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Parkinson: Back To The Future

by Padraig Parkinson |  Published: Oct 20, '21


One Tuesday night in the mid-eighties, I drove to Hanlon’s corner in Dublin to check out The Eccentric’s Club. I could tell you it was because it was where the first no limit hold’em tournaments to be held in Europe took place when, a few years earlier, Terry Rogers had imported them from the World Series Of Poker in Binions, Las Vegas. Or I could tell you I wanted to meet Donnacha O’Dea and Colette Doherty, legends I’d read about in the newspaper. But really , I just had to see the joint that had a name like that.

It didn’t disappoint. I was early so Terry opened the door himself. Terry had a reputation for being gruff, but on this occasion he was friendly and told me new members were very welcome. He wasn’t kidding. The only other person there was Colette. Terry asked her to show me around. She looked liked she’d rather cut off her toes but, to be fair, she got on with it. After a shaky start, it was the start of a friendship that stretched over three decades and great craic in Dublin, London, Vegas and Paris.

Then the poker started. I’d played daily for several years in college and afterwards in the odd house game, but this was a different world. I felt like I’d woken up in a Runyon story, as I was surrounded by characters with names like Daisy, Famous Shamus and Johnny Suitcase. The craic was unbelievable and it became obvious to me that most people were there because, as well as the money bit, they loved the game and the characters and the fun it attracted. I was sold.

One night, not too long later I was playing a tourney in the club, sitting beside a guy called Jacko, who was seated beside the dealer. Jacko was all-in and had been called. Then, the dealer pulled in his cards! Jacko almost dived after them but she told him his hand was dead. He nearly had a seizure and screamed for Terry. Terry, disturbed from drinking his cup of tea upstairs, arrived at the door and confirmed the hand was dead. He told Jacko he should have protected his cards by placing a chip on them. Jacko said he couldn’t because he was all-in. Terry said he should have used a cigarette lighter or a box of matches in that case. Jacko said he didn’t smoke. Terry told the dealer to give him his cards back. Laughter erupted all over the room. You couldn’t make it up.

Over the next decade, I had Irish poker and The Irish Open injected into my DNA. So much so that even though I went to live and play in France for twenty years, I was still involved in Irish poker. I had a very good relationship with Paddypower poker and worked closely with them, bringing huge names to the Open, doing the TV with Jesse May and that kind of thing. I did the same for Neil Barrett and partypoker when they decided to sponsor and televise the Irish Poker Championship in Galway in the first few days of January. How much fun was that!!! I took Mike and Karen Sexton to see the Cliffs Of Moher. Karen loved it. Mike preferred the Guinness, chowder and trad music in O’Connor’s pub in Doolan on the way back. Happy days.

Eventually, paddypower switched direction and vastly reduced their interest in poker, starting with the Open. That left a gap in the market and I talked to my mate Kevin O’Connell and his mate Rob Yong, who was calling the shots in partypoker. I told them that the secret to getting the Irish grassroots players on board was to treat them with respect, visit them where they played and talk to them, not at them. It helps if they believe you. They bought it. Between me crisscrossing the country talking to players about an upcoming event party were putting on in Killarney and Fintan Gavin organizing remote Day 1s for that event, party’s figures in Ireland went through the roof. My theory on the grassroots was looking very smart which is quite unusual for me. The whole thing was a great laugh and Killarney a huge success as was the tour it spawned. But partypoker, like paddypower before them, eventually swung away from live poker. That’s what corporations do.

For the few years after the French closed down poker, I came home and played several nights a week in the Fitz and drank beer in McGrattans. Then, suddenly, the Fitz closed their doors for the last time. I was beginning to wonder if some greater power was having a laugh at my expense! 

A couple of months later, I was in Dublin’s upmarket casino, The Sporting Emporium, talking with the management about their plans to make the club the home of poker in Dublin. The last time I had played poker there was a decade ago. I arrived at 2 a.m. and was soon in conversation in the bar with two lads who were big stars in the music business. They were nice lads and asked if I’d play poker with them. I said okay. We had great craic for a few hours till they had to go. I wasn’t living in Ireland but it did cross my mind that this place had potential.

That afternoon in the club, it became apparent that everyone was of the same opinion as to how to attract players to the club and, more importantly, how to make them feel good about their experience there. The Emporium people wanted strangers to be made welcome, be treated with respect, enjoy the craic and go home feeling good about their evening. Thinking back to my first night in the Eccentric’s club that sounded perfect to me.
The club seemed to think it’d be a good idea to have me help to bring poker in the Sporting Emporium to a new level and I liked the idea of helping to build a modern community which would embrace some of the fun atmosphere Irish poker was built on. It wasn’t difficult to come to an arrangement we thought would be win-win for both parties, and also for the players as we want them to feel it’s their club. Two days later, covid closed the club. Lovely! Thankfully, after a few false dawns, we are back to square one. Or some square anyway.

There are already poker people on the excellent staff and we will be helped, initially at least, by Luke Ivory and Donal MacAonghusa, two highly respected gentlemen, well known and, amazingly, liked in the business. How could it go wrong?

Hopefully the casino will reopen on October 22 at 8 pm. Poker will initially be of the cash variety but one or two decent weekly tournaments will probably be introduced when we see how things pan out. ALL the players will have an equal say and their opinions will be listened to and a few pro fair play changes to the rules will be introduced. If you want to join us on this exciting journey jump aboard. Fun guaranteed!

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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