Niall Farrell Interview

Niall Farrell Interview

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Wednesday Wildcard.

26 year old Niall Farrell has been getting a lot of attention lately, either bullying pros on TV, or ruthlessly crushing online tournaments. This past Sunday he had his biggest online score, winning the Full Tilt FTOPS Main Event for $236,000! We decided it’d be a good time for a beer over Skype with this sick Scot (currently hibernating in Canada).

Niall – grats on the win! How are you feeling?

Pretty ecstatic. I’ve been looking for a marquee score online for a while and this is definitely one of those, so I can't complain.

It seems like every time we look on your Twitter feed these days, you’ve run deep in something – you’re really crushing at the moment!

Yeah, it’s been a good start to the year. I’ve been kinda heatering up online which is nice, obviously culminating in the win on Sunday. I’ve been working really hard on my game this year, because I got a bit lazy last year. It’s paying off a bit I guess.

Can you give us a quick overview of how the tournament played out for you?

Well, I was only in for one bullet, which was great. At the start I was pretty short, but I managed to work it back up. Through the middle stages, I always had a lot of chips. I was at one stage playing really psycho-aggressive and I got 5-5 in against K-K for five bets [laughs] and then I rivered a five [more laughs] ...which was pretty fun.

After I got those chips, it was just a case of building quite a lot. I was lucky enough to have a decent amount of chips when we got down to three tables. I had the easiest of the three tables by a good way, so I was able to pick up a lot of chips pretty easily. Players like Phil Galfond ('OMGClayAiken') and Sami Kelopuro ('LarsLuzak') were on the other tables, so I was pretty lucky. I ended up coming in 2/9 to the final table, after being able to pick up a lot of chips on the final table bubble.

Given how many entries there were, the cream still rose to the top. The last few tables were packed with renowned tournament beasts – were there any spots left?

There were a few - but with the strength of the field which was left, the “spots” were just perhaps the weaker regs - it’s not like there were any huge fish left. From 30 players down it was pretty much regulars and professional poker players. But there were some slightly weaker regs that I guess were the spots. They were maybe a little bit tighter, but I guess if you’re heading toward the FTOPS main event final table you will naturally tighten up.

How was the final table for you?

I actually got one of the worst seats, I had the huge chip leader ('Chillax Chuck') to my left and he plays crazy and aggressively. I had 'LarsLuzak' on my direct left and he’s obviously one of the best players online. I had position on 'Timex' (Mike McDonald), which I guess was the only upside.

As a result of my seat, and the fact I was second in chips with the crazy chip leader on my left, I was just playing tight overall until we got down to four- or five-handed. Then I opened it up a bit, but I was just playing very careful and ICM aware.

That doesn’t sound like you at all...

I know, I’m getting old, man!

ICM is just such a huge thing, and I’ve been taking a lot of time out to learn it. It has you doing crazy things, like - there was a hand at the final table where ‘YRWTHMELTHR’ opened and I had A-K with 40bb on the button and I flat. ‘Chillax Chuck’ squeezes and YRWTHMELTHR’ flats again. I shove over both of them and they fold. It’s just that kind if spot where you have to flat A-K first time round because it’s a fucking nightmare if you go broke whilst being third in chips.

So it’s so weird - especially coming up to the final table bubble where you’re going fucking crazy, opening hands like J-5 suited under the gun. Then you get to the final table and you have K-J suited under the gun and you end up folding. It’s a hard gear change.

Even on standard final tables, you would usually play a really solid ICM strategy regardless of the prize pool. But how big of a change is it when you could buy a house with one of the pay jumps?

I’m not gonna lie, it did affect me a little bit. But not as much as it would have in the past. I’m getting a lot more experience at playing for this type of money. The WSOP in the summer [Niall came 2nd in a $3,000 bracelet event for $367,000] really helped, because it was a similar situation, where there was a lot of big pay jumps. You just have to detach yourself from it and you have to remember that the pay jumps are big for everyone else as well, so I could put pressure on people. It’s not just you that is sweating the $100k pay jump – even if you’re one of the absolute sickos – $100k is still $100k.

So, you play smart, but you don’t let yourself get run over or anything – you can still pull the trigger when you have to. When you’re second in chips and the guy who’s third or fourth in chips opens, you can come after him a lot, because it’s the same for him. It would be a nightmare for him to bust eighth, when he was third in chips.

You must have been delighted when you agreed the chop? [With three players remaining, Niall took a guaranteed $200k, which also saw ‘Chillax Chuck’ and ‘Timex’ take $200k with $36,000 left on the table to play for winner takes all].

‘Chillax Chuck’ suggested the deal, and I know ‘Timex’ pretty well, so once we were three-handed it wasn’t too much of a sweat. I was pretty sure we were going to chop, which was great.

