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There Is Poker And Then There's Irish Poker

by Padraig Parkinson |  Published: Jun 21, '23


These words were spoken by Mike Sexton as we hung out in the bar in the Radisson in Galway at the Irish Poker Championship in the 90’s. Mike would be delighted to hear me saying that he walked the walk, rather than just talked the talk. He joined us twice at the Irish Poker Championship, which he loved, and twice at the Irish Open which he helped grow. He was a huge fan of Irish poker and Irish poker players. He “got” their infectious love of the game and the craic, not to mention their love of the underdog and, of course, the bluff.

When I was talking with the SPORTING EMPORIUM people about becoming their poker ambassador, I got lots of advice from Mike. He loved the idea of a luxurious poker room in the upmarket centre of Dublin, where the idea was to recreate the fun atmosphere of Irish poker in the 80’s, where a stranger could walk in, be treated with respect by staff and players, enjoy the craic and leave happy that, win or lose, they’d had a good experience.

Mike could of course see the potential for a fun game involving regulars and visitors to our city. He was right as usual, and we talked of him coming to town to perform an official opening ceremony, even though we both knew that was unlikely as Mike’s battle with cancer wasn’t going well. Anyway, it was a nice thought. For the record, he would have loved The Sporting Emporium, for sure.

Daniel Negreanu was another superstar who bought into the Irish poker craic. We were both knocked out of the Open one Easter Saturday, so we watched The Masters and had far too much beer (In Ireland the technical term for such overindulgence is “having a skinful”). At some stage, we arranged that I would take Daniel to the Voodoo Club the following afternoon to meet Dublin’s grassroots players. Luckily, Daniel remembered. I didn’t.

The club was full to the roof with enthusiastic players and fans. It was pretty good craic. I’m not sure whether the players or Daniel enjoyed it most. It was close. After a couple of hours, we hit the pub across the street mobhanded. When Daniel and I left, Eamonn Connolly went back to the Voodoo, carrying a full pint Daniel had left behind. When challenged by the doorman, he said it was Negreanu’s pint and he was going to auction it for charity. He got in! Jesus!

Around about that time, I invited on behalf of Paddy Powers Irish American Dan Harrington to be a guest at the Irish Open. He wasn’t too hard to talk into it and enjoyed himself so much he came back four or five times more under his own steam! I had breakfast with him every morning after which we’d go for a long walk around Dublin, stopping off for coffee or to browse through a second-hand book shop. He was very smart but also very funny. I loved it. One year, I asked him if he’d like to join Jesse and me in the commentary box for twenty minutes. He stayed two days! Don’t tell me he doesn’t love Irish poker.

And then, there was the Late Great Doyle Brunson. He was part of the original raiding party Terry Rogers brought from Vegas to Dublin’s Killiney Castle Hotel in 82. Later, he came to the Irish Open as Paddypower’s guest in the 90’s. As I was a guest as well, I got to hang out with him and watch the great man charm journalists and fans like the pro he was. He kept me laughing for two days.

A few years later, I was very close to bringing the WSOP EUROPE to Dublin. Several poker superstars supported the Irish bid. The WSOP had proposed that Doyle host the event. I was delighted. At the eleventh hour, the proposed sponsor who had been involved from the start had a change of direction so, sadly, it didn’t happen. Would’ve been fantastic for Irish poker.

Couple of weeks ago, I attended the Irish Poker Tour event in Dundalk. I had spent 3 years pre lockdown crisscrossing the country, visiting Ireland’s grassroots players in their own environment and, tiring as it was, I loved it. Whether I was with Scott, Eamonn or Fitzy, it was great fun. A lot of people’s habits have changed since covid. People have rethought how they spend their disposable income and poker has to compete or die.

From what I saw in Dundalk, Fintan and sponsor paddypowerpoker have hit the spot. Players want fun tournaments at working man’s prices and that’s exactly what they got. You only had to walk into the room and hear the laughter to figure that out. I did an interview there, where I said that just because a player with responsibilities was “only” playing a €180 tournament, it didn’t mean he wasn’t a very good player. I think Andy Black said something similar, though I’m not sure as there wasn’t an interpreter around.

A couple of weeks later, Mary and I spent a few nights in Galway. There was the usual craic over dinner with the locals and then we headed to the Eglinton Club for a €10 rebuy PLO tournament. It came highly recommended by Ian Hamrock, who described it as “mental.” That was an understatement. Two tables in a ten euro rebuy event produced a €2,000 prizepool! It was unbelievable, especially as I was the only one drinking and I didn’t have a rebuy or add-on! Even by the Eglinton’s high standards, it was hilarious. 

When I got back to Dublin, it was business as usual in The Sporting Emporium. A lot of the entertainment was provided by Irish American Joe, who visits Dublin a couple of times a year. When he went home, I emailed him wishing him a safe journey. I got a reply saying things nearly went very badly when, as his flight approached its destination, the pilot tried to squeeze between two thunderstorms and misjudged it.

Joe thought he might have played his last poker hand. He cheered himself up when he told himself that he’d at least played it with a nice bunch of guys. High praise indeed! Two days later, he was back in his local PLO game. He soon got into the groove and played a huge pot when he flopped top set and the nut flush draw against an opponent who had an open-ended straight draw. They ran it twice and Joe lost both times! He said he then realized that worse things can happen in this life than your plane crashing!

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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