“I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to make a very good living from playing, coaching, writing, and talking about a card game I love. While it provides me with many short term disappointments and pain, they all are a result of the vagaries of luck, an essential component without which less skilled players would not be willing to play this game with me for money.”
That’s a track I try to load into my brain and put on repeat any time I’m feeling sorry for myself after a bust out. It tends to be very effective when my bust out was just bad luck. It’s less effective when I’m not sure about the hand itself, as was the case when I walked from the Macau Casino in Cork to my hotel, the Metropole. More on the hand later.
Memories in Ireland
At the start of my poker career 15 years ago, the Irish Open was the centerpiece of the Irish calendar, as it still is. Back then it was a €4,000 ($4,223) buyin and the first one I played had a €3m ($3.2m) guarantee. As I walked up the Citywest drive prior to my first Irish Open a golfer asked me what was happening. When I told him, he asked whether you had to qualify to play. After I informed him that the €4K buyin was the only prerequisite, he perked up and asked if poker was like whist. I shrugged and said a little. Later, as I took my seat in the tournament, I saw the same guy in the registration queue no longer wearing his golf duds.
a little overwhelmed to have top pros Neil Channing and Roy Brindley at my table
At the time, the Irish poker calendar was mostly filled out with a good spread of events with a buyin around the €1,000 ($1,056) level. The year generally kicked off with the Irish Poker Championship (IPC) in Galway, my first-ever big multi-day event. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed to have top pros Neil Channing and Roy Brindley at my table, as well as a female Dutch hockey international. Next up was the European Deepstack in Drogheda (a €1,500 ($1,584) buyin back then), which gave me my first live win. The Irish Open was in April, and then came the JP Masters. In July, we’d all head to Killarney for the Ladbrokes classic. Next up was the Macau classic, a €1,000 ($1,056), followed by Paddy’s second big festival of the year, the Winter Festival. The Fitzwilliam festival generally rounded out the year as far as higher buyins went.
Back then, smaller buyins in the 100-500 range were a rarety, so much so that the International Poker Open (IPO) marketed itself as initially “the people’s festival,” largely on the basis that it was the one festival with a Main Event buyin affordable to normal people. Another key difference to the landscape back was that there were no re-entries. All the tournaments I mentioned were strict freezeouts.
After the financial collapse that signaled the end of the Celtic Tiger, these bigger buyins disappeared one by one until only the Irish Open remained (and it shrunk down to a €1,000 ($1,056) buyin). Live poker didn’t die but transformed into lower buyin events in the 100-300 range.
Don’t call it a comeback
The return of the Irish Poker Classic at the Macau Casino Cork as a €1,000 ($1,056) buyin in its former late year slot is welcome for a number of reasons. It’s good to see a decent buyin tournament in Ireland outside of Dublin. More importantly, as I said to organizer Connie O’Sullivan, it’s vital that we have more tournaments in this buyin range. The smaller games have attracted a new mass of players to the game, but the leap from there to European Poker Tours or World Series of Poker events is far too great for players to make in a single bound.
without games like this to take a shot at, their chances of moving up are slim
Some of the players who cut their teeth in smaller games will become solid winning players. However, without games like this to take a shot at, their chances of moving up are slim.
Finally, the atmosphere at a game like this, the one big game in Cork all year, is much better than when all the more significant games are held in Dublin. Locals and travelling players alike feel a greater sense of occasion, and this lends itself to the very pleasant and jovial atmosphere that permeated the entire festival.
With other similar games like the IPC in Galway in early January, it’s looking more and more like the glory days of the boom.
My Main Event
Poker is a game of endless possibilities, and tournaments in particular provide endless ways to get your heart broken. You probably need to be a masochist to survive very long in this game. This particular tournament went with the tried and tested heartbreak method: keep him short all the way then after a day of knowing every pot might be his last, send a heater near the bubble to raise his hopes before dashing them.
I went from short stack with 20 left to 4/17 when the aggressive Tadgh Ryan (3/27) opened in the hijack. The equally aggressive pro turned rec Keith Cummins (1/17) flatted the button and I find Queens in the small blind. Flatting isn’t really an option here so I raised. Tadgh tanked for quite some time before shoving for 50 big blinds (I had 46). Keith quickly folded and I called not feeling great about it now but also not willing to fold Queens getting more than 6/4. It sucks to have to put your entire stack in near the bubble against one of the few stacks that covers you but from an ICM perspective less so than when you’re short stacked. It sucks even more when your opponent has Kings and holds.
I walked back to the Metropole hotel wondering if I was supposed to go with Queens
My inner monologue wasn’t much comfort as I walked back to the Metropole hotel wondering if I was supposed to go with Queens there. When I ran it in the solver afterwards it confirmed what I pretty much knew: that it’s theoretically an easy get in (Jacks is bottom of the range). However, I suspect my opponent may be significantly tighter than theory in the spot so near a big bubble, so I still don’t know whether it’s a practical get in, and never will.
Winner winner chicken dinner
Keith Cummins, a long time friend and former student of mine, ended up getting headsup against local reg Martin Noonan who has a phenomenal record in the Macau. Martin emerged victorious, but when I spoke to Keith afterwards he was happy with his play and result. It’s heartening to see someone like Keith ,who left the game for a more lucrative business career, still retain the same enthusiasm and desire to improve.
I also played the Mystery Bounty, busting early on Day 2 not far from the money to another talented local reg Trevor Dinneen. The event was won by another local and long time friend of mine, Aidan Connolly.
I did final table the last event, but that’s not as big an achievement as it sounds given the event got less than 30 runners. I ended up losing a flip to eventual winner Andy Toole to bust before the money. Andy is a lively and fun presence at any poker table and is building a resume in his short time on the scene (he won the PLO event in Killarney recently).
it’s back for good as a permanent fixture on the calendar
Afterwards I had a chat with O’Sullivan who confirmed he was thrilled with the success of the festival and that it’s back for good as a permanent fixture on the calendar. That was music to my ears as even if I bricked the series with three near bubbles, it was one of the most pleasant and fun events I’ve attended in a long time. I even sold some copies of my new book to the locals, some more surprising than others. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but local legend Big Al bought ‘GTO Poker Simplified’ telling me he was more interested in learning what GTO tricks the young dogs might be trying to pull on him.
In the words of the Terminator: “I’ll be back.”