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Erin Go Bragh

Ireland Forever

by Todd Brunson |  Published: Jun 11, 2008


I first visited Ireland a full 20 years ago, and loved it. After playing in the European Championship on the Isle of Man and finishing second, I was ready to take on the Irish in Terry Rogers' Eccentric Tournament, now known as the Irish Open. This is actually where I picked up my nickname "Dark Horse."

You see, Terry Rogers was the world's greatest bookmaker. He could make a line on how many tears Phil Hellmuth would shed per bad beat. He had me as a long shot, and rightly so, as I was only 18 years old and a novice poker player. A reporter saw the long odds on me compared to the other Americans, and wrote in the Dublin newspaper that I was a "dark horse," or a good bet at a long price.

The reporter had heard that I had finished runner-up in the European Championship and how I had lost. Heads up, we were dead even in chips, and the game was no-limit hold'em. I had A-Q. He reraised, and I reraised. When the flop came A-A-3, I moved my remaining chips into the pot and was quickly called by A-3! Brutal!

Let's get back to Ireland. Chip Reese thought it was hilarious that the reporter figured I was a good bet, and proceeded to make fun of me all week by calling me Dark Horse. The joke turned out to be on him, as I made the final 15 or so (I can't remember) as one of the chip leaders. I far outlasted him, my dad, and a lot of other big poker names. In fact, the only American to do better than I did was Eric Drache, who had the chip lead for the entire tournament, until the final table.

I was in real position to win the tournament, when I encountered my first really bad beat (or second, if you count the A-A-3 hand in the European Championship). I called a raise with the K J and the flop came K-J-5. We proceeded to get all in, and my opponent showed me K-9 offsuit. Then, 9, 9 came, or I'd really have made Chip eat that name Dark Horse! The name kinda stuck after that; at least it beats most of the other names I'm called at the poker table.

Now, it was 2008, and I went back to Europe. Ireland was the first leg of my European tour; next came southern Italy, where my friend Marco Traniello and I hosted a charity tournament, and then I was off to San Remo in northern Italy (a freakin' 12-hour train ride from Rome). I was supposed to conclude my European tour with a jaunt to Monte Carlo for the European Poker Tour Grand Final, but I had to forgo it, as I was invited to play on Poker After Dark.

My parents accompanied me on my first leg, when I played in the Irish Open. We went five days early and saw more of Ireland than just the casino. My dad did some promotions for Doyle's Room, but they didn't take up much time.

We had a driver take us all over the city of Dublin (which is the capital of Ireland, for those Americans who are geographically challenged). I couldn't get over all of the building going on compared to my last visit. It seems that Ireland has been experiencing a tremendous economic boom for the last 15 years or so. Good for them; if one of my forefathers hadn't had the guts to jump on a boat, I'd be on the Emerald Isle eating potatoes, drinking Guinness, and punching anybody who looked at me wrong. (Hmm ... add poker, and I guess that's pretty much what I do anyway.)

And, by the way, if you think Irishmen eating a lot of potatoes and drinking a lot of Guinness is just a stereotype and not true, think again. At one meal, I was served 3 or 4 ounces of some type of dried meat, a small scoop of mixed vegetables, a fried potato, and two gigantic scoops of mashed potatoes. At least half of what I ate over there was potatoes. And, as usual, half of what I drank was, also (vodka).

The bars were full by the time I arrived every day at around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. I was never at a loss for someone trying to buy me a drink. I thought at one point that I had died and gone to Heaven, but then it was dinnertime and I had to eat another seven potatoes. Then, I had to go outside and fight some guy because I missed a drop of foam in my Guinness glass, and that is apparently a slap in the face of all things Irish.

All joking aside, I really love Ireland. The people are great, and the landscape is unreal. On St. Patrick's Day, we left the city and drove all over the countryside. I learned that day that another epithet for Ireland is the Land of a Thousand Greens, and it was easy to see why. It made San Diego look like Las Vegas.

I drank so many beers that day that I think I turned a thousand shades of green. After all of that sightseeing, there was just one shade of green that I hadn't seen yet, and that's the one I had come for: the color of money. Actually, Ireland is part of the European Union, and therefore uses the euro, which isn't green, but you know what I mean.

I'll get on with the action in the Irish Open in my next column.