Dara O’Kearney: Reminiscing at the 2022 Dublin Poker Festival

  • O’Kearney won his first European Deepstack in Drogheda in 2008, taking home €47,200 ($49,178)
  • He met Annette O’Carroll in 2009 who quickly set herself apart from older player stereotypes
  • She reminds O’Kearney that she beat him heads up in a Citywest side event at every opportunity
  • The 2022 Dublin Poker Festival wasn’t a great series for O’Kearney, but he saw friends do well
Dubllin bridge
During the Dublin Poker Festival this year, VSO writer Dara O’Kearney remenisced about the Irish poker scene and bumped into some old faces. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

The first win

The very first European Deepstack took place in Drogheda back in 2008. At the time, I was a relative newb who’d only learned the rules nine months earlier. Notwithstanding that, my obsessive and ultra-competitive nature meant I’d already played more hands online than most will play live in a lifetime. Still, €1,500 ($1,561) was a lot to plank down on one tournament, so I decided I’d only play if I satellited in.

I played a number of satellites online and got very close. On the Sunday before the Main Event, I played a live satellite in Drogheda and got close again (tenth, with seven tickets), but then played another satellite on Tuesday and got nowhere near. It seemed to confirm a recent worst-ever run of five or six tournaments without cashing (I honestly thought that was a horrendous downswing at the time).

So after the second satellite in Drogheda, I decided not to enter. I rang my wife Mireille to tell her to come get her despairing husband, and that the chicken-livered wimp had decided not to play. She was having none of it.

you need to get in and mix it with the best.”

“You’re playing. This is the tournament that suits your game best, you need to get in and mix it with the best. I put a blank cheque in your inside pocket, use it to enter before I get there or you’ll have me to answer to.” If only all poker wives could be so supportive and sensible.

Five days later I’m on the final table with a bunch of then Irish unknowns (myself included), and Hendon Mobster Joe Beevers. The unknowns” featured a very young Marc McDonnell. The entire final table had less than $2.2m in live cashes at that point, $2m of which was Joe Beevers, with me, Marc McDonnell, and Gary Clarke contributing a cumulative total of zero! As such, Joe must have been licking his lips at such a soft and inexperienced final table, and the rest of us knew there would be no chops while he was still around. After he bust in fifth, we played on a little before the talk turned to the chop.

Did you just give up 4K for a big vase?

I went to consult with my brother as to what I should be looking for in the deal. Lloyd Farrell generously suggested that if Sean is helping me with negotiations, he should be allowed through to the table. Someone suggested a five-way even chop but since I had about 43% of the chips, that clearly isn’t going to happen. A straight ICM chop would give me €55,000 ($57,300), but with that being just €9,000 ($9,376) short of first prize, I thought it equally unlikely the others would agree to it, so the question became what I should be shooting for. Sean suggested €45,000 ($46,886) as a very minimum.

my main consideration at this point in my career was the title

Lloyd asked what was the minimum I’d take and I said €47,000 ($48,970). The tournament director helpfully suggested another common formula involving chopping half the remaining prizes equally and dividing the other half by chip count. Under this formula, I would come out with €51,200 ($53,346). Lloyd cannily pointed out that that was €4,000 ($4,168) more than I asked for, so he suggested the others all take an extra K. I was happy to do this so long as I’m declared the official winner. Fran came up with another suggestion that we play on for the €4,000 ($4,168) and the title. I stuck to my position that I would take the €47,200 ($49,178) but only if I get the title too. To be perfectly honest, as nice as the money was, my main consideration at this point in my career was the title. I figured it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take down a prestigious poker title.

The others all agreed to the deal, Fran somewhat reluctantly I think, and the tournament was over. Everyone seemed reasonably happy with the outcome and the deal. I was on a personal high as it suddenly hit me I’d won this thing, and as an added bonus I got to be photographed with a big novelty cheque, something I’d long harbored as a secret ambition. Looking at the trophy afterward, my brother commented:

“Did you just give up 4K for a big vase?”

Ireland’s AOC

I first met Annette O’Carroll in Citywest in August 2009 when we both made the final table of a €300 ($256) side event. My recollection is she had almost all the chips and was playing a much more aggressive style from the one her stern headmistress appearance would suggest. This read was confirmed by my good friend Fergal Nealon (currently doing sterling work with Rapid Response Ukraine) who pulled me aside at a break for a word to the wise:

“Don’t be fooled by her oul wan act. She hangs around with all the best young players down in Sligo and soaks up all the strategy talk. Unlike the rest of her generation she knows the game moves on and she moves with it.”

She had almost all the chips and I had almost none of them so after a couple of early confrontations where she put me in an ICM coffin, I decided the best plan was to lay low and let the rest of the table who were “playing for the win” punt off to her. The good old ladder-to-second-and-then-hope-to-get-very-lucky strategy I would repeat six years later against Upeshka da Silva at the World Series of Poker. On both occasions I managed the ladder-to-second part but not the then-get-very-lucky bit.

she took down Last Lady Standing pretty much every time

That early final table in a small side event lingers stronger in my memory than many bigger ones for a number of reasons, primarily because Annette insists on reminding me that she beat me heads up every time she sees me. As I started to play regularly on the Irish circuit, Annette was a regular familiar face. She did particularly well on the Celtic Poker Tour, exploiting her image to the max getting lads who didn’t think ladies of a certain age ever bluffed as she took down Last Lady Standing pretty much every time.

Demonstrating her skill once more, she took home in excess of €20,000 ($20,920) from the final table of the 2022 European Deepstack Main Event:

Other winners

The 2022 Dublin Poker Festival wasn’t a great series for me personally, but it was heartening to see a lot of my friends do well. I learned poker at the age of 42. At the time the general belief was that poker, at least at the highest levels, was the preserve of the young or those who had gone astray very young. I managed to buck that narrative, and in recent years we have seen the rise of a new phenomenon I refer to as “studious recreationals” who bridge the traditional skill divide between recreationals and pros. In the pre-solver era, it was generally accepted that the only way to get good was by trial and error: play a few million hands online and get good along the way. There were no shortcuts, no training books or sites, no Twitch, and most of the books and other strategy content were frankly dreadful.

tools like DTO have run all the solves for you to train against

Nowadays there’s no shortage of quality content. Even if you don’t have the time to do a deep dive yourself with the solvers, there are more quality training videos than you could watch in a lifetime, and tools like DTO have run all the solves for you to train against. The books have also gotten much better, with those of Michael Acevedo and Andrew Brokos particularly excellent and digestible to anyone willing to put the work in (I’m far too modest to suggest that my own three books also fall into this category, except I just have).

This has given rise to a new breed of recreationals who are as good or better than many pros, or at the very least extremely competitive. My friend John Farrell, a building contractor from Longford, falls into this category: always friendly, always looking to talk about mindset or strategy. So I was delighted to see John take down the €300 ($256) side event.

I ran into another friend who I wrote about recently, Keith Touhey, after he’d bust in sixth in the Main Event. Keith sets his sights and standards very high and was very unhappy not to have gone further. I was on my way to play the last side event, so called Irish (three-card pineapple). He wasn’t in the mood to play, or so he said. He quickly changed his mind and obviously ended up shipping the event a few hours later. That kind of quick recovery and resilience goes a long way in a game that keeps punching you when you’re down.

Finally, a shoutout to another Great Dame of Irish poker, Willow Connolly, who in taking down the Irish Seniors Championship not only won a trophy, but one named after her own mother, 2001 Irish Poker Open winner Jenny Hegarty. My fellow VegasSlotsOnline News writer David Lappin recently paid tribute to her and O’Carroll.

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