I think the chop was really fair, overall. Chuck gave up a little bit of his chip edge to give me and ‘Timex’ the same deal, but he kinda got that back, being as he was best placed to win the extra $36,000. So I think it was super fair. I was delighted to have $200k locked up. My biggest score online before that was $60k, so it was really good. Also, at that point when it becomes winner takes all, ICM just goes out the window.

So when it gets to three-handed post-deal, the pressure is off – but you’re still playing for a pretty hefty $36,000!

It’s one of those weird poker things where if you were playing a winner takes all three-handed Sit & Go for $36,000, you’d be shitting your pants – but when you’ve just locked up $200,000, it numbs it a bit. You just think, “I might as well just try and play as well as I can and try to win.” It does take the pressure off.

Also, I feel a lot more confident in my game when not having to consider ICM. Even playing against someone like ‘Timex’ – who I feel is a better poker player than me – we are still only playing with 40bbs, so with those stacks I think I am as good as anybody.

You made a huge FTOPS final previously – did that feel like a missed opportunity at the time? [Niall got 9th in a $1k re-entry in 2011].

Yeah, that one felt pretty bad. There was $500,000 for 1st and I came in 3/9. I didn’t have very much money at the time and my backer suggested to me that I take a shot; I was like, “Sure,” and he decided to put me in for four entries. I think my average buy-in was about $45 at this point. When I got to the final table, it was probably a good example of when I wasn’t as ICM aware – I was 3/9 and picked up 10-10 in a spot where in any other stage in the tournament, it would be fine, but I ran into Q-Q and got 9th. It felt terrible. I won a decent amount of money for me at the time, but it still felt like the one that got away.

Were you worried that that could have been your one chance for a breakthrough?

I was bitterly disappointed at the time, but fortunately, I’m really… I wanna say confident, but maybe arrogant is the better word. So I always felt that I would have other opportunities. As a poker player, you want everything this second, but that’s not how it works. You need to keep working on your game and getting better, and if you keep playing then these things will come around, hopefully. I was always confident that I would be in that situation again.

At the moment, my confidence is sky high even without the FTOPS main score. I’ve been heatering online, and am already on course for my best year online by a decent amount. Now, obviously, unless I somehow lose half of it back [laughs] it should be locked up. I feel like I’m as good as I’ve ever been and I’m getting better, so it’s pretty exciting and nice to be playing. I’ve had both sides of it; I’ve had periods of down-swinging, where you feel like you’re the worst player in the world. It’s nice to take a step back when you have it the other way round and just take a moment to feel good about yourself.

You’ve had a lot of love from the community.

Yeah, definitely. I’ve had some great messages from some of my peers. It’s always great to be recognised by people whose games you respect. I’ve met some incredible people through poker, and it’s great when you have people genuinely rooting for you. Poker is a game where it’s really easy to be jealous of other people’s success. And I used to be very guilty of this myself, where I’d think “how did this guy get this / I’m better than this guy….” But to have so many people congratulate me is an enormously good feeling.

You’ve been doing pretty well live too, and starting to get a lot of TV coverage. Have you been getting people recognising you and giving you their thoughts on your maniacal image?

Online, people sometimes ask me if I’m Niall Farrell, which is kinda surreal. But it’s obviously from the watching the EPT Barcelona coverage [Niall came 15th]. I’d be lying if I didn’t have to check to see what people have been saying. It’s always good to have an idea of people’s image of you. I actually like it, I’ve always been social and I really like meeting other people and this [being on TV] opens up more opportunities for that. It’s definitely a positive, and if you have to bluff a little bit less in future, I think that’s an ok price to pay.

What are you doing in Canada?

My girlfriend is out here doing her PHD, so I come to visit for a few months at a time. I love it out here.

I guess the time zone is pretty ideal for playing online?

It’s great, I start at like 10am and normally finish up at like 5 or 6. You finish in time for dinner, which is great. It’s really helped me. It’s really good for your mental health to be able to go see friends or something of that nature when you finish up. When I was grinding in Scotland, there were times when your cycle would be waking up at 5pm when it’s dark, playing through to 5am, and then when you woke up again it would still be dark. So that’s not great. Being here has made a huge difference. I’ve actually done a lot better; it could be a coincidence, but I don’t think it is. I’m coming back out here for SCOOP, because if I was playing it from the UK, I could be playing till like 10 in the morning.

Where are we gonna see you next?

I’m flying back to Europe and I’m going to the Irish Open this weekend, followed by Monaco for the EPT Grand Final. After that I’ll be home for a few days, before going back to Canada for SCOOP and then straight on to Vegas for the WSOP.

Tags: Niall Farrell, FTOPS