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The Irish Open: The Tournament That Was Too Much Fun

by Padraig Parkinson |  Published: Feb 09, '16


From the beginning, the Irish Open was always a bit different. That it had its roots in the aptly named Eccentrics Club is a bit of a clue. When the best players in the world came to Dublin in 1982, it all went off. Laramie led one of the early tournaments and was bamboozling the Americans as only Lar could with a mixture of wisdom and unadulterated bullshit. Unfortunately, he was simultaneously making an attempt on the Irish all comers brandy drinking record. He was well ahead of schedule when he rather unfortunately fell asleep in the bathroom, bringing two dreams to a halt. I’m not sure which he regretted most, though I strongly suspect it was having the brandy drinking record snatched away from him when he was so close to immortality. He did make a few more attempts at the record over the years but you could see his heart wasn’t really in it any more.

That wasn’t the end of it either. At the end of the week, the guys in the cage closed for dinner. As a security measure, they took the money with them. As a further security measure, they didn’t come back. Ever.

The craic continued into the nineties. The English showed up every year and joined in like they were our own. One year, when the tournament was held in the Jackpot Club, it all got a bit out of hand and most of the players, organizers, staff etc. spent most of the weekend in Ryan’s pub. So much so that the event lost money and was scrapped. It was probably the first tournament in history to be cancelled because it was too much fun! Only in Ireland!

After a few years, poker was taking off everywhere around Europe but Ireland, which had kicked off NLH tournaments in Europe, no longer had its own event. A bunch of Irish players had dinner in the ACF in Paris and Frank Cruess Callaghan banged on so much about this that we agreed to revive the Irish Open just to shut him up. Irish poker was back in business. The Irish loved it (so did our English friends) and it seemed for a while every travelling Irish player was an ambassador for the event. Even the nutjobs we tried to pretend were English!

After a few years, Paddy Power became involved as sponsors and took the event to a new level. A combination of the Celtic Tiger, a big budget, Paddy’s employees who fell in love with the event and TV coverage made it great. (This was despite the fact that Jesse May and I did most of what passed for TV commentary.) The craic at the tables and the fierce pride the grassroots Irish players had in “their” tournament made it the best.

Over the last few years, the tournament lost a lot of its mojo. First, the TV coverage was pulled, probably as a result of a nightmare live broadcast (the players disgracefully put viewers off poker for life) and an ill-advised guarantee. Then, the economy collapsed. All this on top of fierce competition inevitably led to a fall in numbers and most of the craic being had by those who could afford it rather than everyone. The dogs in the street knew the sponsors had decided last year was to be the end of a mainly glorious era for their own commercial reasons. Ironically, the event was greatly enhanced by Irish legend Don O’Dea making the final table and getting slow rolled by some German guy (the poker guys sorted HIM out) and Paddy’s had a blinding result as the clip from the stream went viral. You couldn’t make it up!

This year Paul and JP have taken over the running of the Irish Open (though Paddys, MPN and IPoker are running satellites) and assure me the plan is to bring it back to its roots. The emphasis is on the craic with a greatly reduced buyin, lots of live qualifiers and live music nightly. I’d be surprised if it’s not great craic.

(Due to a concert at the venue that clashes with the tournament hotel rooms will sell out. Overseas visitors can contact me at for help with bookings, but only sooner rather than later.)

Padraig is currently involved with Jesse May in hosting Irish Pub Poker Tours for medium-sized corporate groups. For info you can contact him on Twitter @padraigpoker.

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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