Faraz Jaka Forges His Own Path to Enlightenment Through Poker

Faraz Jaka has explored some of the farthest reaches of the world to enrich his life through experience and meditation (photo c/o Faraz Jaka)

Faraz Jaka has explored some of the farthest reaches of the world to enrich his life through experience and meditation (photo c/o Faraz Jaka)

Thanks to his success in poker and adventurous spirit, along with four years running without a fixed address, Faraz Jaka has traveled the world and enjoyed experiences and opportunities many only dream of. Poker is always at the forefront, but in both his vision of the future and continued life on the road Jaka’s constantly looking for his next great adventure.

It can be hard to stand out in the poker world these days. There’s a spectacular level of poker being played at the highest buy-in levels, and there are faces you’re almost guaranteed to see at one major final table or another in a given year, but there’s a seemingly never-ending and ever-growing group of super geniuses who are either lacking personality or find little value in revealing much about themselves.

Only a few players are capable of accumulating the kind of results in a given year that merit extraordinary attention. For everybody else – the pro trying to stay relevant, the mid-level grinder, the up-and-coming hopeful, and all that fall in between – there’s a lot that goes into making a consistent and profitable living on the tournament trail.

Faraz Jaka doesn’t fit neatly into any of the aforementioned groups, but he’s a little bit of all of the above – an accomplished player who works hard at his craft, grinds hard and maintains a profitable existence as a tournament poker player – and a prominent one at that.

He’s done it all while living the kind of life most people could only dream about, traveling the world not only to play poker, but to search out the kind of life experiences few others get to enjoy by being on the move constantly. Jaka hasn’t had a permanent address in more than four years, but it’s an optimal lifestyle for everything’s he’s trying to pursue.

It’s not the stereotypical ‘baller’ lifestyle, though, and the means by which Jaka’s arrived at his current equilibrium come thanks to the kind of responsibility and organization you wouldn’t typically expect from someone who often leaves himself open to the whims of the road.

“I have a travel schedule, and I can show it to you later, of pretty much my next six months,” said Jaka. He sat inside a tiny cafe – his office for the day – on an idle Monday afternoon shortly after busting out of the LAPC Main Event.

During his time on the tournament trail and traveling the world, Jaka’s found a few go-to locations in each city he frequents. Places that can fit his needs as he gets work done and prepares for the road ahead. The location he picked for this day in particular is a favorite, just a few blocks from the beach in Santa Monica and a few blocks from where he’s staying with fellow pro Mohsin Charania.

Faraz Jaka playing in the PokerStars Shark Cage. (Photo c/o @FarazJaka)

Faraz Jaka playing in the PokerStars Shark Cage. (Photo c/o @FarazJaka)

Having the framework and infrastructure to maintain such a busy and often hectic lifestyle took time, but it’s an essential part of keeping things moving smoothly. Another skill that’s come in quite handy for Jaka is his flexibility, and ability to sense an opportunity when it presents itself.

“There is a quote I really like to live by – it’s that having a plan is absolutely essential, but the plan itself is completely pointless,” said Jaka. “When I look back, 90 percent of the time I do something completely differently, but the fact that I had the plan gave me some sort of direction to aim for.”

This piece of advice tells you a lot of what you need to know about Jaka, and his pursuit of a substantial and complete experience. Through his time on the road, he’s enjoyed the people and the parts of these cities that the typical tourist doesn’t get to see.

Other players have certainly taken notice of how Jaka’s been doing things, and while they’re not quite ready to drop everything, they seek out traveling and life advice from somebody who knows it as well as anyone within the poker world.

“A lot of people will come to me and say they’re looking for this new life experience and balance, asking, ‘Where should I go? Where’s the best place I should go?’,” said Jaka. “My best answer to that is go where you know someone. Go where someone can show you around. I pick my travel destinations based on where I know people.”

While Jaka would be the first to admit that not every trip works out as written, his best experiences are often far from the vacation a traditional traveler would take.

“In terms of having a cool host, that’s the way it was with two of my best trips – one of which was in Ostrava, Czech Republic, which is a town of 500,000 people,” said Jaka. “There’s no reason why tourists would ever go there, when you can go to Prague.”

