Irish Poker, The Way We Were
by Padraig Parkinson | Published: Mar 15, '17
Looking at the upcoming stuff in Dublin (the Millions, the Irish Open, the JP Masters and the partypoker Grand Prix), I can’t help smiling and thinking of the pioneers who graced the Eccentrics Club, where it all began for tournament Holdem in Europe for the first time.
It would be rude not to start with Terry Rogers. When Terry accidentally came across the WSOP in Vegas, he was already a legend in both the racetrack betting ring and the media in Ireland. Behind his eccentricity was a sharp mind that paid little heed to accepted boundaries. And after a few hours in the coffee shop with Benny Binion, learning from another master, the ground was laid for the poker explosion that was to come in Ireland and in Europe. But Terry wasn’t happy with that. He saw a window of opportunity and jumped right through it. Terry arrived back in Binion’s the following year with Liam Flood and Seamus Power and, with Benny’s blessing, (loudly) ran a book on the WSOP main event. He forgot to get the blessing of the local cops and the 3 lads ended up in jail. Tough town! But Terry wasn’t done with Vegas by a long way. He founded the Eccentrics Club in Dublin and introduced NLH tournaments in Europe for the first time. This small club was to produce SIX WSOP main event final tableists.
Walking into the Eccentrics Club was like walking into an Irish Damon Runyon short story. The place was knee deep in colourful characters like the late great Jimmy Langan. Jimmy was a lovely, kind man who had tournament poker figured out way before most of his contemporaries. Jimmy was highly successful despite having a mental condition that required daily medication. Every now and again, he didn’t bother with the tablets and that’s when the fun used to start! My favourite Jimmy story concerns a tournament that Terry took a lot of our lads to in England in the eighties. He had a good bet on the Irish lads and was horrified to find Jimmy had decided not to bother with his medication and arrived off his head. Sean Fagan stepped in, got his hands on Jimmy’s tablets and told Terry not to worry. He took Jimmy off for a brandy and slipped a couple of tablets in his drink. When tournament time came around Sean was feeling terribly tired and Jimmy was buzzing. Jimmy had figured out what was going on and switched the drinks! We lost. But when Jimmy was at his best, he was a joy to watch and gave the Americans a good run for their money, but that’s a story for another day.
An example of the craic that was commonplace in the club was a story former Irish champ Brian McCarthy told us one night. Brian and Jim Heffernan represented the cops in the club. They were detectives somewhere or other, but to be honest, I’m not sure where they found the time. Heffo was the boss and had probably the worst wig in the country. It was certainly in the top five. Anyway, Heffo had the misfortune to require serious brain surgery which he survived. The day after the operation Brian and a couple of their colleagues visited him in hospital. Brian told Heffo it had taken four surgeons to do the job. Heffo was highly impressed until Brian added “One to perform the surgery and three to get the wig off.”
End of part one.