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Roll Up, Roll Up For The Irish Open 2012

by Rebecca McAdam |  Published: Apr 01, 2012


Ireland is a country steeped in history and tradition, and despite how it can be portrayed by foreign media, it has on many occasions proved itself to be an island ahead of its time. That’s probably due to the many characters it produces who do not let anyone hold them back from their dreams. Bookmaker Terry Rogers was such a man, and it is because of him poker has evolved into what we know it as nowadays in Ireland and across the globe.

The Poker Pioneer

Apart from its Guinness, its music, and dancing, the world, or in this case, the poker world, has a lot to thank the Irish for. In 1979 Rogers found himself taking part in all the action Binion’s Horseshoe Casino had to offer. He was in America on business and had three days off to go and enjoy himself. It was sin city in the good ol’ days and the Dublin bookmaker was in his element. A quirky type, Rogers drew people to him, so he quickly made friends with all the high rollers and local players. He took bets from them on the outcome of games, giving them prices they couldn’t resist, and in doing so, he formed long-standing relationships that would change the landscape of poker across the other side of the world.

Back home, stud and draw were the games of choice of the Irish poker community, but when Rogers returned he brought with him no-limit hold’em. Before there ever was an EPT, an EMOP, an APT, a WSOP Europe and so on, there was the Irish Open. Set up by Rogers in 1981, it expanded every year and quickly made a name for itself. In 1982 and 1983 the bonds he made and foundations he lay down in Vegas produced fantastic results — many of the big names of poker came to Ireland to play in what would become known as the world’s first annual no-limit hold’em poker tournament aside from the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Legends of the felt such as Tom McEvoy, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, Stu Ungar, and Chip Reese knew a good thing when they saw it and came to test their skills on Irish soil.

Making History

Fast forward to today and the Irish Open is one of the world’s most prestigious and popular poker festivals. Hundreds of poker lovers and key players flock to Dublin from all corners of the globe to take part in a long weekend which offers various forms of the game to players of all bankrolls. When Paddy Power Poker took over sponsorship in 2005, they carried on Rogers’ ambition to make Ireland a key stop on what has become a hectic poker schedule, and this year is no different. From April 6-9 the Burlington Hotel will once again play home to the €3,200 + €300 buy-in main event and the 2011 defending champion Niall Smyth will be there to see if he can further a career which sprung from overcoming a total field of 615 last year.

The young Irishman’s life was about to change drastically when he found himself up against his final opponent, Surinder Sunar, in the chase for the revered title. When the dust settled, there was a new face in Irish poker history, and Smyth was ready to hit the poker world with €550,000 in winnings behind him. The former hospital orderly was a double winner as he also scooped €100,000 in cash and tournament buy-ins for being the tournament’s Sole Survivor, outlasting 160 qualifiers.

Smyth’s journey to the top started out with him placing a bet on the winner of the English Grand National at When his €10 each-way bet was successful, he transferred his €200 in winnings to his poker account. He then entered a satellite into the main event, and the rest, as they say, is history.

First Stop: Vegas

On his post-win experience, Smith says, “I more or less spent the month after the Irish Open chilling, it was such a massive thing in my life that it took me a while to let it all settle in. I did begin planning my year ahead on where I’d go and what to spend the Sole Survivor money on. The number one thing on my list was going to Vegas as I’d never been and always wanted to go. I ended up spending a month over there and have to say it was one of the coolest experiences of my life, even if after a month I was glad to be coming home. As for peoples’ reaction afterwards — the amount of well wishes I got was amazing, everyone was really nice and the amount of people especially non-poker players who followed the live stream was insane.”

The young gun names his time in Vegas, playing in his first World Series of Poker main event, as one of the highlights of his year as the Irish Open champion. He is also proud of taking down the Irish Poker Festival, proving his skill at the felt for a second time in the same year on home turf. When it comes to low points Smyth points out his 11th place finish at the Irish Winter Festival. “I know it might sound stupid but I was on the verge of a unique Irish treble in a year. I made a few mistakes after I doubled up on the last day so I felt that I went out with more of a whimper, which was really disappointing,” says Smyth with a tone of frustration.

