Dara O’Kearney: PokerStars Recaptures the UKIPT Magic in London

  • London holds a mix of memories for O’Kearney, including coming second in the last UKIPT
  • Upon his return recently, he became the first Irishman to reach a double century of cashes
  • Fellow VSO News writer David Lappin got into a heated argument with a player at his table
  • O'Kearney chopped most of the money in the seniors before busting in time for his flight
  • He met several old friends and some new, including David Curtis and Pokerbunny
London bridge
In London, VSO News writer and poker pro Dara O’Kearney returned to the Stars-organized UKIPT. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

London memories

Home to my favorite football team and birthplace to both my favorite singer and the first love of my life, London is a place I’ve been making memories all my adult life. Some of the happiest from my early 20s are from a flat I shared in Hampstead with my first love Julie, and following her around the city like a lovesick puppy. After her untimely death, I found London a tough place to be, as those memories made me sad and lonely.

In more recent years, I’ve made some much happier memories, including coming second in the last PokerStars-organized UK and Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT) there.

I wasn’t sure what to expect this time

I hadn’t been back to London since before Brexit or the pandemic so I wasn’t sure what to expect this time as I travelled there for the latest UKIPT recently. The trip didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts when my flight was delayed a couple of hours meaning by the time I’d made it to my friend Sameer’s place in Islington, dropped my luggage, and accompanied him back to the venue, any hopes of firing before the last turbo flight had evaporated.

Catching up to Cody and Ward

My Day 1 was fairly typical (for me): I found myself relatively short stacked as the bubble looked and managed to nurse it over the line. I got a bit of a spin going on Day 2 before ultimately bowing out in 40th. Along the way, I had the pleasure of playing beside eventual winner Martin Jacobson and final tableist Jon Kyte.

Jon is always a fun pleasant presence at the tables and a master of the rapid complinsult 1-2 combination. When a Lebanese gentlemen at the table complimented me on my ability to survive several hours on very few blinds, Jon remarked:

“Well he is the best satellite player in the world….the only problem is he plays every tournament like it’s a satellite.”

the first Irishman to reach a double century of cashes

When the UKIPT went away a few years ago, I found myself stranded tantalizingly one behind Jake Cody and Thomas Ward on the all time number of cashes in the Main Events list. This latest cash saw me draw back level. It also brought up another Hendon Mob milestone as I became the first Irishman to reach a double century of cashes in the UKIPT.

Mystery bounty shenanigans

My late bustout allowed me to late reg the last flight of the mystery bounty. As mentioned in my recent VegasSlotsOnline News piece, the mystery bounties format is spreading like wildfire to the point every live festival seems to have at least one. I’ve been an early adopter, playing as many as I can and producing a webinar on the strategic adjustments.

On this occasion, my tournament was a dull affair: circling around starting stack until I reshoved A-K into A-5 and couldn’t hold.

My VSO News and Chip Race colleague David Lappin had a much livelier campaign, not just because he squeaked into the money but also because he was embroiled in a verbal joust near the start. Here’s the hand that sparked it…

Hijack opens 1000, Lappin flat J-10ss in cutoff, the button squeezes to 3500, both blinds fold, while the opener and Lappin both call.

The flop was A-Q-Q with two spades. It checks to the button who bets 4500, the opener calls and Lappin shoves.

At this point the opener snap folds out of turn, so now the button has less to worry about. He ultimately folds A-K. Almost in unison, dealer calls floor as Lappin says:

That was messed up man.”

“It was an accident.”

“You need to be more careful because that was really messed up.”

Floor comes and as dealer tells floor what happened, the player in trouble gets p*ssed off saying:

“I apologized.”

Lappin insists: “You didn’t actually”

“I did”

“You didn’t, but fine you are apologizing now I guess.”

Things get a little more heated as the guy starts talking about playing poker for longer than Lappin. He starts yelling, calling Lappin “Mr. Perfect” (which Lappin says is a nickname he’d like to keep now).