“Nothing against Prague, but I had such a better time in Ostrava because I had a local who was friends with the DJ at the bar, and took me to the local spots, and I got to go to house parties. In Ukraine I got to do the same thing. Even North Carolina, my friend just showed me around. It’s really [about] getting to know someone who knows the ins-and-outs and is connected in the city.”

Jaka relies on knowing people where he’s traveling, for the most part, and a large percentage of those friends were made at the table.

“For example, JC Alvarado has been telling me to go to Mexico City for a few months. A friend, who’s an ex-online poker player, he lives in North Carolina,” said Jaka. “He’s been telling me for years to come visit. I have another friend in Switzerland. Those have been in back of my mind for a couple years, and this year I finally knocked [those trips] out. They’re people that I know are into the same things as me and like to explore, and they show me around, and I get a really awesome cultural experience through them.”

It wasn’t always this way for Jaka. In his earliest days on the road, he often set out on his own to do some soul searching. One of his earliest trips took him through Europe, where he crossed paths with some travelers with a common interest.

“I had my laptop with me on a trip in Paris,” said Jaka. “I was staying in a hostel called St. Christopher’s with a bunch of Australian kids. They were actually playing poker in the dorm in our room, but I didn’t [get involved]. I was trying to stay low-key. It was one of the first few times I did hostels.”

Jaka’s main goal at that point was to keep to himself to make sure he was safe, as he didn’t want to fall victim to some who might target him for his money. He eventually lowered his guard a bit, and the call of a big day of online tournaments wasn’t something Jaka was going to ignore.

“[Towards the end] of the trip it was Sunday, so I was doing my Sunday grind in the lobby. They start looking at what stakes I’m playing, and they’re like, holy shit,” said Jaka, “And then the cat was out the bag. It was the last day before I left, so that was funny. Now I know a little more, and I know when it’s safe to say [something] and when it’s not.”

The fact that Jaka’s still traveling, still evolving his approach and continues to enjoy a successful career in poker is no accident. It means that occasionally, responsibility has to win out, even on the road. It’s an important next step for Jaka, who’s enjoyed his time on the road and will continue to do so, as he seeks to further improve himself.

“I think it takes an insane amount of discipline,” said Jaka. “I could use this week as an example. I am staying just a few blocks down from the beach in Santa Monica. I’m staying at Mohsin’s place. I have so many friends here and every other night, it’s like, ‘Hey, do you want to go to dinner? Do you want to go out? Do you want to go to the beach? Do you want to go play basketball?’ I do want to do all those things.”

It’s a matter of balance for Jaka, and while it may seem at odds with the way he tends to live his life on the road, it’s simply part and parcel to the vision he has for his future.

“It just depends on what your goals are,” continued Jaka. “So I’ve learned to just make decisions ahead of time, that, alright this trip is kind of poker and then vacation, and then these next eight trips after that are just work. You just have to learn to say no to people and pass up on the opportunities.”

Jaka feels he’s put a lot of work into striking the right balance between enjoyment and responsibility, and he’s enjoying the fruits of his labors as others seek out the life experience that can’t be found clicking buttons or tossing chips into a pot.

“There are a lot of poker players that I see who are glued to their computers and poker tables for the last seven years,” said Jaka, “And now they feel like they are lacking balance. They’re trying to go out and do some more things. I’m kind of the opposite, where I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of different experiences.”

There’s a lot that Jaka wants to accomplish over the next few years of his career. Poker appears to be front and center among all his goals, but there’s a reason he’s been locking things down between tournaments of late.

Faraz Jaka at the 2014 WSOP. (Photo by Drew Amato)

Faraz Jaka representing Dough at the 2014 WSOP. (Photo by Drew Amato)

Jaka’s interested in expanding his earning potential, and looking beyond poker is a big part of his being more well-rounded both financially and as a person. He got involved with Dough, the options trading company, during a big promotional push at the 2014 WSOP, and investing is one of the ways he’s trying to create another revenue stream.

“I think I’m trying to live a life that fits into what the poker lifestyle allows me to do,” said Jaka. “Four-Hour Work Week is kind of the perfect example. I’m trying to involve myself in things that I could do on the road that eventually could get automated.”

