Two lionesses of Irish poker
During a week when the question ‘why don’t more women play poker’ was rightly raised, two ladies who have graced the Irish felt for more years than it would be polite to mention showed that they still possess the games to outwit and outclass the competition.
Wilhemine ‘Willow’ Connolly is second-generation Irish poker royalty. Last week, she took down the Irish Seniors Championship at the Dublin Poker Festival, taking home the lioness’ share of the prize pool and the trophy which is named after her mother.
took down a side event and chopped The European Deepstacks Main Event
Annette O’Carroll has been a winning poker player every year since taking up the game in 1980, no mean feat in a game that has moved through umpteen paradigms in that time. Last weekend, she was in the winner’s enclosure at the Dublin Poker Festival not once but twice when she took down a side event and chopped The European Deepstacks Main Event.
Unibet Poker proud of its big Irish connection
Unibet Poker has been a big promoter of poker in Ireland for the past five years. Since 2018, the operator has hosted seven festivals in Dublin – two Unibet Opens, three International Poker Opens, and now two Dublin Poker Festivals.
It also signed Ireland’s two most dashing poker ambassadors back in 2017 and is the sponsor of the award-winning Irish poker podcast ‘The Chip Race.’ VegasSlotsOnline News reached out to Unibet’s Head of Poker Marketing Kat Arnsby this week for comment.
“Dara and David are worth their weight in the gold that Unibet found at the bottom of the rainbow, arrah-be-gorrah, something about leprechauns”… is what I imagine she would have said but she was too busy enjoying a packet of crisps most likely made from potatoes stolen from the Irish by her ancestors.
Women have played a huge role in Irish poker
The Irish Open is the longest-running poker festival in Europe and second in the world only to the World Series of Poker. It is an event steeped in poker history with female players playing a big role down the years. The inaugural title in 1980 was won by Collette Doherty who took victory again in 1991. Irene Tier was crowned champion in 1985. Then, in 2001, Jenny Hegarty made headlines when she outlasted 109 other players to become the Irish Open champion.
In fact, Hegarty’s story captured the imagination of a nation as the 71-year-old grandmother was featured in newspapers and on radio shows. She was from a poker dynasty. In a 2018 interview with Ireland’s top female online player Louise Butler, Hegarty’s daughter Wilhemine ‘Willow’ Connolly spoke about her mother’s love for the game:
Mam was infatuated with poker from a young age. She learned from watching her father play.”
Home games were a great source of entertainment and competition but Hegarty wasn’t satisfied with winning money off her siblings. In the early 1980s, she won the 5-Card Draw annual poker league. In the mid-80s, when Texas Hold ‘em took over as the dominant variant, she topped the poker league at The Griffen Card Club in Dublin. In 1999, she came second in The Irish Poker Open.
By 2001, Hegarty was a veteran but she wasn’t fancied in the Irish Poker Open when she came on the final day as short stack versus a stacked field. The legend goes that a bookmaker offered generous odds of 125-1 and half the people in the room bet on her. By the time the final table started, a local bouncer was hired in case the bookie ‘did a runner.’
A few hours later, she was three-handed with Paul Cryan and Hendon mobster Joe Beevers and the rest is history. So, suffice to say, it wasn’t from the ground that Hegarty’s daughter Willow Connolly licked it.
Connolly wins the Irish Seniors Championship
Once the daughter of an Irish Poker legend, Connolly is now the matriarch of her own family of poker enthusiasts and in recent years, she’s been compiling quite the poker resumé. In 2017, she won the Irish Poker League and came runner-up in the Partypoker Grand Prix in Cork. A total of 21 more cashes (including 11 final tables and three wins) followed in 2018 and 2019 before the Covid-19 lockdowns brought an end to live poker in Ireland.
Connolly was tenacious as usual
Last week, Connolly entered the Irish Seniors Championship at the Dublin Poker Festival, a tournament with a special place in her heart as the winner receives the Jenny Hegarty Memorial Trophy. Connolly was tenacious as usual and aggressive when required but she also credits her mother for having imparted some words of wisdom:
“Mam was truly inspirational to me as I watched and listened to her advice. Of course, when I was younger I thought I knew best and I was more of a gambler but in time I realized that patience and determination are the key to winning tournaments.”
Well, win the tournament is exactly what she did, booking a very special victory and bringing home her mam’s trophy to put on the mantelpiece.
O’Carroll chops the 2022 European Deepstacks
Last Thursday, 150 players took their seats for the European Deepstacks Day 1A, one of whom was Kerry-born Sligo woman Annette O’Carroll, a retired teacher, a mum, and a poker player par excellence. A new-school strategist and an old-school shark, she loves nothing more than to play down her chances at the table but, in reality, she has been ‘putting manners on young pups’ for decades. When it was time for bagging, O’Carroll had one of the biggest stacks in the room.
she found yet another bag with just eleven players left
The following day, O’Carroll played and won the turbo side event, before joining her friends for a few libations at the bar, where she naturally played down her victory. After all, it was but an amuse-bouche for what was to come as, the following day, she found yet another bag with just eleven players left from a total of 399 entrants.
On Sunday, she grafted her way to the final table and had to grind the short stack for long periods of the day. With four left, she was still in the mix when some business was done with Jamie Flynn, Daragh Davey, and eventual winner Shawn Morales, all four players taking home in excess of €20,000 ($20,920).
More chips for O’Carroll
Like Connolly, O’Carroll is one of the great characters in Irish poker. A force of nature and a force for good, she is as ferocious on the table as she is kind off it. She graced Dara O’Kearney and I with her presence for the 100th anniversary of ‘The Chip Race’ last year, giving us one of our all-time great interviews.
Sitting with Daragh Davey and Dara O’Kearney in the restaurant of the Bonnington Hotel on Sunday evening, we were munching down on our burgers when, all of a sudden, from over Daragh’s shoulder, came a hand to steal some chips off his plate. He looked up to see Annette engaged in what could only be described as victorious mastication. I couldn’t resist:
“You didn’t take enough of that poor man’s chips already this weekend, you want a few more before you go.”
With a wink and a smile, she bid us all a fond farewell.