Dara O’Kearney: The Best and Worst of the Irish Open 2023

  • The prestige and fun of the event was diminished by the location and livestream
  • We had to bag for Day 2 before selling or trading surplus tickets won in satellites
  • Long hard days took their toll on many, including my friend Kevin O’Donnell
  • The best thing about the event was the victory of Scotland’s David Docherty
Irish Open 2023
Dara O’Kearney has summed up his best and worst moments of the Irish Open 2023, which resulted in victory for David Docherty.

Busting the Irish Open

They used to say the worst day of the year for any top poker player was the day they bust the World Series of Poker main event, unless they were Irish in which case it was the day they bust the Irish Open. I can testify to how bad it used to feel, so I was a little surprised at how little I felt this year. In previous editions I wasn’t fit for human company for hours if not days afterwards, but this year I shrugged it off with a quick bust-out coffee and then was able to give this interview to Laura Cornelius:

Maybe I’m just getting older and more seasoned, maybe it’s the fact that since the Open is now reentry it’s possible to bust it nine times in a year so you get used to it, or maybe it’s the fact that this year they made us bag for Day 2 before we were allowed to sell or transfer any surplus tickets we’d won in satellites. This meant that when I did bag up on my second bullet in Day 1A, what I felt instead of disappointment for bagging up just over starting stack was relief (similar to that you feel when the bubble bursts and you’re short stacked) that now I didn’t have to play another 13 hour Day 1 and could sell my other six tickets.

In previous years, I never worried about this as I knew the organizers would let me use the value of those tickets as credit to buy into other events. That’s a much better and fairer system in my opinion. Had it been in place I would have bought into the 5k high roller instead of skipping it this year.

Diminishing prestige and fun

For whatever reason (and I’ll suggest a few possible ones later) the Irish Open just felt like it lost a lot of its prestige, lustre, and fun this year. As I said to Laura in that interview,  I think Citywest was a better venue. It had better parking, a nicer location, and cheaper food and accommodation options. The fact that the Open took over the hotel for the week also gave it a summer or Easter camp feeling.

the event was in just about the most expensive part of Dublin

This year, the organizers had no choice but to move (Citywest is being used for the foreseeable future to accommodate refugees) and had few options big enough to host the event. In fairness, the RDS was probably the best of the available options, but it does mean that through no fault of their own the event was in just about the most expensive part of Dublin. Visitors were shocked to find themselves paying almost €4 ($4.37) for a coffee and €8 ($8.74) for a pint, on top of expensive accommodation and meals in the nearby restaurants. Many foreign visitors told me they wouldn’t be back.

Given the expenses, a lot of locals targeted the lowest buyin €150 events. Many of these didn’t even run. I had friends from all over Ireland who travelled up specifically to play one of these only to find it was cancelled when they arrived. One American student of mine who satellited in online looked at the schedule and was hoping to load his trip with these events only to find them cancelled. He says this fact alone made it unlikely he’d return.

I appreciate there were capacity issues and in many ways the organizers are victims of their own success, but a much better way to deal with such problems is to do what Stars normally does at its events, cap the entries. Stars also generally gets the message out in a much better fashion.

Let’s talk about the livestream

The fact that Stars took over the livestream and treated the event as just another Stars regional 1k event seemed to sap a lot of the prestige from the event. It made it feel less like the oldest and most prestigious poker tournament in Europe and more like, well, just another Stars regional 1k event. The grand dame of Irish Poker, Willow Connolly, said what most Irish people were thinking when she decried the lack of Irish voices on commentary:

This isn’t about petty nationalism: it’s about having people in the box with a real connection to local grassroots poker who know the Irish players that still make up the bulk of the field. There were some compelling stories and narratives that could have been conveyed to the audience to make what they were watching more compelling. Instead, the commentators didn’t even know how to pronounce players’ names, let alone tell their stories.

I have to admit I listened to very little of the commentary but friends who did said it felt more like fourth rate American comedians making bad Irish jokes on Paddy’s Day. Rather than celebrating the great tradition of the Irish Open,  the tone was mocking the Irish regional 1k Stars event. That’s not a slight on the Stars commentary team who do a great job talking to their own loyal audience – it’s just the Irish Open should be more than that.

Long hard days

Another issue that can be filed under “victim of their own success” is the very long playing days. I have already mentioned my own relief at only having to play one long Day 1. My friend Kevin O’Donnell, who loves Irish poker so much he recently moved to Ireland, was not so lucky. He followed up his recent European Deepstack final table with another deep run. Late in Day 3, he sent me to get some painkillers for his back from his car, and at the end of the day he posted this on his Facebook:

“On to Day 4.. sleep deprived as poker rooms just make the days longer and longer 14 hours yesterday and 15.5 today. Irish Poker Open has been my favorite tournament since the 1st time I played 6 years ago. Sadly, after I win this , it will most likely be my last

I’ll have to let the young guys and gals abuse their bodies.”

Again, victims of their own success and the record numbers maybe, but there has to be a better way.

It has to be said the rake was quite egregious too. The structure of nearly all the side events was shockingly bad with some huge blind level jumps. The last event, dubbed Event 40: NLH Deepstack Turbo, boasted a 20k starting stack that was good for ten blinds after two hours play and had a reg fee of more than 15%.

The best thing

There were also many good things about the event. The dealers and floor staff were top notch as ever, all the more impressive given they too had to put in very long days. The venue itself was well laid out and the sponsors went to some effort with the player lounges even if they didn’t manage to create the natural organic good atmosphere of Irish Opens past.

We got a great winner in David Docherty

To wrap up, I want to point out the very best thing about this year’s Irish Open. We got a great winner in David Docherty who has put in the hard hours in the lab and the hard years slogging the UK and Ireland Poker Tour circuit. It was great to see him get his just rewards at last.

Heads-up, he defeated the popular Deccy Rice, a stalwart of the now defunct MPN tour. He had most of the local support and would have been a tremendously popular winner, but it was a great run from the big man who told me he’d bagged up less than two thirds of a starting stack on Day 1.

As we left the venue my VegasSlotsOnline News and Chip Race colleague David Lappin said the worst thing about the Irish Open this year was the fact that he didn’t win it. I pointed out that for most people that was the best thing about it.

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