The Four-Hour Work Week is a book and lifestyle posited by author Tim Ferris where, through four primary steps, people can operate in a way that’s seemingly Jaka’s ideal – liberated from any particular geographic location or job while having an automated stream of income. It doesn’t come through whim or accident, though.

“I do realize that you do have to hunker down and put the time in at the beginning,” said Jaka. “For example, I’m taking a month off poker and just focusing on building some infrastructure for my website, getting some blogs out and finding some ways to automate.”

It wouldn’t simply be about making enough money to live a life on any beach, ski slope, or exotic locale you can think of. Other interests might occupy a little more of Jaka’s time for the near future, but another stream of income could be vital in allowing him to spend even more time improving in his current line of work.

“It would give me more time to study poker, to play poker, and it would make expenses easier,” said Jaka. “Right now, you play poker and you have your living expenses. I guess my goal would be to create an income stream where my expenses are covered by whatever this online business or whatever I create is. Now my bankroll is just my bankroll, and I don’t have to figure out a way to pay myself out of my bankroll.”

Jaka’s long term plan is focused squarely on poker, which won’t be taking a spot on the back burner any time soon. It’s not just that poker is a passion – it is – it’s also that poker is Jaka’s most convenient and well-established means of putting his name and face out there to the biggest audience possible.

“Poker is my vehicle,” said Jaka. “Like, in terms of someone wanting to start a website or a blog and start making money off of it, it’s kind of hard to get your first couple thousand followers. For me, the reach I have through poker is feeding into that. So, the poker is the most important thing and it’s finding a way to turn it into a business.”

In Jaka’s estimation, there are untapped opportunities and business ideas out there in the poker world, and someone positioned as he is should be taking advantage of the possibility.

“There are not a lot of other guys that are doing that,” said Jaka, “But there’s some. Someone like Jonathan Little comes to mind. He does seminars, he’s doing books. He’s found a way to monetize his following. You don’t have to have a huge following to do it. You have to find a way to just connect the dots.”

Jaka received quite a bit of attention back in January for an article that appeared on CNNMoney. In that story, he wrote about his modern vagabond lifestyle and how he came to live on the road for the last four years. Jaka also discussed how much he’s cut down on what he travels with and his experiences with meditation and Buddhism.

“That got a lot of attention, which was great, because I got to kind of get some feedback of what people’s interest level in learning about [that] lifestyle. There’s a ton of people super-interested and super-motivated, and who totally understood it, which was great,” said Jaka. “And, as always, there’s going to be people who misunderstand it. It was definitely interesting to see what some of the misconceptions were.”

He didn’t get too far into his experiences outside of his life-altering adventure to a Buddhist monastery in Thailand in the CNNMoney article, but in those travels Jaka met dozens of people living similarly with far different means than his own. In those people, Jaka sees a counter-argument to some of the most vocal critics that say his lifestyle is financially inaccessible.

“The obvious thing that always comes up is people saying, ‘Oh, well, you’ve made a lot of money. I can’t do this because I don’t have the money you have’,” he continued. “That’s certainly not the case, because when I’m on the road, the people I’m hanging out with who are doing what I’m doing, and they don’t have a lot of money.”

One of the most appealing aspects of the way Jaka’s chosen to live is the freedom and flexibility it provides. The wandering lifestyle leads to people living vastly different experiences that cross over briefly, for the most part. Each has their own way of making it work financially and within the scope of their own goals and aspirations.

“I just think it’s great for people to know there are other ways to do it,” said Jaka. “I meet people who travel, and they have bartending skills, so they’ll literally show up in Amsterdam and find a bartending job for a month, and then go to the next place and do that again. There are people who get jobs at hostels giving walking tours. There are people who teach English. There are people who do construction and contracting jobs.”

“It is so much easier to just find the reasons why you can’t, whereas, if you focus on trying to find a way to do it, there’s a lot of different ways [to get it done]. It’s one of those things where you just need to throw yourself out there and not worry about if it’s going to be worth it or not.”

Few of those paths are particularly easy at the beginning, and there are sacrifices to be made in order to achieve greater goals. It’s not necessary to jump from a steady job and a structured life straight into something as drastic as what Jaka’s doing, but sometimes a dramatic step is what’s necessary in order to get somebody whose main profession kept them in dark basements for years to experience how different life can be.