Floor gave him a two hand penalty, at which point he starts telling Lappin that he wants to talk to him outside. Ever the diplomat, Lappin tells him he can go off outside for his penalty but he’ll be too busy stealing his blinds while he’s gone to join him.

The seniors event

My last event was the seniors. In this I quickly built a stack and held the chiplead at several points. Some setbacks with two tables left meant I barely scraped to the final table short stacked, but I hung in long enough to be there when chop negotiations broke out. On this occasion I agreed to chop, much to the horror of my friend Paulina. The fact that I was in serious danger of missing my flight if I didn’t agree to chop factored heavily into the negotiations.

I lost a flip to bust almost immediately

After we chopped most of the money so that we were just playing on for 4K and the trophy, I lost a flip to bust almost immediately, and made my flight.

Don’t call it a comeback

I probably have more happy memories from the UKIPT tour than any other. At its peak, it was a triumphant bimonthly reunion of recreationals and pros alike. My friend Daragh Davey won player of the year twice in a row, and I was qualifier of the year every year (awarded to the player who won the most satellites). But the real attraction of the tour is seeing the same friendly faces every stop.

As such I was happy when Stars announced the return of the UKIPT and other regional tours, but also a little nervous they’d be unable to recapture the magic. A few stops in it very much looks like they’ve managed to do that. Already there’s a group of friendly faces you see at different stops.

Poker players are a sensitive bunch. They’re sensitive to surroundings, staff competence, and organizational hiccups. Bring them to an unpleasant venue or stick them in a dimly lit basement casino surrounded by slot machines and subject them to long queues and a poorly run event and they’re the grumpiest people alive. Conversely, put them in a plush hotel in a great city, treat them to some free food and drinks and pull out all the stops to make sure the smooth running of your events and the same curmudgeons become the most pleasant sociable people in the world.

my friend Willie Elliot took me for consolation ice cream

Stars live events staff seem to realize this. They go the extra mile to make sure their qualifiers have the best possible experience. It was at an Edinburgh UKIPT in 2015 that I became the first player to reach 100 cashes on the Hendon mob. After I bubbled the final table of the Main Event, my friend Willie Elliot took me for consolation ice cream. Duly consoled I returned to play the final side event, and a 12th place finish in that brought up my Hendon mob century.

Back then Willie was a poker fan and enthusiast who did posters for my blog and the Chip Race. These days he’s the friendly face and pumping heart of the Stars live events team. It was also great to see David Curtis, who I hadn’t seen in years, the man who headed up the UKIPT back into the day and instilled the friendly ethos that lives on in Willie and others in the team.

And new faces

All that said, don’t think it’s just some maudlin nostalgia tour. There are fresh new faces too, like Sonia Amiti who took down the charity event. I first became aware of Sonia when poker tourist Asif Warris started sending me photos of her with my first book ‘Poker Satellite Strategy.’ I finally got to meet her in person in Barcelona, and it was great to see her again in London. A self described recreational, Sonia brings a serious work ethic to her study and play, and this brought her a maiden live win in London. Not bad for someone who has barely played ten live events!

A self-confessed edgy and polarizing presence

It was also great to see my adopted poker daughter Paulina ‘Pokerbunny’ Loeliger, who seems to be thriving since her move to Europe. A self-confessed edgy and polarizing presence at tables in the US, she seems more at home and comfortable in her skin in the more tolerant atmosphere of Europe’s great cities, and she’s starting to notch up an impressive tournament pedigree in a very short time. She followed up a cash in her first EPT in Barcelona with two further cashes in 5k events in Cyprus, and she was the last woman standing when she came 27th from almost 5000 runners in the World Series of Poker online Main Event on GGPoker.

It was also great to see four of my friends make the final table after I flew home. Unfortunately, three of them were the first three bustouts which freed me up to root for Jack Sinclair. I have many poker sons: Jack is the cheeky one who has no doubt in his mind he’s the favorite. In a world where there are lots of nasty people pretending to be nice, Jack is kind of the exact opposite. He’s a born winner who seems to go deep in almost all these minefields. He was devastated not to close it out headsup but this isn’t the last we have heard from Jack.