Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

Andy Black - From the Wilderness to the World's Biggest Stage

by Roy Brindley |  Published: Oct 01, 2005

Andy Black in a sea of chips

Earlier this year, Card Player Europe featured an article about an individual by the name of Andrew Black. A relative unknown outside of Dublin, some would, and probably did, argue he was undeserving of the two pages afforded his story.

Now, following a fifth-place finish in the World Series of Poker main event, and with the accompanying coverage on ESPN, the Irishman has become an internationally renowned figure.

Fair Play

Every WSOP has had a key moment that has defined that tournament. I'm talking about Marcel Luske's brilliant read on Harry Demetriou last year, insisting his opponent held pocket kings despite Demetriou's denials. Or, back in 1998, when Scotty Nguyen taunted his heads-up opponent Kevin McBride: "If you call, it's gonna be all over, baby."

As for 2005, amidst the acres of footage ESPN's team of 80 editors sweated over, which moment will we look back on to define this, the biggest tournament in the event's history?

Certainly, a defining moment in Black's pathway to the final table was his insistence on waiting for a player who had mistakenly thought a short bathroom break was in fact a full lunch break.

Management was unsympathetic to his cause, and despite Black's pleas to hold up the action, the game continued, with the unfortunate player's chips being eaten away at an alarming rate by the sizeable antes and blinds.

Here, Black's Buddhist ways shone through, and he introduced a go-slow which verged on all-out revolt. The organisers were not impressed, and chose to intervene.

The result of this clash between "fair play and sportsmanship" and "corporate stupidity" will surely unfold on television. It was a watershed in the course of the tournament. News of the disagreement, and of Black's stance and its outcome, warmed the hearts of those present. It came as no surprise when those assembled around the final table declared him the people's champion.

Cruel Twist of Fate

The history books will show that Joseph Hachem was the 2005 World Series champion. While it is impossible to take that mantle away from Australia's biggest export since Skippy, could we argue that the best man on the day did not win?

Black's relentless raising and reraising at the final table soon put him in a commanding position. Even when he ran into a house full of kings, he didn't let it stop his cause. Instead, he took it in stride and promptly resumed his "normal service," that of chip building.

However, it was ironic that in proving his game is not as one-dimensional as pure aggression, bad luck was to raise its ugly head.

Black made a brilliant read when he called an all in, holding just 10-9 on a 10-7-6 flop. Impassive throughout, he looked unsurprised when his opponent, Steve Dannenmann, flipped over A-6. The deadly river card landed a monster blow in the shape of a body-piercing ace.

That pot would have given Black half the chips in play, with just four people remaining. Instead, it put him in a near hopeless position, out-chipped by a ratio of 7-to-1 to Dannenmann.

However, "The Monk," as Black was christened during the WSOP, fought back tenaciously. The next time he got all his chips in the middle (holding pocket tens), the pot was big enough to reinstate his position as table captain.

Luck, however, conspired to desert him once more. Dannenmann found a needed card to take him from behind – a queen to pair his pocket A-Q on an 8-high flop. There ended the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Black and his supporters, who, judging by the standing ovation he received, numbered in their hundreds.

Stocks and Shares, Not Shocks and Scares
Back in Ireland, the disappointment was widespread for reasons above and beyond Black's day-to-day popularity.

Before making the journey from rain-drenched and lusciously green Ireland to the arid Nevada desert, shareholders were invited to buy into a piece of his action. Scores signed up. Black's outstanding domestic results ensured that everyone – from fellow pros to the most important people in any cardroom, the dealers – was scrambling to give him their euros.

In the space of a few short weeks, on top of his weekly "bread and butter" tournament winnings, he had won the main event of Paddy Power's Fitzwilliam Poker Fest, pocketing €19,250. He also finished first in a supporting tournament and won an additional €5,500.

At the Paddy Power Irish Open, Black took a slice of the €500 no-limit hold'em tournament for another five-figure payday, and then won his seat in the WSOP main event in an online satellite on his first attempt.

Fine Form Continues

That momentum stayed with him in Vegas, where Black cashed out in the $2,500 shorthanded hold'em event almost upon arrival. That event wasn't all plain sailing, though.

The overnight chip leader, he returned for the second day of play to a field of just 12 players. An under-reraise with A-K led to a situation where he felt he was pot-committed, and forced to call an all in. He lost a mammoth pot to Harry Demetriou's pocket eights.

"I messed it up totally," he later said. "With the chip lead, I should have bet that pot far more aggressively and not left myself open for the re-reraise."

You could argue that he was being harsh on himself, but considering the very next hand when he failed to lay down pocket kings when faced with an ace-high flop, some self-criticism was justified.

$25,200 in winnings sounds sweet, but at the WSOP it's simply enough to cover a few more buy-ins. Black's confidence took a knock, and his bankroll dipped during the three weeks before his next money finish. Once again, it was in a shorthanded hold'em tournament, where he finished 28th in the $5,000 buy-in event. Days before, he had split a tournament at the Palms Casino for $7,000, and it appeared he was back on track.

The reason for this turnaround in fortunes can be put on the shoulders of a close friend who arrived in Vegas specifically to act as Black's coach, trainer, and psychologist. The friend was a fellow Buddhist, called Donal.

Quiet, mild-mannered, and unassuming, Donal's influence had the desired effect of putting Black's head, and his game, back in order.

Donal went the distance for his friend, patiently spectating for hours on end, constantly on hand, as dedicated and loyal as a sheep dog. Each day, the pair meditated before and after play, and even during lunch and dinner breaks.

By the first day of the main event, they both were on top form, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was an awesome journey, an unforgettable and emotional nine days that will not leave any of Black's friends and supporters in a hurry.

Andy Black is ready for final-table action to begin as 2004 Champion Greg Raymer makes some opening comments.

As for the Future
Of course, Ireland already has a world champion poker player. When Noel Furlong won the main event in 1999, he won $1 million. Six years on, Black's purse was almost double that figure for fifth position.

Now the biggest-ever European winner in the World Series, Black will no longer be met with questions like, "Who's the Irish guy?" when he plays outside his home country. Instead, the phrase "final table at the WSOP" will announce his arrival wherever he goes.

In March, we asked Black if he would go on the missing list for weeks, months, and possibly years, as he has done before, if all went agonizingly wrong at the WSOP.

"No," he replied. "For the foreseeable future, I have decided to continue my spiritual practise in the midst of my great passion, poker. At the moment, I am experiencing a second honeymoon with cards. I'm working hard on my game and enjoying myself most of the time.

"I am pretty confident that I have the breadth and depth of game to make a substantial impact on the international tournament scene. Until I do that, I couldn't imagine taking another long break."

Months later, that goal has been achieved, and in the immediate aftermath of the disappointment fifth place incurred, there was no threat to disappear.

Instead, Black's now in possession of a bankroll that enables him to join the World Poker Tour, and that could be the platform for this classy player to make his mark in the superstar league.