“I definitely think people can adapt to this but, with that said, it’s definitely harder for some people than others,” said Jaka. “There are, especially with a lot of the online poker crowd, so many people that their whole life they’ve surrounded themselves by poker and their computer. A lot of people who didn’t go to a big university and get a social experience – sometimes that’s where you learn some of the skills to go out and socialize and do those types of things.”

Jaka feels like his life has benefited to an almost immeasurable extent because of his travels and adventures. Various methods of meditation found their way into Jaka’s daily routine, whether he’s playing poker or doing virtually anything else.

“Some of the techniques I use in certain situations are typically awareness exercises that help me regain my awareness so I can stay focused and be in more control of my decisions and actions throughout the day, as opposed to going through my day reacting to everything that I experience. I want to be making conscious and mindful decisions, not reactions. Our reactions are to some extent a result of our conditioning and are where our overall mindset, previous conditioning, and reactions all start to tie back into one another.”

More importantly, in his estimation, Jaka’s discovered that regular meditation and self-exploration has led him to a different kind of worldview. By stripping things down to the core, Jaka has worked to fight the influence of conditioning–something he feels to be a roadblock both in life, and even in poker.

“I’ve found a way to utilize techniques in certain situations, but it’s also given me a different overall way of looking at things,” said Jaka. “It’s like I’m looking at the world through a new lens, but it’s probably more accurate to say I’ve taken off the lens I had previously worn; now I am seeing things more clearly.”

“The lens is an analogy for all the conditioning we experience as a result of TV, news, movies, peers, teachers, parents, etcetera,” said Jaka. “I’m not necessarily saying all conditioning is bad, but in general I would say it’s probably optimal to wipe ourselves clean, to whatever extent we can, and start over every once in a while. Conditioning is a very powerful thing and can really blind even the strongest and smartest of individuals.”

faraz-jaka-2At the various major final tables Jaka’s made throughout his career – including a fourth career WPT final table just a week after this interview, he’s been known to dress in some flashy clothes and bright colors. That would seem to be at odds with someone who’s tried to avoid seeking happiness in material goods, but it’s a misconception based on the assumption that Jaka’s become a full-blown Buddhist.

“It’s funny, some people ask how I could go to this monastery and talk about not caring about fancy things, and then I’m buying $200 shoes, or this nice coat and other stuff,” said Jaka. “I think people have this idea that, oh, if you go to some Buddhist monastery, you’re saying you’re a Buddhist, and everyone should live like a Buddhist.”

There are a lot of theories and concepts that Jaka’s taken from his experiences with Buddhism, but it’s fairer to say he’s cherry-picked a few core things that felt right to him. He also urges others to seek out many different kinds of experiences and points of view to test and shape the way they live.

“I think there’s a big misconception there because there are a lot of different lifestyles,” said Jaka, “And it’s important to just try to learn what you can from all the different lifestyles. I pick and choose the things that I find really valuable and try to incorporate that into my life.”

The confusion and skepticism with Jaka’s approach often circles back to his enjoyment of certain high-end goods. He’s put a specific value on where these kinds of items fit into his life, but Jaka is keenly aware that the world has far more to offer than most things that can be bought.

“For example, with valuing material possessions, sure, I might go and buy expensive clothes once in a while, or something fancy,” said Jaka, “But I’m not attached to them, I don’t overvalue them. If I lose them, it’s not that important, and most importantly, I don’t spend my life focusing on those things for happiness. Otherwise, you’re going to get those things and you’re going to be chasing something else, you get that and chase something else, and so on, so it’s just a neverending cycle.”

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Tim Fiorvanti

Tim Fiorvanti graduated from St. John's University with a B.S. in Journalism in 2008. After several years in the industry, he started working for BLUFF in the summer of 2010. He worked his way up at BLUFF and joined full time as a Senior Writer in April of 2012. Fiorvanti now serves as the Managing Editor of BLUFF. He's a tortured Mets and Jets fan, along with several other frustrating allegiances, but he's also a two-time defending BLUFF Fantasy Football Champion.
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