Dara O’Kearney: Making My Return to Live Poker

  • VSO News’ Dara O’Kearney has returned to live poker after an 18-month pandemic hiatus
  • The first stop on his travels saw him join the Irish Poker Tour with tables full of banter
  • He later visited Limerick where JP McCann revealed the details of a lucky win at a cash table
  • O’Kearney’s six-month live poker plan will also take him to Prague in the Czech Republic
Poker chips and cards on felt
VSO News writer and Irish poker pro Dara O’Kearney has provided some insight into his return to the live scene following an 18-month COVID-19 hiatus. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A confused Frenchman

Early in my career, I was playing at a European Deepstack. It’s an event I’ve always held in high regard since I won the first one in my debut year on the scene. A few years later the event had morphed into an outing for French people. Despite still being held in Ireland, 90% of the field were French due to the property crash slashing local disposable income and a lack of France-based live poker.

The event organizers were searching for an Irish player who could do a basic interview in French for sponsors Winamax, and they stumbled upon me. While I’m much more accustomed to having the language screamed at me by my French-born wife than expressing myself in the beautiful dialect, I said I’d give it a go.

one of the most surreal interviews of my life

What followed was one of the most surreal interviews of my life. Here’s the translated version:

Interviewer: “So…..” The interviewer looks at this middle-aged man before him and draws an obvious conclusion. “I’m talking to Dara O’Kearney, a local live poker player. He may not play online but he plays a lot live in Ireland.”
Me: “Um….hello….actually I mainly play online.”
Interviewer: Looking confused and suspicious he plows on. “Online. Like on a computer?”
Me: “Yes. That’s normally how it works.”
Interviewer: “Are you sure? You really play online?”
Me: “Yes. I’m quite sure.”
Interviewer: He looks off to the side wondering if something is getting lost in translation, then shrugs. “But you play a lot live yes? Only in Ireland?”
Me: “I play a lot in Ireland but also abroad.”
Interviewer: Another disbelieving look. “What’s your best run in this event?”
Me: “I won it a couple of years ago.”
By now the interviewer had clearly concluded I was some sort of fantasist and the interview ended abruptly.

Enter one pandemic

For most of my career, I’ve continued to juggle online and live, concentrating on the former but throwing in enough of the latter to break things up nicely. The pandemic put an end to that, confining me to my computer for 18 months, but live poker is coming back with a vengeance in Europe as restrictions lift. And boy is there pent-up demand for it.

My first event this year was an Irish Poker Tour stop in Dublin a few weeks ago. It was good to be back and I’d almost forgotten how funny the table banter can get in Ireland. One guy joined the table on a re-entry. This is often the prelude to a bad beat story on how the first bullet was busted, but this player livened his up in a unique way. Pointing to a friend at one of the cash tables he lamented:

“He asked me for the buyin. I give it to him, he then proceeds to bust me, and now he’s over there at the cash table.”

Nobody knows better than me that staking someone doesn’t always work out, of course, but as outcomes go that’s about as bad as it gets.

Another visit to Limerick

Next up was the Irish Poker Tour grand final in Limerick.

I’ve only visited Limerick twice in my life. One of these occasions was about 35 years ago in my chess days for a tournament. I’ve no recollection of the competition but it clearly didn’t go great as there’s no trophy with Limerick on it in my collection. In fact, my only real recollection of the trip is exiting a fast food restaurant with my brother sharply after one of the patrons decided to show us all his knife. My second more recent trip for my daughter’s graduation was a lot more civilized.

At the Irish Poker Tour, the craic at the table all weekend was a lot of fun and everyone was in great spirits and happy to be back playing real poker. There seems to be a growing tendency when I’m at the table and someone sucks out for them to point at me and quip: “I haven’t read his book yet.”

There’s also a growing tendency to comment on the number of patches I wear these days. Triple Crown winner Niall Farrell looked at them and suggested there might be some free space for one more near my left shoulder. I fired back that if I had his body shape there’d be space for even more.

However the funniest lines of the weekend both came courtesy of Irish Open organizer JP McCann. First, he commented (as many at the event did) on my recent piece for VegasSlotsOnline News on why most people lose at poker. “I’m not like the people you were writing about. I know I’m shite but I don’t want to get better,“ he affirmed, adding:

Poker is a lot more fun when you’re shite.”

To illustrate his point he went on to explain that the previous night he got it in with pocket fours against pocket aces at the cash table. Hoping to recoup some of his money, he agreed to run it thrice….and then proceeded to win all three. “First board, 4 on the river. Second board, 4 on the river. Third board….3567.”

And they say online poker is rigged.

The six-month plan

Since the start of my career, I’ve tended to plan my live poker excursions six months in advance. I’m writing this article on a plane to Prague for my first European Poker Tour in years. Next up is the Mammoth back in Dublin, then it’s straight into the Norwegians in Citywest (I recently did a podcast with the Norwegian Poker Federation talking about this event, an annual highlight).

That leads straight into the Irish Open, where myself and fellow VSO News columnist David Lappin hope to make a live Lock-In and maybe some other content. I’m hoping for a decent run in the main event too. It used to be a running joke how badly I did in that event, that I was usually free to do commentary early on day one, but I’ve turned that around in recent years, cashing the last three. A genuine deep run still eludes me, however.

Almost immediately after that, there’s the European Deepstack, which is where I and this article came in. Maybe I’ll be able to find that confused dubious Frenchman and finally convince him that I do play online.