Britain has a lot of great poker players.
But if you were to stick your head out of the dungeon and choose 10 people most likely to bring home a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet this year, Niall Farrell is one of them.
He's staying in a house on West Tropicana and his roommate of choice is American Daniel Strelitz.
"He doesn't drink too much so he keeps me out of trouble throughout the summer," Farrell says. "If I stayed with the UK guys I would drink far too much."
When Farrell first came to Vegas for the WSOP he was backed by David Randall and would stay in a house with his fellow horses. The European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event winner no longer needs the hay.
In the past four years Strelitz has been a part of Farrell's ritual. For many people the WSOP experience is akin to an explosion of a star. It doesn't affect Farrell in that way, and he admits that he ‘wouldn't come every year if he didn't have to.'
“I miss a lot of fun stuff at home when I come here.”
How Much Do You Need to Live in Scotland?
There are poker players who love poker as much as heroin addicts love the sight of the neon-orange syringe tops.
Then you have other members of the orchestra who end up there because it was an easy way to make money without applying much effort.
Farrell floats somewhere in between, erring more on the side of ‘job' than ‘love.'
“I like the pressure of running deep in a major live event. I love the social aspect of meeting new people. But it’s not something I want to do forever.”
And that leads to the inevitable question I love to ask every single professional who's paid money to chase the tails of fish: What do you want to do?
The discussion usually leads to the most common response: "I don't know."
Poker can lead to ruin. For others, it can result in everlasting fame and fortune. But for most it's a halfway house for bright young minds who haven't quite figured out how best to service the world.
In the meantime, earning titles, accolades and a lot of cash playing a game will do perfectly fine, thank you very much.
“I used to have the mentality of wanting to be a millionaire before 30,” Farrell says. “But how much money do you need to live in Scotland?
"The way I see things I need enough to share a few pints with the boys on the weekend and to pick up a football coupon.”
No Intention of Using Law Degree
Farrell has a law degree. A piece of paper he picked up because he wanted to make his mother proud and not because he loved practicing law.
"I grinded it out to please my Mum. I had no intention of using it," he says.
He has always envisaged a future where he would go into business with his brother. Like all great poker players, Farrell’s plan is flawless.
"My brother has a great work ethic and is smart. I would provide the funding."
Work ethic. That old chestnut and so often the downfall of so many potential David Vamplews.
"It stems from being smart. I don't want to sound like a big head, but school work always came easily to me.
"I was one of those kids you would find drinking Mad Dog behind a skip and yet would manage to get straight A's."
It seems he was putting people on tilt way before he even picked up a deck of cards.
"If you develop this habit of not working hard, and you feel no pain, it breeds a lazy mentality. It's one of the things that attracted me to poker.
"If you are smart, it doesn't feel like work. It attracts young guys who can't be assed doing anything but want to make a lot of money at the same time.
"You will be lucky to see me playing online twice a week if that."
And then he goes and wins a Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) title on PokerStars. It’s enough to make you want to buy a shit-ton of Mad Dog and find a skip.
The Birthplace of EPT Champions
But he must have had to work hard at something, at sometime?
“I worked at Carphone Warehouse,” Farrell says.
Carphone Warehouse -- the birthplace of EPT Champions and world-class opera singers.
“I was earning decent money for Uni, but it wasn’t a job where I had to use my brains too much. Then one day I quit.
"I had no money. I got hold of a credit card, withdrew a grand, and started playing $4 180-mans. I made $500 in my first month and then told everyone I was a professional poker player.”
But surely, he must have had some confidence in his game to jump off that cliff?
“I was fucking dreadful.”
Enjoying Playing Niall Farrell Right Now
Farrell believes poker has ‘at least five years for me’ and ‘even more if I keep playing live’.
Today, he lives for the challenge of the higher buy-ins and the ability to pit his wits against the best players in the world.
"This year, if I could source dollars, I could play One Drop, and that's exciting."
He maintains focus on poker by creating the desire to give back to his family. In particular, he pays homage to the great role his mother has played in his life and the love for his brother.
“They have done so much for me when I was growing up.”
He draws inspiration from the late, great Christopher Hitchens:
"When someone talks about life with such controversy and arrogance, it's hard not to take notice."
And he's also a fan of revolutionary thinker Elon Musk:
"He's fast becoming a mini-hero of mine."
Farrell talks passionately about Musk’s view that we could be part of a computer simulation arranged by a much more advanced civilization.
“I am interested in massive scale stuff like that.”
I ask him whom he would like to take control of if he was playing the game, and he replied that he would like to be Lionel Messi, Brad Pitt and Stephen Hawking.
“It would be cool to try different game modes. Although I am enjoying playing Niall Farrell just now.”
Give the Man a Seat
Keeping on the Musk theme and I ask him if he was fortunate to get a seat amongst the million people Musk wants to send to Mars to populate the planet, who would he take?
"I would take people uglier than me so I could have the pick of the women and be the leading man chosen to populate the planet."
One of those people is also his brother. But Farrell thought it was critical to choose a woman smart enough to drag his genes out of the gutter to ‘make sure the human race isn't made up of complete morons,' and so Jennifer Shahade gets a seat on the rocket.
With Shahade on his left I asked him to choose someone to be on the right. Tatjana Pasalic got the nod.
“I have always had a massive crush on her.”
If Musk saw Farrell as a pivotal part of the terraforming Mars plan, he would have to improve that work ethic for sure. I don't think owning an EPT title is going to help the human race so I ask him what other skills he's developed over the years.
"I once tried to swim the river Nith when drunk. It was a great way to end up in the papers for being some drunk idiot that died.
"Growing up in Scotland does that to you because all you can do is drink, fuck and fight."
Give the man a seat, Elon.