Sammy, tell us about your life before you were a high-rolling poker superstar…
I left Lebanon when I was eighteen, because of the civil war and because I had not yet been accepted by the American University in Beirut. You couldn’t get a good education in Lebanon because the civil war was disrupting everything. So I decided to join my brother and uncles in Wichita, Kansas.
I come from a long line of physicians and I was considering going into the medical field like my brother and uncles. Like most college students, I was undecided until my third year when I switched from a biology degree to a business degree. After graduation, I moved to Houston, Texas, and managed a gift shop.
But you’d always been a big games player…
Back home in Lebanon I was a great pool player. But when I came to Wichita, it was difficult to stay on top of my game. Because it’s such a small place, there wasn’t enough competition. In fact, when I was in college I used to give the pool teacher some pointers.
And you were a pinball wizard. Is that where you learnt not to tilt?
Exactly. I used to make a lot of money from pinball and also Pac Man video games. We would play pinball for large amounts of money. I was young and making great money.
Poker was natural for me. I knew all about risk-taking already. Living in Lebanon during the war was very risky. You could get killed just going out to buy bread. We just got used to it – you just had to live day-to-day. That sense of risk built up in me little by little, until I found an outlet for it in poker. The first time I played, I guess it was beginner’s luck, because I won a lot of money and I didn’t even know what the best hand was. Somehow I won about $4,000. I knew very well that it was luck, but I also knew that I needed to learn this game and take it very seriously, because I could make good money.
You’ve made money all right.
Tell us about those legendary highstakes games you play.
I play with the greatest players in the world: Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Johnny Chan, Bobby Baldwin, Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen… you name it.
When you play the Big Game at Bellagio, they keep the game open to public view. How do you feel about that?
Personally, I don’t like it. But they keep a security guard there so no one can get close. You have to be protected. I’ve been through a lot playing cards and you want privacy when you play. You don’t want to feel exposed. But they give you the best security available, so I’m comfortable enough.
What’s the biggest pot you’ve ever won?
Well, I’d rather not talk about money…
[At this point we are forced to ditch three-quarters of our remaining questions]
(Laughs) Poker’s poker. You win some; you lose some. A skillful player will come out ahead in the long run.
You’re the world’s best-dressed poker player. Where do you buy your suits?
I travel all over the world and visit boutiques wherever I go. Usually my suits are custom made in Italy. But, generally if I see something I like, I’ll buy it. All my life I’ve liked quality: good food, good clothes, good cars, good poker…
So what’s you favorite restaurant?
Depends where I am. If I’m in Vegas, I love the food at the Bellagio.
Do you enjoy the Humphrey Bogart comparisons?
Honestly, I don’t think I look like him, but I’m always flattered.
So who would play you in a film of your life now that Bogie’s unavailable?
(Laughs) No one comes close to Bogart.
You can get your hands on Sam Farha merchandise and find out more about the man himself at www.samfarha.net