When Farah Galfond started playing poker 10 years ago as an actor in New York she never thought she'd end up playing in one of the biggest cash games in Las Vegas.
Galfond had long-running parts on the soap operas Days of Our Lives and One Life to Live before meeting her husband Phil Galfond and playing poker to earn a living.
Today she's playing the World Series of Poker Main Event. It's a $10,000 buy-in and this is the second year she's competed.
Recently she's been playing in the $300/$600 No-Limit Hold'em game in Ivey's Room at the Aria Casino and created a stir when she tweeted a picture of a $360,000 pot she lost to Jean-Robert Bellande.
Farah is staked in the game by her husband who is revered as one of the best poker players on the planet.
"$5/$10 Regs at Aria are No Joke"
The Ivey's Room game is exclusive. Phil's not allowed to play.
"It's a game that's difficult to get into and I'm friends with several of the people who play in it,” Phil told PokerListings.com.
"A few months ago they were teasing me about how I can't play and one of them made a joke and said Farah could play if she wants.
"We didn't talk about it for a while and then a couple weeks ago I walked into Ivey's Room to go to my box and they were playing, and they mentioned it again.
"So I looked around the room and thought, 'Yeah, maybe.' So that was it."
Farah is a regular in the $5/$10 games at the Aria and Phil says she's there playing even more than he is.
The Ivey's Room game deals with way more money than Farah's used to but since it's so exclusive, that doesn't necessarily mean the skill level is as high as the stakes.
"I play with the best low/medium stakes players in the world,” explained Farah.
“The $5/$10 regs at Aria are no joke. I moved up to $5/$10 about a year ago and I guess Phil just thought I was ready.
"Two or three weeks ago I was playing at Aria and Phil was in Ivey's Room playing Big Bet Mix. He told me I was going in and he thought I was ready.”
Farah and Phil both said she's up overall in the game, despite losing that $360k monster to Jean-Robert Bellande on July 1.
“I Had to Call Against JRB”
Farah said she's been friends with the guys who play in Ivey's Room for a while. It's a group that includes Bobby Baldwin, Andrew Robl and Jean-Robert Bellande, among others.
So while she's comfortable with the people, the stakes took some getting used to.
"The first couple hours in the game I was just shaking. I was so nervous,” she said.
“The very first hand I ever played in Ivey's Room, I drew the ace for the button and I got pocket aces. I couldn't believe it.
"I'm doing well. I got a lot of heat on the message boards because Phil mentioned he was having a big downswing this summer but I have nothing to do with that. I'm doing well in the game and I'm having a lot of fun."
The hand that drew so much attention started when it was three-handed. Farah said most of the players in the game had taken a bathroom break.
Farah opened to $2k from the button with the 33 and JRB three-bet to $7k from the big blind with AA.
The flop came A32, making both their sets, and JRB led out. Farah called and the same betting pattern repeated on the 5 turn.
The Case Ace
The case ace hit the river and JRB checked.
"The way he plays is pretty crazy so when he checks there I think he's either giving up or he's trying to see if his ace-king will hold up,” said Farah.
“I bet and he took a long time before he shoved. I was really unhappy but against him I had to call."
Farah lost $180,000 in one hand. It probably took less than 10 minutes. She said she's only played one other pot of that size, which she won.
With such high stakes, big swings are common.
"I know she's up in the game but I'm not sure exactly how much,” said Phil. “It's a big game so the swings can be pretty big."
"Farah plays fairly snug. Some people can have swings of a few hundred thousand dollars each session but her swings are closer to $100k. But it's $300/$600 and people play pretty deep so it can go fast.”
Bellande later tweeted another picture from another session saying Farah had felted two players in the Ivey's Room game.
From Soap Opera Actor to Cash-Game Pro
Farah was originally from Kentucky but moved to LA when she was 15 for an acting job.
She was on Days of Our Lives for eight years and then moved to New York for a role on One Life to Live.
She was invited to a home game in NYC with the show's crew and fell in love with poker.
“I just really loved it,” said Farah. “So I started going to Atlantic City to play on the weekends and it became my hobby.
“I totally fished it up for about five years and I was a big poker fan the whole time. I was actually a fan of Phil's before we ever met.
"I watched him on High Stakes Poker and I liked his personality. He's very subtle and he has a very dry wit. I've always been attracted to more low-key people and not too showy. He made me laugh.
“We had a lot in common. I loved poker and he loved improv comedy and acting. So my profession was his hobby and his profession was my hobby.”
A Switch Flipped
Farah said her poker game took off when she started hanging out with Phil and other talented poker players.
"She learns a lot more by playing. She's good at reading people and she has an extremely good memory. I think she learns by repetition a lot,” said Phil.
"Poker's been a hobby of hers for a long time and I think spending time with me and other poker players kind of flipped a switch for her where she stopped thinking about it as a game that you just play for fun.
"I had that experience 12 or 13 years ago, where I went from just playing to realizing how much strategy there is and what's possible. So I think she had that happen four or five years ago and she's been learning since.
Looking back to when she started playing poker, Farah is blown away by how far she's come.
"There's no fucking way I would ever have believed I'd be playing in a game like this," she said. "Poker After Dark is coming back and Cary Katz threw it out there that I could come on and I can't even wrap my head around that.
"I think it's going to be too tough of a game probably. If it's the lineup I'm imagining, I'll let Phil handle that one."