As I write these words, the poker world is gathering to witness the 2013 November Nine reconvene and complete the WSOP Main Event final table in order to crown a new champion. Back in mid-July, play stopped upon the elimination of 2001 WSOP Main Event Champ Carlos Mortenson in 10th place. The nine players who remain represent a cadre of poker professionals, led by none other than JC Tran, who sits atop the leaderboard with 38 million in chips. Hailing from 5 countries, the November Niners have had the last 3.5 months to prepare for battle at the final table felt, as the ESPN broadcasts and numerous poker media outlets helped to tell the story of how they all got there. While the lineup is surely among the most impressive in WSOP history, and while Tran is the odds-on favorite by a large margin – head and shoulders above his fellow poker pros – one name among the bunch sticks out to me as the player I’d like to root for: Jay Farber, and here’s why.
Poker Has Evolved and the Skill Gap Has Never Been Wider
A full decade since Chris Moneymaker burst onto the poker scene, the game has certainly established its place in mainstream society and culture. A whole poker media industry has evolved and taken shape to help shepherd the game into the limelight, glorify the game’s titans, and give poker a good name. Along with the game’s growth, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the skill level of both average players as well as professional grinders. Ask anyone who has been around long enough in the poker world and they’ll all agree that skill-wise, the game is tougher than it’s ever been before. With so much educational material out there and so many poker tools available to help you improve your game, those who choose to work hard at poker can climb the ladder quicker than ever before.
That said, the same poker media, most noticeably the ESPN televised broadcasts, still nurture the dream that anything is possible in poker and that even your average weekend warrior could emerge victorious on any given day so long as the cards cooperate for long enough.
Upon Moneymaker’s victory, Norman Chad famously quipped: “it’s not just a fairytale, it’s inconceivable”. The statement was indeed plenty true at the time, with Moneymaker the great underdog to defeat Sammy Farha heads up, much less make a Cinderella run through a field loaded with pros. But these days, it seems all but impossible for such a fairytale to ever repeat itself.
There are so many poker pros today, from old school live poker pros to online grinder pros to the semi-pro players. They sit atop the poker ecology, mercilessly sucking the bankrolls out of relatively hapless players who can only try valiantly to keep up with the steep learning curve those pros have created.
And yet, somehow, Jay Farber, a Vegas nightclub VIP host, has run the 6k+ player gauntlet and made the final table. A sheep among wolves, a recreational player among sharks, the lone true amateur remaining – Farber, to me, represents our great white hope.
I Want to Believe That Poker Is Still Everyman’s Game
The die-hard poker fan in me wants to root for JC Tran to win. How many times over the last 10 years have we watched some of poker’s biggest names – Scotty Nguyen, Mike Matusow, Michael “the Grinder” Mizrachi, Phil Ivey – all make deep runs, yet fall just short of poker’s ultimate crown. Their presence makes the event that much more compelling, not to mention making for easy headlines right up until the end of the Main Event. Yet, since the aforementioned Mortenson, nobody from poker’s “old school” has been able to take home the most prestigious prize and bracelet in the game. J.C. Tran, as the chipleader and most experienced player, could change all that and rewrite the history books.
My Jewish pride has me rooting for Amir Lehavot to win. The Israeli-born former bracelet winner is the elder statesman at the table and has an excellent shot at the crown, especially considering he’s trailing just Tran in the chip counts. We interviewed Lehavot back in July and getting to speak with him was a personal highlight for me that deepened my desire to see him become the new champ.
The other pros in the field – and I mean no disrespect whatsoever here – I’ve just got to group together as “the other pros in the field”. Your average poker fan and recreational player has probably never heard of Marc McLaughlin, Ryan Riess, Sylvain Loosli, Michiel Brummelhuis, Mark Newhouse, or David Benefield, despite their commendable poker résumés. Sure, we’ve gotten to know their stores via the weekly broadcasts leading up to this final table, but the fact is that they (along with Lehavot) have all chosen the path of the poker pro. And it’s just hard for us “regular guys and gals” out there to identify with a poker pro.
Jay Farber, however, is another story – he represents Everyman, and that’s why I’m rooting for him to win it all.
The Ideal Heads-Up Match
In a perfect world, I think it would be best for poker if Jay Farber made it to heads-up play against J.C. Tran. The volume inside the Penn & Teller Theater would be incredible and surely poker fans would be glued to their screens until a winner was decided.
Much like the Moneymaker–Farha showdown a decade ago, this would be a repeat of “the average Joe” vs. “the skilled pro” – albeit with significantly more at stake. I feel as though the hopes of many recreational players have dimmed with each passing year. We’ve watched the Darvin Moons and the Dennis Phillips give it their best shot and come every so close to everlasting poker glory. Perhaps it’s time for another fairytale?
A David vs. Goliath matchup like Farber vs. Tran would, simply put, be the best thing for poker.
Good luck Jay. Thank you for keeping our dreams alive all the way until the final table. May you continue to make us recreational poker players proud and give us hope that one day we, too, could follow in your Cinderella footsteps to achieve the inconceivable.