Dara O’Kearney: Getting Nostalgic at the International Poker Open

  • O’Kearney recently visited Dublin for the IPO with fellow VSO writer David Lappin 
  • Lappin’s performance was noteworthy on several fronts, culminating in a Main Event fourth
  • The Mystery Bounty proved a success, with players receiving O’Kearney’s book for free
  • O’Kearney has a long history with the IPO, including his first ever multi-day live tournament
  • He will soon announce his new publication ‘GTO Poker Simplified’ exclusively on VSO News
Irish flag bunting
Irish poker pro Dara O’Kearney has reflected on his time at the recent IPO in Dublin. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Bowie wisdom

David Bowie told me once that nostalgia was, in his view, the most pointless of all the emotions. He further claimed to be immune from it: while he looked back fondly on certain points of his life it never reached nostalgic levels. At the time I was, in my view, too young to qualify for nostalgia, and I thought that Bowie’s attitude was probably colored by how happy he was with the way his life turned out. At the time, he was about the age I am now, which is about the age most people do start to succumb to nostalgia.

unlike Bowie, I don’t think I’m entirely immune to nostalgia

Like Bowie, I’m very happy with how my life turned out. Looking back at my younger self I think he was on to something: my most nostalgic friends are the ones who seem the least satisfied with how their lives turned out. The old “peaked-in-high-school” syndrome. However, unlike Bowie, I don’t think I’m entirely immune to nostalgia. Recently, I’ve noticed a creeping nostalgia for the music of my teenage years. Even music I didn’t particularly like at the time now seems to hold greater personal appeal to me than the music of today.

I’ve also noticed a certain amount of nostalgia filtering into my poker world. Poker is a high turnover industry where careers are born, mature, and die like fireflies. People leave the game all the time without fanfare, and you usually only realize they’re gone when someone says “haven’t seen so and so in a while.” One of the nicest things about the return of live poker post pandemic is it’s brought some of these people back to the game as pure recreationals.

‘The Firm’

I’m also very fortunate that my core group of close poker friends, a collective that used to be known in Irish poker as ‘The Firm.’ are still all very much on the scene. And even if we have fought like cats and dogs behind closed doors often down the years we have managed to avoid falling out.

we grinded pretty hard, thankfully not without success

At the recent International Poker Open (IPO) in Dublin I roomed with Daragh Davey, and spent most of my down time with him and Maltese visitor David Lappin. Not that there was too much of that: as you’d expect from the three of us who are first, second, and third on the all time Irish list of most live cashes, we grinded pretty hard, thankfully not without success. I cashed the Main and the last side event, Daragh final tabled the high roller, and my fellow VegasSlotsOnline News writer David finished fourth in the Main Event.

David’s performance was noteworthy on several fronts. When the three of us found ourselves at the same table in the super high roller, I was incredibly impressed by his level of play. In fact it was by far the best I’d ever seen him play. This was made all the more impressive by the fact that he was starving and all he could seem to think about was food. He took my recent example in Malta and joined Diet Doke (which just involves eating small amounts of everything). As he moaned and whined about his hunger I responded in the only way a best friend should: by bombarding him with messaged pictures of his favorite food, chicken wings:

Lappin on a roll

Over the years David’s enthusiasm for the game has waxed and waned. When we first met I considered him to be roughly at the same level in terms of playing strength as the rest of my group. As he devoted more of his time to content creation and his family I started to view him as by far the weakest in our crew, barely even a player any more. He was never the kind of guy who was going to enjoy spending hours running PIO sims, so he seemed to get left behind in the solver era.

The pandemic changed all that. With more time on his hands no longer trotting around Europe on the bowlcomp circuit he finally got into a good study routine based around a daily DTO session. His keen natural poker brain meant he internalized heuristics and new strategies faster than most, and his game came on in leaps and bounds.

he got Tens in against the Sixes of rising young star Simon Wilson

The other thing David has going for him is resilience and mental fortitude. His mental game is so strong he doesn’t seem to understand why others have to work at it or read books on it. It was sorely tested when the fruits of his great play in the super high roller came to naught near the final table and actual money bubble of the super high roller when he got Tens in against the Sixes of rising young star Simon Wilson for the chiplead and couldn’t hold. The fact that Simon went on to win the event underlines just how big that pot was.

I’d made Day 2 of the Main already and was doing commentary with Tom Parsons, who was magnificent on his debut in the box. This was particularly heartening for me as I’d recommended him for the commentary gig, so it was great to hear nothing but praise from those who tuned in for his knowledgeable, lighthearted, and confident approach to commentary. I like to think I can pick them in this area: I similarly recommended a young Henry Kilbane for his first Unibet Open and World Series of Poker Europe gigs, and Henry has gone on to great things.

