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The Irish Open 2009

by Paul Burke |  Published: Jun 02, 2009


2009 Irish Open

Shining brightly in a poker world darkened by ongoing economic turmoil, the Irish Open 2009 defied the odds and boasted an even bigger field than in the previous year. A grand total of 700 players returned to Citywest Hotel in Dublin, the scene of Neil Channing’s victory the year before, and with each player ponying up €3,500 to take part, a healthy prizepool of €2,240,000 and first prize of €600,000 was at the centre of each participant’s attention. The Terry Rogers Memorial Trophy has always been one of the most sought-after in poker and 2009 proved no exception, as the best of the best lined up to stake their claim.

Former Irish Open champions Channing and Marty Smyth were in attendance, along with a large contingent of “old school” Irish professionals, legendary warriors of the felt such as the always popular Padraig Parkinson, three-time Irish Open champion and former world champion Noel Furlong, Donnacha “The Don” O’Dea, Andy Black and one of the godfather’s of Irish Poker, Liam “The Gentleman” Flood. From the United States came such names as Brian “sbrugby” Townsend, Phil “The Unabomber” Laak, Jennifer Tilly, 2006 world champion Jamie Gold and US-based Ciaran “Big C” O’Leary, who many tipped for a deep run in the tournament.
Dan Harrington played in his second Irish Open in three years and for many visitors to Dublin, both those playing and railing, the 1995 world champion was the star of the show. He was beset with autograph hunters while moving within the tournament hall and in the hotel, with many posing for photographs with Harrington as well, a testament to the popularity of the man whose books on poker strategy improved the play of many of those in attendance.

The International Brigade

One of the peculiarities of life revealed itself when Dan spoke of his Irish heritage; while the poker professional was in Dublin chasing Ireland’s most prestigious poker title, his distant cousin Padraig Harrington, Ireland’s most successful golfer and three-time major winner, was in Atlanta taking part in the Masters, the golfing world’s most hallowed championship. Neither Harrington enjoyed the success they hoped for over the course of Easter weekend, with he of poker fame knocked out late on Day 1.

Some of the younger professionals who have made names for themselves over the past few years in Europe were also trying their luck in Citywest. Juha Helppi, Soren Kongsgaard, and Jesper Hougaard arrived in Ireland like military men on an all-important mission; to capture the Irish Open by any means necessary and take the title back to the frozen wastes of northern Europe. It may sound over-dramatic, but these players meant business when it came to battling it out on the poker tables.

As always, a huge number of the top British players decamped to Ireland to follow in the footsteps of Neil “Bad Beat” Channing, who claimed the Irish Open title last year. Marc Goodwin, Ian Frazer, Nik Persuad, Karl Mahrenholz, Dave Colclough, Julian Thew, Jon Kalmar, Barney Boatman, Roland De Wolfe, Surindar Sunar, Tim Blake, and John Kabbaj were just a few of the professionals in attendance.

However, the vast majority of the field was made up of amateur players from dozens of countries, each hoping to make a name for themselves and win a life-changing prize should they manage to outlast 699 others with the same idea. For many players who qualified via the internet, the Irish Open was their first live tournament experience and thus for some, it was a nerve-wracking experience. However, once cards were in the air and an orbit of the table completed, players got into the swing of things and the eliminations started.
Marcel Koch
No Luck of the Irish

The opening few minutes of this year’s tournament were not without excitement; Brian Townsend, a regular on the highest stakes tables online, fell victim to a poker player’s nightmare on the TV table. He flopped a set of fives but ran into Richard Ashby’s flopped set of aces and was in trouble when the case five did not make an appearance. He had the dubious distinction of being the second player knocked out of the Irish Open 2009 but don’t cry for Brian; he went back to his hotel room, logged on and finished the day up $211,000 between cash and tournaments!

By the end of Day 1, the list of eliminated players includes such names as Ciaran O’Leary, Roland De Wolfe, Andy Black and Donnacha O’Dea and only 286 players would return to contend Day 2. Andrew Pantling, Bradley Verburg, William Kassouf and Andy Bradshaw were among the chip leaders by end of play and proved their mettle by all finishing on the final table three days later.

Phil Laak and Julian Thew were also among the chip leaders at the start of Day 2, but neither could stand the heat for another day and were out before the bubble burst, late into Saturday evening. Also gone before reaching the money were Juha Helppi, Jeff Kimber, John Magill, and a short-stacked Jamie Gold, who was knocked off the feature table by The Unabomber when he called Laak’s preflop raise with pocket tens, which were outdrawn by Q-8 on the flop.

It was the first time former world champion Gold played in the Emerald Isle and the man who captured the biggest cash prize in poker loved his time in Ireland. He proved a big success with players both on and off the tables, with many impressed by his humility and the ease with which they could approach and talk to him. “I’m going to come back to the Irish Open every year – 100 percent,” said Gold. “It is the only tournament that allows so much table talk, which is what I need to be able to play my game!”

Survival of the Fittest

On Day 3, Easter Sunday, play in the Irish Open always moves into a slightly more serious mode; all remaining players are guaranteed a prize and must now wrestle with the dream easy to ignore for the first two days of play — the Irish Open title and €600,000 first prize is now within their grasp. One of the players that moved to the fore over the course of the day was the gorgeous Kara Scott, TV personality and girlfriend of Brian Townsend, which delighted the uniformly-male photographers working the tournament hall.

