned at the cash games upon his arrival to Sin City, it was evidently enough for his parents to now approve of his job, and for him to not have to move back to Houston for a “9-5 job.”

In one of the very first tournaments he ever played in, Farha won his first of two World Series of poker bracelets in Omaha.  In the 1996 $2,500 Omaha Pot Limit event he outlasted a final table that featured pros such as Erik Seidel and Jay Heimowitz to take him first place.  The $145,000 dollars was a huge boost to his bankroll, and all but assured Farha that he would now be a professional poker player for the rest of his life.  

Farha has since finished in the money at the WSOP a total of seven times, including winning his second bracelet in 2006 in the $5,000 Limit Omaha eight or better event, netting him $398,560.  In more recent memory, Farha might be more remembered for finishing second to Chris Moneymaker at the 2003 WSOP Main Event.  Farha had lost a monster hand to Barry Greenstein much earlier in the tournament and was down to less than 10 percent of his starting stack.  Perhaps tilting, Farha wanted to leave, but Greenstein talked him into staying.  Good thing he did, because for finishing second place he earned 1.2 million dollars.  In fact, Farha almost pulled it out, if it wasn’t for Moneymaker winning the event on the river when his two pair beat Farha’s pocket jacks.  

This past year Farha finished 6th in the $10,000 Mixed Event at the WSOP, adding $85,727 to his bankroll.  

Farha has been featured on most of the high stake games that appear.  His style of seemingly playing any two cards is one that draws much chagrin from the poker world.  His success on these shows has been up and down.  However, high stakes poker for Farha and high stakes poker for 99 percent of the rest of the world are two separate things.  

Farha is a known winner at the highest stake games Vegas has to offer in Omaha.  Sometimes when he is playing these television, No Limit Hold’em events it almost seems like he is there to purely gamble and have fun, living up to his quote: “You have to gamble to win.  If you don’t gamble, you can’t win.”  As mentioned, this irks some critics and viewers, but in reality he has earned his money and has a right to play with it however he likes.  Other than the blow up when he almost quit at the 2003 WSOP, Farha almost always keeps a calm demeanor,  often congratulating players non-sarcastically who have just beat him. *Editor's Note.  Our writer has never dealt to Sam!*

Farha will never challenge the top tournament players for number of victories and bracelets, but he will always challenge you to cash games.  Despite his pretty low volume tournament schedule, he still plays in most of the bigger events, and has accumulated over 2.1 million dollars.  As stated before, it’s nearly impossible to determine how much Farha has won in cash games, but his reputation at these highest games says it’s quite a lot.

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