If you watched televised poker in the past 15 years you know who Sam (Sammy) Farha is.
The suave, swashbuckling Farha was a staple on the annual ESPN coverage of the World Series of Poker and was one bold Chris Moneymaker bluff away from becoming the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event champion and altering poker’s course forever.
But Farha was far more than just a WSOP runner-up.
As the proverbial “action man” and symbol of poker’s “old school” gambling heritage, Farha’s “raisy daisy” catch phrase and dangling, unlit cigarette made him a fan favorite during poker's early TV years and earned him a regular seat on the legendary poker television show High Stakes Poker.
Beyond the flash of his expensive suits and slicked-back hair Farha also had plenty of poker substance, too, as he’s a 3-time WSOP gold bracelet winner and one of the best Pot-Limit Omaha players of his generation.
With career live tournament earnings of just under $3m he hasn’t quite reached the financial heights of the next generation of young poker tournament superstars but he’s undeniably a foundational piece in the game’s evolution – both in the public eye and behind it.
A Long Career Before His Big Moment
If you can trust Wikipedia, Ihsan “Sam” Farha immigrated to the United States as a teenager after civil war broke out in his native Lebanon. In 1977, it says, he began studying at University in Wichita, Kansas, and later graduated with a degree in business administration.
A graduation he moved to Houston, Texas, where he discovered the game of poker and, apparently “won several thousand dollars." By 1990 he had “become a full-time professional poker player. “
What happened behind closed poker doors between 1990 and 2003 is somewhat lost to history as the game wasn’t documented quite as rigorously as it is today. But by that time Farha had established himself as one of the game’s regular high-stakes cash-game players and a feared Omaha specialist.
He had dabbled a little in tournament poker, winning a WSOP bracelet in 1996 in a $2,500 Pot-Limit event, but had mostly stuck to cash games where he earned his living. Heading into the 2003 World Series of Poker in fact had just 3 tournament results to his credit – all in PLO – before he became part of the biggest turning point in poker history.
Sam Farha Bluffed and a Boom Born
By the time they reached just two players left in the 2003 WSOP Main Event, a legion of poker icons had already just narrowly missed their own shot at the crown.
1989 champ Phil Hellmuth had busted in 27th. “The Professor” Howard Lederer had followed him out the door in 19th while 1998 champ Scotty Nguyen fell in 18th.
Marcel Luske, Freddy Deeb and Dutch Boyd had all dropped out in the low teens while soon-to-be poker legend Phil Ivey was bounced in 10th.
Even “Action” Dan Harrington, who literally wrote the book on Texas Holdem tournament play, had fallen in 3rd to leave the flashy Farha and an unheralded amateur poker player – an aptly accountant named Chris Moneymaker from Tennessee - to battle it out for the crown.
To the pros surrounding the table the title was Farha’s to lose as he was the steely, veteran pro while Moneymaker was the $39 satellite qualifier who had no business being that deep in poker’s premier event.
As we all know, the poker gods felt otherwise. The rank amateur pulled off one of the most stunning bluffs in poker history when he shoved his stack in on the river of hand with just K-high. Farha, whose tournament life was at risk, held just a pair of nines and let his hand go.
Shortly after Moneymaker finished Farha off and set in motion a poker boom still rippling around the world today.
For his troubles Farha still took home the second-place prize of $1.3 million but, had he called that bluff, could have literally re-written poker history.
In a PokerStars rematch between Sam and Chris held a few months after that 2003 Main Event, Sam even emerged victorious.
Celebrity and Fame for Both
As it turned out it didn’t work out so badly for both of them. Moneymaker signed on as an ambassador for PokerStars and became the face of the poker boom as players streamed in to take up the game from all corners of the US and beyond.
Farha, meanwhile, despite the disappointment of missing out on an iconic poker crown, didn’t do so badly himself. He became a fixture on the poker scene and was frequently asked to appear on the growing list of poker TV shows including the NBA Heads-Up Championship.
Also chief among them was the Game Show Network’s High Stakes Poker, which gave Farha a steady seat in the biggest televised cash game of all time. He was involved in several legendary hands, not the least of which was a bizarre AA v KK showdown with 2006 WSOP Main Event champ Jamie Gold.
As of 2018 Farha has earned a total of $2.9 million in tournament play despite the fact that he maintained his specialty of playing in Omaha cash games.
Random Farha Facts
- Farha was not a smoker and yet he usually kept an unlit "lucky" cigarette in his mouth when playing. Often, upon taking a bad beat, he’d change cigarettes. On one occasion, Sam won a series of pots and then exclaimed, "I'm so hot, my cigarette's going to light!"
- Farha has had success in other forms of gambling as well; he won a pinball tournament in Kansas and won a large bet by winning a Pac-Man competition.
- Farha's poker-related activities weren't limited to playing. His book Farha on Omaha: Expert Strategy for Beating Cash Games and Tournaments, co-authored with Storms Reback, came out in 2007. He was also involved with the creation of a video game, the production of a reality-TV poker series and was a spokesman for Harrah's Casino in Las Vegas.
Player Analysis by Barry Greenstein
"Sammy may be the most feared short-handed Pot-Limit Omaha player in the world. He is so good that we only play Omaha with him in mixed-games with one or two other games added. Even though his fame came from his second-place finish to Moneymaker in the 2003 WSOP finale, Hold’em is not his forte. His fearlessness carried him through that event."
Amusing Anecdote from Barry Greenstein
"Eight hands before the end of Day 2 in 2003, I drew out on Sammy and he got up from the table. He thought he was busted, but he had $5,000 more than I had. ($80,000 was average at that point.)
"He said, 'I’m leaving. I can’t do anything with $5,000.' I said, 'Sammy, sit down and take a shot.' Sammy went all-in in the dark on the next two hands and doubled up each time.
"Of the last eight hands played at our table that night Sammy was all-in before the flop on seven of them. He ended the second day with $58,000. Of course, Sammy went on to become famous as he cashed out $1.3 million for his second-place finish in the event."