Amongst a sea of players dressed for comfort rather than impact, they now had the perfect model to focus on; beautiful, expressive and a fearsome poker player to boot. The number of snaps taken of Scott over the weekend is surely uncountable, though many will make their way onto front covers in the years to come as she progresses as a player.
Kara Scott
Sunday also saw the exciting conclusion to’s €100,000 Sole Survivor promotion, in which the poker room would award a package worth €100,000 to the longest-lasting qualifier in the Irish Open. With just over 100 hundred players taking part in the promotion, many wondered what this would mean for play when they had been reduced to a handful of hopeful participants. Would the remaining players go for the gold of final table glory and play as aggressively as usual, or would they let caution get the better of them and simply try to outlast their rivals by any means necessary?

In the end, it came down to Mika Paasonen and Marcel Koch and with all eyes in the tournament hall on their struggle, it was Koch who claimed the first big prize of the festival when Paasonen was knocked out in 24th spot. The 31 year-old German did not rest on his laurels upon being crowned the Sole Survivor, re-raising Scott preflop with 6-high and turning the dial up to ten on his aggression meter. However, he ran his pair of sixes into the even more aggressive Andrew Pantling’s K-Q, lost the race and finished in 16th place, winning an additional €17,900 to go with his Sole Survivor windfall.

Baker Doesn’t

Phil Baker, the last Irish player in field, had acted as final table Master of Ceremonies in 2008 and was asked to fulfil the same role in 2009, assuming he was not among the players remaining. When the field was reduced to nine players late on Sunday night (the Irish Open playing down to an eight-handed final table), it looked as though the tournament organisers would have to find another MC, as the home-town hero was still going strong.

Unfortunately, for the first time in Irish Open history, we were to have a final table without any native representation, as Baker and Englishman Lee Brooke-Pearce got into a big pre-flop confrontation and the Dubliner’s A-Q was unable to outdraw the A-A of Brooke-Pearce. In addition to the €37,400 he collected for his ninth-place finish, Baker would now be commenting on the final table hands the next day and undoubtedly rueing the fact that he had gotten as close as possible to sitting there himself.

How the Mighty Fell
On Monday afternoon, the final eight sat down on the TV table, were introduced to the crowd railing and the most important session of poker they ever played began. Andrew Pantling, the Canadian online pro who had been among the chip leaders since Day 1, started with more than 2.2 million chips, over 30 percent of the chips in play. American Bradley Verburg and British players Lee Brooke-Pearce, William Kassouf, and Andy Bradshaw had likewise been among the chip leaders since the very first day of the Irish Open. Bulgarian Antanas Gueorguiev was an unknown quantity starting the final table, having kept a low profile thus far in the tournament.

The most recognisable player on the final table was fan favourite Kara Scott, who had impressed all weekend with her friendly nature and solid play. The final table was rounded off by the most experienced player left in the field, Christer Johansson. The 38-year-old Swedish professional had a string of impressive tournament results throughout Europe, including a World Poker Tour title in Paris and taking runner-up spot in a European Poker Tour event. Johansson is also recognised as an accomplished online cash player, known by his handle “sendmemore” on the iPoker network.

With so much at stake, those railing would have been excused to assume final table play would have been cagey to begin with, but they would have been dead wrong. Two players were eliminated before the first orbit of the table was completed, Bradshaw’s A-Q no good versus Gueorguiev’s K-K and Verburg’s A-2 outdrawn by Pantling’s K-J. The Canadian continued to up the aggression, but handed Scott the chip lead when his shove with 3-3 was called by 8-8 and he couldn’t catch up.

Kassouf, Brooke-Pearce and Gueorguiev were next out, the Bulgarian suffering a cruel outdraw when his K-K was crushed by Scott’s A-Q when the dreaded Ace from space hit on the river. Scott was now the big chip leader, but things were evened up a few hands later when Johansson put Pantling to the sword in 3rd place.
Christer Johansson
The Final Countdown

The growing crowd was now given a spectacle worthy of the occasion, with the beautiful TV personality and hardened campaigner almost evenly matched in chips and neither shying away from confrontation. Despite Scott capturing the hearts of most of the neutrals in attendance, the Swede was not without his fans and after four days of measured, impressive play, none could say he did not deserve to be fighting for the title.

Johansson was out of the traps quickly and took down a huge pot the very first hand of heads-up play, pushing Scott onto the defensive immediately. Their battle only lasted another twelve hands, the final action occurring after a K-J-7 flop with Johansson holding a slight chip lead. Scott bet, Christer re-raised and Scott pushed all-in holding J-9. The Swede dwelt for a few minutes…and finally called with K-3. A Queen fell on the turn, an Ace on the river and a new Irish Open champion was ready to be crowned.

As expected by those of us who had interacted with either player over the course of the festival, Scott was as gracious in defeat as Johansson was humble in victory. The incessant clicking of cameras began and the Terry Rogers Memorial Trophy and cheque for €600,000 was presented.

“I’m very, very happy to have won the Irish Open,” said Johansson. “Not just because of the money, but because this tournament has such a long tradition in Europe and is so very well organised with a great atmosphere. It’s a very special day for me.”

No Irish Open is complete without a last night at the bar to close the weekend off; winners and losers alike share drinks and bad beat stories and promise to meet again the following year. As the Irish Open continues to enjoy great support from sponsor and players alike, the hallowed tournament founded almost three decades ago will continue to leave its mark on the landscape of European poker and introduce new poker superstars into the future. Spade Suit