BRUNSON, REESE, UNGAR, PIONEERS OF IRISH POKER
by Padraig Parkinson | Published: May 06, '14
Europe’s oldest Holdem tournament, The Irish Open, took place last month. It may not be top of every player’s must play list any more, but it’s top of mine. The economy, a saturated calendar and lack of TV coverage may explain a lot, but for me it’s all about the history. When I walk in to play this event, I can almost see the ghosts of the great characters who’ve played and lost and would rather have lost than not tried. Because they knew this was our tournament. A celebration of being Irish, either by birth or at heart. If you haven’t figured that out you’re missing the point.
It all kicked off when eccentric Irish bookmaker Terry Rogers wandered into Binion’s in the middle of the WSOP (it was probably in 81) and couldn’t believe his eyes. Terry was one smart cookie and figured that tournament holdem would go down pretty good with Irish gamblers. He was right there! He took a bit of advice from his new best friend Benny Binion, returned to Ireland and opened the Eccentric’s club and The Irish Open was born. The Eccentric’s club was hysterical. It was really just two appartments over a shop on Dublin’s North side but it was the most magical place I’ve ever played in. Terry was right about the Irish and holdem but had to keep changing the rules on rebuys as this bunch of degenerates needed protection from themselves. At one stage, the weekly tournament was a freezeout. BUT if you got knocked out you could leave the building and come back as somebody else. It seemed quite normal to us. There was a rule that you couldn’t borrow or lend money in the club. If this rule was infringed, the lender was suspended for a year. One night, Terry forgot his own rule and lent a guy a few quid. Then he remembered and suspended himself! You couldn’t make this shit up.
Then Terry pulled a master stroke. He persuaded the best players in the world to come to Dublin’s Killiney Castle to play poker for a week. They all came. Doyle, Chip, Stuey, Slim… they were all there. The Irish media lapped it up. In a week, Terry had changed completely the Irish publics perception of the game. For that, we owe Terry and the Americans who put the game on the map here a lot. Ireland being Ireland, the wheels had to come off at some stage. One evening, the guys who were looking after the cash went on a dinner break. As a precaution, they took the cash with them for safekeeping. As an extra precaution, they never came back. Everyone thought it was very funny. Except Terry maybe.
Over the years, Americans have been great and enthusiastic supporters of The Irish Open. Mike Sexton always speaks very highly of the event and Irish poker in general. Dan Harrington is a regular visitor. Phil Helmuth has said some really nice things about it. Negreanu came all over Dublin with me to meet the smaller players. They loved it. And Doyle came back after 25 years and had an incredible rapport with the fans and the players.
Its NOT just another tournament. It’s a way of life. I haven’t won it yet but I’m never going to quit trying. You’re only beaten when you quit.