So what is life like now as a pro player representing a well-respected site in comparison to working as a hospital orderly in his pre-Irish open days? “Well the freedom is the biggest difference,” answers Smyth. “I can literally do what I want from one week to the next and while I still have to play poker sometimes it’s more when I want to and on my terms; there aren’t too many jobs out there like that. It suits me very well being as disorganised as I am.”

He then adds, “Representing Paddy Power is a really cool experience — they are the biggest and most popular site in Ireland. When I first started getting into poker I always thought it would be really cool to be paid to wear a site’s patch, so at least that’s something I can cross off the bucket list. Also I’ve met loads of really sound people who work at Paddy Power and have been really helpful with everything this year.”

Living The Dream

Smyth had not played many live tournaments before his victory, therefore there was a whole new world for him to discover following his win, and that includes being taken into the Irish poker community as one of their own. “I still probably am not playing nearly enough live as I should be but I’m trying to rectify this and plan on playing a lot coming up to the Irish Open,” says the ambitious young pro. “But I think that one of the coolest things about this is meeting everyone on the Irish circuit, there are some great characters and players on it.”

Winning the Sole Survivor on top of the main event opened up the world of live tournament poker for Smyth. The poker world could watch on in excitement as the new champ took on the best of the best in places he had never been before. He speaks about the “tournament within a tournament” with the greatest of respect. “I think it’s an amazing promotion for anyone who wins it, there is nothing in the world like it that I’ve heard of. If you are a pro you get a free year of playing poker and it enables you to take shots you wouldn’t, and if your an amateur it gives you the chance to be a pro for the year which is what most amateurs dream about… well at least I did.”

He adds, “I’ve certainly tried to put more work into my game this year and playing more definitely helps. Playing in the big events is where I’ve learned the most — just seeing what people are doing and how they are doing it. It’s not the cheapest way to learn though so that’s why I’m lucky with the Sole Survivor package. I definitely think my game has changed; I certainly feel like I have a few more gears in me.”

Regrets, I’ve Had A Few…

Now that the year is practically up, is there anything the young up-and-comer would do differently? He answers, “When I went to Vegas I got it in my head to play some Omaha hi-low tournaments largely because I have played it a lot but it was mainly sit ‘n’ go’s or cash games so I wasn’t very used to playing it in a tournament format. I didn’t do too well in these, looking back I wish I’d played one or two hold’em tournaments while I was over there. I think the first Texas tournament I played after the Open ended up being the main event three months later, which is pretty laughable when I look back on it!”

With this behind him and a few things ticked off the wish list, what does the future hold? In answer to this it is clear the easy-going Clare-man is hoping to cram in as much live experience as possible before he defends his title, perhaps even his first EPT. Regarding long-term future, his plans are more traditional.”Wife, kids, white picket fence and maybe even a house behind it, around 2030 maybe,” he laughs.

Smyth began his journey as a hopeful face among hundreds. This year he will sit down at the hallowed Irish Open felt and no hoodie or sunglasses will be able to conceal who he is. He is the one person everyone will have their eye on, especially after impressing the poker community with his triple Irish title attempt last year. Will his new status change the dynamic? And is he prepared for the fight ahead? “I was actually thinking about this a bit lately,” Smyth replies. “At first I thought it could be strange with everyone knowing I am the defending champion but it never happens that people come back and defend their title successfully in these big field tournaments so I’m thinking there is zero pressure and I plan on just enjoying it like I do every year I go. Although it certainly would be nice to keep up my 100 percent cash record — 2/2!”

The defending champion’s attitude will go a long way for him in this business. It’s also no wonder the event produced such a winner as his attitude goes hand-in-hand with the atmosphere and feel of the Irish Open overall. Whatever happens, whoever wins or loses, and no matter who gets unlucky or lucky along the way, all-comers are guaranteed four poker-fuelled days of fun, entertainment, and (as we say over here) craic. The Irish Open is always a memorable experience regardless of what’s left in your pocket at the end of a fantastic weekend. Now only time will tell whose picture will be placed on the wall alongside many greats who went before, and what experiences lie in store for this year’s Sole Survivor. ♠