The Irish Poker Tour: When Passion Leads to Success

  • Irish Poker Tour boss Fintan Gavin has a politician’s passion and county councilor charm
  • He has a great team behind him, including Donal MacAonghusa and Ramona Bruza
  • They have announced new international dates, in Bratislava, Dublin, and London
Fintan Gavin
Fintan Gavin (pictured), the organizer of the Irish Poker Tour, has demonstrated the importance of being passionate about what you do. [Image:]

A dedicated passion

Both of my grandfathers were county councillors. For those not from Ireland who have no idea what that is, it’s basically the lowest rung of politics in Ireland. County councils are regional bodies with limited local powers that nevertheless greatly impact the lives of ordinary people. Most of the job is dealing with nitty-gritty issues like making sure people get government assistance they’re entitled to, getting potholes filled, and settling small local disputes. For most, including both my grandfathers, it’s a long and tiring road leading nowhere. You have to love helping people and improving the lives of your neighbours.

From the crack of dawn to after midnight his doorbell would ring

I didn’t appear on the scene until after their careers, but I did spend some summers in my uncle Chris’s house in Tallaght when he was a county councillor and got a sense of just how taxing the job is. From the crack of dawn to after midnight his doorbell would ring, as constituents wanted to talk about a medical card or a pension they felt they were due, or a road that needed improving, or a host of other things they felt he could help them with. Nobody was ever turned away or told it was too early or too late or meal time. Everybody was given the same attentive listening ear irrespective of whether they were the first visitor or the hundredth that day.

In my uncle’s case, it did lead somewhere. When he ran for the Dail (parliament) the political pundits gave him little chance, but the thousands of constituents he’d helped as a county councillor saw it differently and elected him. He rose to government minister status, although many cynics blamed this on the recession. As Junior Health Minister, he’d be the one wheeled out to break the bad news to Tallaght residents that his party Fianna Fáil would not be able to deliver the hospital they’d promised to his constituents as the economic realities of Government in a recession kicked in.

All of this meant when he ran for re-election the political pundits again wrote him off, but his constituents thought otherwise on this occasion too. Getting elected representing the party of Government in the most working class and economically deprived constituency in the country was always a challenge, but one he pulled off until retirement. Enoch Powell famously said once that all political careers end in failure, but Chris managed to be the exception, retiring without losing an election.

Fintan, the parish politician

The big thing I took from watching my uncle in action was the importance of being passionate about what you do. He genuinely loved helping people, even though the minute details of the job were very minute: chasing social workers and house application boards and other civil servants. He often had to do things he hated, like go on national TV and explain why they wouldn’t get the hospital they’d been promised at election time, but because he loved the overall job and his mission he got through it.

Uncle Chris was the first highly successful person I observed at close quarters in my life, but not the last. What they all have in common is a passion for what they do, a passion that drives their commitment.

there’s very much the look of an old-fashioned parish politician to Fintan, brimming with county councillor charm

When you listen to Fintan Gavin talk about organizing events like the Irish Poker Tour, you hear the exact same passion. When you see him walking around dealing with and talking to grassroots players, telling them they can use unused satellite tickets as credit for any event they want to play, or sorting out hotel rooms, or responding to hundreds of other queries and requests, you see his passion – which is to make his events the very best experience possible. In fact, there’s very much the look of an old-fashioned parish politician to Fintan, brimming with county councillor charm, knowing everyone by first name, always approachable and open for some banter that makes interactions fun and funny rather than an obsequious imposition.

No man is an island

No man, no matter how passionate and competent, can achieve much on his own. My uncle had an amazing tireless wife, and a constituency team that kept things running smoothly. His brothers pitched in around elections. Passionate committed people tend to flock together, as like attracts like. Similarly, Fintan has assembled a crack team of professionals that he can rely on to make sure things run smoothly.

Donal MacAonghusa is his Chief of Operations. Known for his all-encompassing good humour and poker expertise, Donal is widely recognized as Ireland’s leading tournament director.

He has worked in the poker industry as a player, dealer, casino manager, and tournament director for over 30 years and utilizes all this knowledge to produce the best possible poker experience for every type of player. Accessible to everyone and willing to take others’ opinions into account, Donal is a constant smart, funny, benevolent presence on the floor, with a knack for defusing small problems before they arise with a joke and a firm ruling. Well-rounded and impeccably educated with an inquisitive mind, Donal can keep up his end of a conversation on pretty much anything under the sun, from the big blind ante to early twentieth-century Irish poetry.

Donal’s chief lieutenant in the tournament trenches is Ramona Bruza. Originally from Latvia, Ramona was part of the early wave of immigrants from former Iron Curtain countries that contributed tremendously to the Irish economy with their work ethic, professionalism, and discipline. They enriched and beautified all sectors of Irish society and the economy, not least poker (the majority of the top floor staff and dealers on the European circuit are Eastern Europeans who cut their teeth and in many cases are still based in Ireland). She has worked in various roles in the poker industry for her entire career, developing extraordinary expertise in all aspects of running live poker events. After working with the Irish Poker Tour for just a couple of months, Ramona’s talents were spotted and rewarded with a promotion to the key role of Chief Tournament Director with direct responsibility for running all their major events.

She patrols the floor like a shark on alert ready to pop up wherever and whenever needed

Ramona’s strong, independent nature mixed with her invaluable poker knowledge make her the perfect leader of a team that provides a wonderfully memorable, yet totally professional, tournament experience. She insists that everything is run by the book but still manages to engender the fun atmosphere that the Irish Poker Tour is famous for. She patrols the floor like a shark on alert ready to pop up wherever and whenever needed to dispense a clear firm ruling or a joke depending on what the occasion demands. She runs a tight ship with the dealers and seems to know most of the players by first name (she knew mine years ago before I knew hers).

I have played poker all over the world and can honestly say this is the best team I’ve seen anywhere.

A bright future ahead

The IPT is the biggest breath of fresh air Irish poker has seen in decades. As it continues to go from strength to strength, Fintan and the team already have their eyes set on fresh horizons.

They recently announced three international festivals with one million in guarantees each, in Bratislava (July 18-23), Dublin (in the swanky Intercontinental in Ballsbridge October 31 – November 5), and London (in Aspers from January 30 – February 4).

With the same world-class team running things, those venues are in for a treat.

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