Unibet International Poker Open Hailed as Triumphant Return for Live Poker in Ireland

  • The Unibet International Poker Open marks the first return of poker to Ireland since early 2020
  • Cusack won €46,590 in the Main Event, O’Neill won the Highroller, and Tononi the Super-Highroller
  • O’Hara and Lannon took a gamble on the event going ahead, with uncertainty up to two days prior
  • O’Kearney and Carter launched their new book ‘Endgame Poker Strategy’ during the festival
Unibet International Poker Open Main Event winner Jamie Cusack
Live poker has returned to Ireland for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic through the Unibet International Poker Open, and Jamie Cusack (pictured above) bagged €46,590 ($54,074) in the competition’s Main Event. [Image: Unibet Open Twitter]

Bringing poker back to Ireland

Last week, Dublin was the venue for a triumphant return of live poker in Ireland. The Unibet International Poker Open (IPO) was the first live poker event to take place since the start of lockdowns in early 2020. The festival’s €300 ($348) Main Event drew a massive 974 entries across six starting flights, generating a prize pool of €246,909 ($286,489). 

Cusack was a man on a mission at the final table

The lion’s share of the spoils went to Jamie Cusack, a 35-year-old personal trainer from Cork. Cusack was a man on a mission at the final table, his aggressive style paying dividends as he took down the prestigious title. 

The International Poker Open has been a stalwart on the Irish poker calendar since 2007, a grassroots festival that has always attracted big numbers of recreational players. The 2020 edition, won by Ciaran Cooney, was part of Unibet’s broader ‘IRL to URL’ campaign, a promise to deliver all the usual live festivals on their online client. Ireland lifted restrictions on large gatherings on October 22nd, paving the way for an ‘in real life’ IPO. 

The event has been hailed as a huge success by the organizers, the sponsors, and most importantly the players. Meanwhile, across town, in the newly revamped card room in the Sporting Emporium, there was further evidence of the return of poker in Ireland as Padraig Parkinson welcomed the casino’s first poker players in 20 months. 

20 months has felt like 300 years

One of the most famous Irish myths is that of Tír na nÓg and Oisín, son of the legendary Fionn Mac Cumhaill. It goes as follows:

One day, whilst out hunting, Oisín met Niamh, a beautiful young woman and the daughter of the King of Tír Na nÓg, a mystical land where nobody ever ages. He fell immediately in love with Niamh and returned with her to ‘The Land of Eternal Youth,’ where he spent three happy years.

For a lot of live poker players, this is what happened in March 2020 as they were forced to leave their happy hunting ground and transition to the more ethereal online arena.

As the legend goes, Oisín began to miss his homeland of Ireland, longing to see his friends again. He begged Niamh to let him return to Ireland, but she was reluctant because in Tír Na nÓg, time was slowed down. Three years there was the equivalent of 300 back in Ireland.

The feeling of longing has been real.

20 months has felt like 300 years to a community who love the game. Players have felt isolated, deprived of the almost familial relationships they have formed in poker. The feeling of longing has been real.

Niamh reluctantly agreed to let Oisín return to Ireland but she told him to take her magical white horse with him, warning him not to let his feet touch the ground.

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns have undoubtedly altered the structure of society. Re-emergence from this period has been and will continue to be gradual but it is important that we take baby steps toward normality. Our magical white horse is the canon of safety provisions that will minimize the risk of contagion and it was impressive to see those provisions deployed by the organizers of the IPO.

Skin in the game

All players at the IPO 2021 were required to produce either a vaccination certificate, a recovery certificate, or a clear PCR test. Temperature checks were conducted daily. Masks were worn in the tournament room but could be removed at the tables. A closed-dealer rotation was deployed and the dealer button was a container of hand sanitizer, providing a gentle nudge to players every orbit.

they had to plan the event under a looming cloud of uncertainty

The IPO’s organizers Nick O’Hara and Brian Lannon deserve a lot of credit. Not only did they have to enforce the extra rules but they had to plan the event under a looming cloud of uncertainty. It’s normally the players who do the gambling but they both put a lot of skin in the game last week, taking a chance on a festival that could only be confirmed two days before it began. Fortunately for them, it was a huge success. 

VegasSlotsOnline News spoke to O’Hara who was delighted with how the IPO 2021 was received, describing it as “a fantastic event.” He added: “We have received an overwhelming number of compliments from players. They really appreciate the work that went into this one and after a stressful few weeks, that makes it all worthwhile. A massive amount of credit is also due to Unibet who commit 100% to my vision for this. Without their backing this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Cusack claims €46,590 in Main Event

The Unibet IPO Main Event was won by Jamie Cusack who outlasted 973 other players to win €46,590 ($54,074), a massive return on his €300 ($348) buy-in. The Highroller was won by Richie O’Neill who came from behind heads-up to claim the trophy after a chop with Padraig Burns. O’Neill won €12,465 ($14,468) while Burns took home €14,465 ($16,789). The LuxonPay Super-Highroller was won by Ivan Tononi who received €19,310 ($22,413).

The event was live-streamed across the weekend with commentary from Philip ‘The Tower’ Heald, PokerStrategy.com editor Barry Carter, and Unibet ambassadors Dara O’Kearney and David Lappin. In what was a nice touch, all Unibet Poker qualifiers and Main Event finalists were gifted a signed copy of ‘Endgame Poker Strategy,’ the new book by O’Kearney and Carter, which had its official launch at the IPO. 

VSO News caught up with O’Kearney after his own deep run in the Main Event:

“Unibet have been proud supporters of Irish poker ever since David Lappin and I became their global brand ambassadors. They sponsored the Irish Poker Rankings in 2018, have held two Unibet Opens in Dublin, and have partnered with Nick on the IPO and Dublin Poker Festival. It was therefore fitting that having sponsored the last live festival in Ireland back in February 2020, we were the team to bring poker back last weekend. In a strange way, that makes it feel like we were never gone.”

The legend goes that Oisín left Tír na nÓg and on returning to his homeland, he touched Irish soil and immediately aged the 300 years. In an instant, it was like he had never been away.