When I heard of Lappin’s sickening exit from the super high roller, I decided it was prudent to take a break from comms and go for dinner with the dispirited loser to a place of his choosing. It was the most downcast I’d ever seen him, understandable given he’d just lost an 80/20 for five figures of equity.

Over dinner he’d expressed no enthusiasm for the idea of getting into the turbo Day 1D of the Main that was kicking off, but the chicken wings seemed to replenish him and he ended up hopping in and bagging up. From there, he never looked back and had he won the final flip four handed he would have been a strong favorite to take down the title.

Chip Race Mystery Bounty

The most fun event of the festival seemed to be the Chip Race-sponsored Mystery Bounty. I say “seemed to be” because much to the amusement of everyone who noticed this, nobody associated with the Chip Race actually played the event. David was otherwise occupied in the Main, and former newsman Daragh Davey and myself were in the high roller when late reg closed.

I’d normally fold but the book said call”

As sponsors of the event we decided to give out free copies of my book on progressive bounty tournaments to everyone who made Day 2. This led to considerable banter at the tables as claims of the “I’d normally fold but the book said call” were made when the bad beats started being dished out.

The gesture did seem to be well received though, and a special thank you to everyone who went to the trouble of letting me know they appreciated the free book or asking me to sign it:

One of these, the legend that is Alan Gilmore, ended up winning the event. When he asked me to sign the book his neighbor the ever witty Zac Sloper asked for a very special message on his. I was more than happy to oblige with: “To my darling Zac, love forever.”

As is my habit at Irish events I was happy to sign any books people wanted signed, and sell to them If necessary. I got the biggest kick out of the ever hilarious Paul Carr buying all three from me and promising “to read them… as soon as I learn to read”. Modest by nature, Paul has cleaned up some vices lately and is starting to reap the rewards. He went back to back in recent Irish Poker Tour Main Events and followed that up with another final table in the IPO main event.

Down memory lane

It’s no coincidence that it was the IPO which made me unusually nostalgic. I have many happy IPO-related memories. The first IPO was the first multi day live tournament I ever played. It was held in a windswept RDS and wasn’t all smooth sailing. A dealer shortage meant several tables, mine included, had to self deal. Located near an exit, every time someone opened the door to go out for a smoke, cards blew all over the place. I took the first bad beat of my career. But I was instantly hooked by the camaraderie and atmosphere of the event. If the Irish Open was Ireland’s premier poker event, the IPO felt like the people’s tournament.

A few years later they held the last ever Irish Poker Awards at the event. I was nominated in three categories and took down two: Best Blog and Best Social Media (I lost out to Jude Ainsworth in the Best Online Player category).

Unibet contributed over 100 qualifiers, a remarkable feat

Since Nick O’Hara took over the reins from Stephen McLean and Unibet came on board as sponsor, the event has gone from strength to strength. Unibet contributed over 100 qualifiers, a remarkable feat given how much bigger sites like Stars are struggling to qualify anywhere close to that number for their events.

Nick tackles everything he does, be it TDing, manning the KHoldem software or running a festival, with total commitment and professionalism. The schedule was well thought out allowing grinders like the three D’s to keep ourselves busy. Nick isn’t afraid to try new things like mystery bounties or PKOs, but he’s a bit of a purist when it comes to tournament poker. He prefers freezeouts, despises unlimited reentry events (as a compromise he’s willing to stretch to one per event or flight), and likes to give players good deep structures, something the more astute recreationals aren’t slow to pick up on.

One such astute recreational is Aidan Quinlan (who came fifth in the Chip Race mystery bounty after ninjaing his short stack through the bubble) gave me his impressions, contrasting it with the less than leisurely structures of recent Irish Open side events:

“Was just thinking back on the weekend while listening to the chip race. It was an absolute cracker of a festival. The room, multi seat satellites online for more than just the main. The live satellites even had great structures as well as all three events (main, Leslie McLean high roller and Chip Race Mystery Bounty) I played.

Comparing it to the Irish Open where I thought the main event satellites and even the 300 Mini main had poor structures it was probably the best put together festival for my buy in range I’ve been to.“

Another book… cover

While at the festival we also shot some photographs for my forthcoming book ‘GTO Poker Simplified.’ That book will be the subject of my next article and VSO News will be the first place the publication is announced.

In the mean time I’ll leave you with a preview of the cover: