It was late December and 32-year-old Florida-based grinder Jake Ferro was making his presence felt at the World Poker Tour Five Diamond Main Event at the Bellagio. He was deep his second WPT Main Tour event in as many months, having just come off a runner-up finish at the WPT Seminole Rock ’N’ Roll Poker Open in November for a career-high score of $573,605.
Things were looking good, he had made the final three tables and was hoping to continue to ride on his recent wave of good fortune. However, when Ferro clashed in a hand against WPT champ Pat Lyons, Ferro ended up hitting the rail in 14th place for more than $80,000.
Fourteenth place was good, but not the result Ferro was looking for. He was hoping to punch his ticket into the WPT Champions Club. But what he didn’t know at the time was that his 14th place finish was just what he needed to put him over the top in order to clinch the WPT Season XIX Player of the Year.
Originally from New York, Ferro first started playing poker when he was 15. Back then it was just small-time cash games with his friends, maybe the occasional $5 tournament. When he turned 18, he started to make trips to Turning Stone Casino in Syracuse. That was when he started taking the game more seriously. He took a break from working at his father’s trucking business to give playing full-time a shot, but the first time around “things didn’t go so well” and Ferro went back to work in the family business.
When COVID hit in early 2020, it was an eye-opening moment for Ferro. He knew he didn’t want a nine-to-five. So years after taking his first shot at going pro, he decided to try playing professionally once again. That was two years ago and since that time he’s been on a steep upswing. He finished 2021 with 35 recorded cashes, three six-figure scores, a WPT and PokerGO Tour final table, and the WPT Player of the Year title.
We tracked Ferro down to talk about what the POY title means to him, his grinder mentality, and how he plans on elevating his game in 2022.
First off, you’ve got to be on cloud nine, yea?
Yeah, man. It’s pretty wild. I never really even thought this. I’ve always had dreams of making a run like this, but so on cloud nine, really. Still hasn’t hit me almost.
The story is that it was a bit of a surprise for you to find out that you were the World Poker Tour Season XIX Player of the Year. How did that go down?
After the Five Diamond at the Bellagio, my buddy, Jeremy – he plays in Tampa a lot, really good tournament player – was out in Vegas with me. He was like, “Bro, you’re the Player of the Year. They’re announcing it on the PokerGO stream.” I’m like, “No way. I think it’s just for the beginning of the year, like 2021 to 2022, I think there’s another whole year left.” He said, “No way, bro… you’re the Player of the Year. They’re tweeting it. It’s everywhere.” I’m like – “No way, man.”
Then [the WPT] called me out of the blue and said, “Yeah, you won World Poker Tour Player of the Year.”
It was just really a shock to me, I don’t get emotional much, but it was pretty wild to hear that.
Speaking of Five Diamond, when you went to the Five Diamond in December, was Player of the Year on your mind? At any point during the year, was that a goal for you?
Not at all. I didn’t even think it was possible. That’s why it’s just been kind of a shock. If I knew it was possible, I would’ve definitely been looking to see if I needed to beat anyone in the Five Diamond, and what I had to do in order to actually win the Player of the Year. It might’ve even played a little differently. You never know. So it’s just really a surprise.
What kind of confidence comes along with joining the ranks of players like Negreanu, Altman, and Zinno in being named a WPT Player of the Year?
I’m telling everyone – I’m more hungry than ever now. I have to back up what I just did. I can’t just be a bum. I can’t be a chump. I have to back up my stuff, and it’s pretty wild.
I looked at all the names of everyone who won World Poker Tour Player of the Year and I was just floored. As you said, all those names you just mentioned…wild, wild. And Altman, I play with all the time. Really amazing tournament player. I played with Negreanu, Faraz…played with all those guys, Really, just unreal players. And for me to be mentioned with them, it floors me.
“I’m more hungry than ever now. I have to back up what I just did. I can’t just be a bum. I can’t be a chump. I have to back up my stuff, and it’s pretty wild.”
For players who win a major award or title sometimes it drives them to want even more. The desire to do it again, or even improve upon that achievement creeps in. Are you having thoughts of investing even more time, more travel in the WPT, or do you have your sights set on anything else now that you’ve arrived at this point?
Yeah. I want to back-to-back this thing. I want to go back-to-back. I will be at every World Poker Tour stop, grinding away, and trying to repeat here.
After your 14th place finish in the Five Diamond, you made the final table of the $50K Poker Go Tour championship, which is crazy. But what’s even crazier is, just one month prior to that, you cashed for $550 playing in the Hard Rock Weekly $180. What’s the mindset of going from a $180 daily to a $50K?
So I played at Hard Rock probably four, five times a week. I played their nightly tournament, and I’ve done this for the past year or so. They have a good nightly. It’s $180 and the winner usually takes home around $4,000. The player field is…not the best. So it’s fun to mix it up with more recreational-type players. So yeah, I was playing that.
Then I ended up going down to Hollywood, took 20th in their opening event for about $7,000 [$7,361], I think it was. I was going to play the [WPT Rock ’N’ Roll Poker Open Main Event] regardless, but I’m like…you know what, I’m running pretty good right now and so I decided to play the Main. I basically hit that for the $570K, and then took that out to Vegas and played the Five Diamond – hit that. At that point, my buddy, who I went out there with, is just telling me, “Yo, there’s a $50K on Monday!” I’m like, there’s no way I would ever play a $50,000 buy-in tournament.
But I actually talked with a couple of my buddies who invest in some of my tournaments here and there. They’re like, “Bro, whatever you need, we’ll throw you some cash. We want a piece of it. You better go play that thing.” I was still up in the air about it, but I ended up waking up that morning, feeling really good, been playing my best game, so I decided I want to play with the best in the world. It was a hell of an experience, for sure.
What’s the difference in your mentality when you play in a $50K? Do you make adjustments?
For sure. With these guys, these guys are world-class. I do my share of studying with the game, and I talk with really good players about the game, but these guys, it’s almost like they’re on another level. Like Ali [Imsirovic], I sat at his table for the last two tournaments I played, and he is just unreal with what he does at the table. I can’t even really even explain it. Just be able to watch a guy like him play, and learn a little bit just by watching him. Just a really, really insane player. But yeah, the mentality in that one was, hey, I’m taking a shot, just go basically balls to the wall. If you go out, you go out, at least you took the shot. It was a fun ride for sure. I’m crazy that I made the final table. Would’ve liked to take that one down, but you know, it was really fun playing with those guys.
You’re now the reigning WPT Player of the Year. You said you want to go back-to-back, but what else are you looking forward to in 2022, when it comes to poker?
You know what? I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, ever since I was in little kid watching Steve Irwin on Animal Planet. I’ve always had a thing with the animals and the wildlife out there. Always wanted to go there. I saw that the World Poker Tour has a series going out there this year. So I think that’s what I’m most excited about for this year. Going out there, just having fun playing poker, and experiencing a new place that I’ve wanted to go to since I was a young kid.