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The Luck Of The Irish: WSOP Bracelet Winners & Main Event Finalists

by Padraig Parkinson |  Published: Mar 27, '21


With the Irish, it’s never easy. If you were to ask Irish poker players how many WSOP bracelets the Irish have won, you would, as usual, get lots of stupid answers, as well as lots of five, six, and seven bracelet replies. All of the latter are correct.

Donnacha O’Dea, Noel Furlong, Ciaran O’Leary, Marty Smyth, and Alan Smurfit all won bracelets in Binion’s or the Rio. By some miracle, I went deep in three of the events they won, so had a pretty good view of what happened.

Laurence Gosney won his bracelet in the Rio. Over lunch the next day (he was buying!), he confessed to having been born in Ireland, though his family moved to England when he was one and, luckily, took him with them. That makes him Irish unless he changes his mind.

Eoghan O’Dea won a bracelet online in 2020. Whether this is in a different category from the live bracelets or not is debatable. I like Eoghan, so we will claim it. I will be surprised if he doesn’t win a live one too.

Donnacha O’Dea

Sometimes, the poker gods can make fools of us, but now and again justice is done. Donnacha winning Ireland’s first ever bracelet was certainly what should have happened as he was one of the European pioneers who fought the Americans in their own back yard and won. His 6th place finish in the 1983 main event made him the first European to cash at the WSOP and he made the final table again in 1991. On his first visit to Binion’s poker room, he was taking a good look at a holdem game involving the usual suspects. They told him not to worry about the waiting list and pull up a seat as they were happy to play 10 handed to facilitate the visitor from Ireland. This went on for about a week until Donnacha showed up only to be told he’d have to put his name on the list, like everyone else as they didn’t want to play 10 handed no more. High praise indeed!

Donnacha and I were the only Irish entrants in the $1500 (with rebuys etc) PLO event at the 1998 WSOP. Whilst I was cleverly (for me) getting The Dons opinion on the guys at my table, he said he had drawn a very tough table which wouldn’t be breaking for ages, so he probably wouldn’t be rebuying. He didn’t have to and with a little over 20 players left, things were going well. I was one of the leaders and Donnacha was still in, but short stacked. Scott and Pittsburgh Pete were hanging about, making plans to watch the final the following day. Pete might not have been his real name and he may not even have been from Pittsburgh, but he was great fun, so who cares. Then, Johnny Chan and I played a pot that was going to make the winner a big chipleader. It did. Him. I was not too surprised when I was told a few hours later that Donnacha had made the final in reasonable shape.

The next day, he got himself into even better shape. The most aggressive player at the table was firing chips into the pot, with possible straights on the board. Donnacha called him down with a set. He was right. That key pot paved the way for him to get into a heads-up with Chan. They had got there by different routes as Chan hadn’t been shy when it came to rebuying. I thought the heads-up lasted 3 hours. It felt like 6, though Donnacha says it was only 90 minutes. Go figure! Anyway, it ended up with an Irish bracelet. I very clearly remember Donnacha saying that he felt more relief than anything else. There was lots of laughter in the small Irish group when it was discovered that Pot Luck Omaha had been engraved on the bracelet! Donnacha loved it and was adamant he didn’t want it put right. Amidst all the excitement, he’d probably figured out it was more valuable the way it was!

Impressive as the bracelet win was my favourite Binion’s story involving Donnacha comes from a story I’ve heard the late Tall Alan Vinson tell several times. Alan and Mick The Clock visited the WSOP together about three decades ago. They were both very good poker players (I watched The Clock come perilously close to winning the PLH event at the 1995 WSOP), though not quite as gifted at the stuff they really liked such as roulette, craps and betting on horse races, etc. The trip was going very well before they unexpectedly went skint. These things happen. They were badly in need of a short to medium term loan to get the operation refloated. The possibilities were limited. That’s one of the downsides to being a pioneer, I suppose. They quickly got down to a shortlist of one. Donnacha. In normal circumstances, they would not have bothered with that line of enquiry, but this was a full-blown class A crisis.

They were told Donnacha was relaxing at the rooftop pool. Luckily, there was a lift, which was about as close to exercise as the lads liked to get. When they got to the rooftop, they spotted Donnacha in the pool and the clock on the wall informed them that it was 12 noon and 100 degrees. This was a little warmer than they liked or had packed for as they were each carrying a few pounds over the recommended dosage and were more creatures of the indoor variety. They took up a position close to where people exited the pool and waited to interview Donnacha, who was swimming laps.

I don’t know if they knew Donnacha was not just an Olympian but in a class of his own in Irish swimming but half an hour later he was, in Alan’s words, “swimming like fucking Flipper” and the lads were cooking in their own sweat and experiencing breathing difficulties. They wisely decided it was better to be alive and broke than dead and broke and they retreated in search of a few gallons of water and medical attention if required. At least, Alan got a story he could tell with great gusto for years. They never did figure out if they were victims of circumstances or if Donnacha had spotted them and decided to outlast them. I had a laugh with The Clock at Tall Alan’s funeral, and since then asked Donnacha what his take on the whole episode was. He just laughed and said he didn’t know anything about it!

Taken from a chapter in the upcoming book Rebel Without A Cause.

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


3 months ago

I love gambling and base from my experience gambling is fare for all.

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