“Welcome to Carphone Warehouse, how can I help you?”
It’s hard to imagine 29-year-old Scotsman Niall Farrell ever saying those words, but he did. Long before he was travelling the world winning millions playing poker, he was just a young kid looking to earn money to get through college.
Farrell, who has two sisters, a brother, and six nieces and nephews, made it through college, and even went on to graduate with a law degree from the University of Stirling, six years ago.
However, it was all for show, or rather to please his mother, as he had no intention of putting that degree to use. That’s because, during his time at university, he discovered the game that would change his life.
“I became interested in poker after watching Poker After Dark on UK television years ago,” Farrell explains. “I played a bit with friends when I was at uni just casually, then started playing a little bit online and slowly got more and more interested until my last year in college when I quit my part-time job in a mobile phone retailer to 'be a poker pro' despite being a terrible player. Somehow still going.”
Cutting His Teeth Online
Despite having no job and no money, Farrell used a credit card to deposit $1,000 on an online poker site. He made $500 in his first month, which was enough for him to start telling people he was a poker pro.
“I started out as pretty much an online-only player around 2009, and I've been very fortunate to have a lot of success over all sites, which has, in turn, allowed me to 'graduate' into the bigger buy-ins of the live arena,” says Farrell. “My first memories of playing online poker were donking around in $5 games in 2008/2009.”
According to online poker site PocketFives.com, Farrell, who is known as “firaldo87” online, has more than $2.7 million in online tournament winnings, which includes a career-high $232,232.74 for topping a field of 1,633 players to win the 2014 FTOPS Main Event.
Meanwhile on 888poker, where he plays under the screenname “Wug_Brain,” Farrell has amassed $64,371 in winnings with his largest being $17,494 for a third-place finish in the September 15, 2015, $100,000 Volcano – Special Edition.
Venturing into Live Poker
Farrell’s first-ever documented cash came in 2010 when he won the Turbo II event at the UKIPT Season 1 Edinburgh. Most poker players remember their first tournament win, but not Farrell, who only took home $820 for the win.
“I actually can't really remember that tournament,” he admits. “If it was in 2010 though, then I would have had an OK amount of online success by then, so I'd imagine I would have been playing it with a few beers with some friends for fun.”
Since then, Farrell has become a familiar face on the poker circuit, and true to form he can usually be spotted enjoying a beer with his friends. Among them are fellow UK players Ludovic Geilich, Jake Cody, and Craig McCorkell, all highly successful poker players in their own right.
Farrell’s first six-figure score – he’s got half a dozen of them now – came at the 2013 World Series of Poker (WSOP) when he finished runner-up to Sandeep Pulusani in Event #44: $3,000 No-Limit Hold’em for $366,815. Finishing second out of a field of 1,072 is a great accomplishment, but as any poker player will tell you, it’s bittersweet coming one spot short of winning poker’s most prestigious prize, a gold bracelet (it’s like a football player having a Super Bowl ring).
It’d be two more years before Farrell would notch an even bigger payday. Out of a field of 651 players, Farrell finished as the last man standing in the EPT12 Malta Main Event for $588,592. The win, the largest of his career, was Farrell’s induction into the big leagues so to speak, and he’s done nothing but hit home runs ever since.
In April 2016, he finished runner-up in the FPS Grand Final Main Event for $144,302, and last summer made three final tables as the WSOP. Firstly, he finished sixth in Event #25: $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em for $75,164, and two weeks later finished runner-up to Safiya Umerova in Event #50: $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout for $163,158. Toss in an eighth-place finish a week later in the $111,111 One Drop High Roller for $486,383, and it was a pretty good two-month run.
“I actually have two runner-up places in WSOP events, and to come so close twice is pretty frustrating,” says Farrell. “My WSOP in 2016 though was pretty great overall with three final tables including the $111,000 One Drop that I was playing for the first time, so I definitely can't complain too much. Besides, there's always next year.”
Amazingly, Farrell didn’t have to wait until the following year. In November, he topped a field of 323 to win the World Poker Tour Caribbean $4,560 Main Event for $335,000, which also put his name on the WPT’s prestigious Champions’ Cup.
“The two WSOP runner-up finishes are more frustrating now that I've won a WPT as well as an EPT,” Farrell admits. “It would be nice to have the Triple Crown!”
For those who don’t know, the Triple Crown of Poker consists of winning a poker title in the three major poker tours (WSOP, EPT, and WPT). So far, only five players have completed the feat: Gavin Griffin, Roland De Wolfe, Jake Cody, Bertrand Grospellier and Davidi Kitai.
A Rising Star
In addition to the millions he’s won online, Farrell has won more than $3.3 million playing live. So, what’s his proudest poker accomplishment thus far?
“It's close between two,” he says. “I think everyone would expect me to say winning EPT Malta, and it probably is number one, but I have a soft spot for winning the FTOPS Main Event in 2014 for $236K. It was my first real marquee online score and remains my biggest one to date.”
When he’s home, Farrell can find a poker game 24/7 online, which is nice considering he often has to travel out of Scotland to find the same action live.
“The Scottish poker scene isn't very big,” admits Farrell. “The biggest tournaments we have are usually around €1,000 buy-ins. There are some very good Scottish players who travel the tour, though. You usually have to travel to England to play a decent sized tourney in the UK. I do really enjoy going to Vegas for the WSOP every year, but the actual venue is a bit rubbish. Monaco is always a cool stop, if a bit expensive, so I’m gonna say that is my favourite place to go play.”
Speaking of Scotland, Farrell currently sits second on the country’s all-time money list behind David Vamplew, who holds a half-a-million-dollar lead with $3.8 million in career earnings. It’s something Farrell hopes to change in the future.
“I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to catch him. David's a great player too so it'll be tough. Hopefully, I end on like $15 million, and he has $14 million.”
So, what’s next for Farrell?
“I really want to visit Japan/South Korea but haven't got around to it yet,” he concludes. “I went to Australia for the first time in January 2016 and absolutely loved it, so looking forward to going to more places I haven't been in the new year.”
One other place he’ll be soon is at King’s Casino Rozvadov. From January 26th through February 6, Europe’s biggest poker room will play host to the 888Live Kings Festival, which will offer over €600,000 in guaranteed prize pools. For more information on that event, click here.
You can follow Farrell on Twitter - @Firaldo87poker