Poker profile: Catching up with Jacobo Fernandez

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By Christopher Cosenza

To say Hollywood’s Jacobo Fernandez is having merely a breakout year in 2008 would be like saying the Miami Dolphins merely won a few games in 1972. True, Fernandez isn’t having a perfect season, but it would be hard for him to imagine having a better performance. Well, upon reflection, perhaps there’s one thing he’d change.

“I think God does not want me to get a bracelet,” he said, referring to his five-hour heads-up battle with poker pro David Singer in the World Series of Poker’s Event No. 3, a $1,500 no-limit hold’em tournament. Fernandez went to that final table as chipleader with nearly a quarter of the chips in play. “David Singer is an excellent player and one of us had to win. He had more luck than I did. It has not been difficult to get over my loss. … It will happen whenever it’s meant to happen.”

Fernandez’s modesty in a sport full of ego is refreshing. Before 2008, he had some moderate success and recognition on a national level, once finishing third in 2007’s L.A. Poker Classic, a WPT event in which Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten called him “Jacob” during the telecast.

People should know his name now, however, though outside card rooms he says he hasn’t had to make major adjustments in his personal life. Perhaps it’s the language barrier (he doesn’t speak English and finds it difficult to deal with) that has kept the media at bay and allows him to lead a “normal” life.

He made three final tables, cashing a whopping seven times for nearly $660K in this year’s WSOP (he has nine overall WSOP cashes) and was named CardPlayer’s WSOP Player of the Year. Plus he very narrowly missed winning the ESPN version of the same award.
“I was very happy and proud when I was named CardPlayer’s WSOP Player of the Year,” said the 44-year-old who owns Affordable Rent-A-Car in Orlando. “I believe I’m a good player and that’s the reason I have done so well this year at the WSOP. I think God has helped me.”

He said he wasn’t upset about not winning the ESPN award, but what he calls the “worst moment of my career” was a bad beat he suffered in Event No. 48.

“I went all-in with a pair of aces and my opponent had two jacks, but I still lost. I would have been the chipleader if I had won.” And he likely would have accumulated enough points from that event to stay ahead of Erick Lindgren, the eventual winner of the ESPN honor. Instead he went out 100th and pocketed just $5K.   

Fernandez, born in Gurabo-Santiago in the Dominican Republic, began playing cards at a very young age. Now he plays all of the disciplines very well, as testament to his cashes in stud and Omaha events at the WSOP, but he says Texas Hold’em is his game of choice. He admits he didn’t start playing tournament poker until he entered an event in Mississippi in November 2006. And it didn’t take him long to earn his first cash, finishing 14th a month later in a smaller buy-in event at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic in Las Vegas. But from there he flew under the radar while poker’s boom settled. Aside from his $607K cash at the L.A. Poker Classic (which he says is still the best moment of his career despite this year’s WSOP performance), most of his cashes came in undercard events in Vegas, his home away from home.

“My home is Hollywood, Fla., but I travel very often to New York, Las Vegas and the Dominican Republic. … In Florida I play in Tampa and Hollywood, but I love to play in Vegas.” And that might be another explanation why he did so well this year. Since his remarkable WSOP run Fernandez also cashed in a Bellagio Cup event in July for $21K.
Speaking of Florida, what does the player of the year think about poker in the Sunshine State?

“I think that the poker in Florida is growing,” he said through his interpreter. “I have noticed that the majority of the best players come from Florida. I hope poker keeps growing throughout the United States and that it lasts for a very long time.”