Dara O’Kearney: Ladies Event Proves Big Hit at the Killarney Irish Poker Tour

  • Killarney is always an amazing place to meet up with people and play some great poker
  • The Ladies Event stole the headlines, thanks to incredible organizing by Tanya Masters
  • Shane Keary featured as the only man and Willow Connolly eventually took the win overall
  • In the Main Event, Jamie Flynn beat Niall McAree to claim the €70,000 ($73,886) top prize
Ladies Event at Killarney
Willow Connolly (center) took the win in the Ladies Event at the Killarney Irish Poker Tour stop, [Image: Irish Poker Tour Twitter]

A special place

As I mentioned in my last piece, Killarney has always occupied a special place on the Irish poker calendar. This year’s Irish Poker Tour (IPT) stop there was no different.

On a personal front, it was a successful outing as I made my first big live final table in a while, ultimately coming 8th in the Main Event. I won’t dwell too much on that, except to say that one big hand versus Alan “Big Al” Kelleher cost me the chance of a deeper run. Strategically, it was the most interesting hand I’ve played in a long time and divided the opinions of players I asked, so I may return to it in a future piece.

there’s something particularly special about Killarney

Instead, I want to focus on the festival as an experience. It’s always great to meet up with people I only see at live events, and there’s something particularly special about Killarney in this regard. Let’s start with a shoutout to the ladies…

Shane vs the ladies

The IPT recently appointed the popular Tanya Masters (part of the most famous family of Irish players, including as it does father Ray, mother Marina, and Tanya’s brothers Dave and Graham) as a Team Pro, and Tanya has made it her mission to promote ladies events. Killarney was the first of these and was a massive success, attracting 46 runners and a €7,990 ($8,431) prize pool.

More importantly, I can say with absolute certainty that it was by far the best ladies event I’ve ever seen in terms of atmosphere, with every player feeling looked after with prosecco and strawberries, and great added prizes (including some of my books).

By far the most talked about and lucrative added prize, however, was the bounty the only man to enter, Shane Keary, put on his own head to make the ladies feel less aggrieved at his bare-faced cheek. Riding high on the lucrative IPT leaderboard and therefore chasing leaderboard points, Shane proved more brazen than his male rivals who declined to enter the event.

he announced that any further donations would go to Marymount Hospice

Men entering ladies events tends to spark controversy, but this time Shane’s fun presence at the table, not to mention his tendency to warn his female competitors when he had a very big hand, and the large bounty he organized by hassling onlookers to chip in, ensured that his presence was seen as a positive. Once the bounty on his head had reached €1,000 ($1,055), he announced that any further donations would go to Marymount Hospice, which meant that not only did Liz Kelly win the €1,000 when she busted him, but the Hospice benefited to the tune of €400 ($422).

When asked for a quote by the IPT’s Ferdia about his experience, Shane said:

“Jaysus, Ferdia just make something up that makes me sound like a really good feminist.

Ladies have their say

The winner of the ladies’ event, Irish legend Willow Connolly, was over the moon, telling the story of her son contacting Tanya from Australia to buy her into this event as a birthday present.

The event also boasted some international star power in the form of my great friend Alex O’Brien, author of the upcoming certain bestseller The Truth Detective, available for pre-order. Alex had this to say about the event:

Alex O’Brien: “What can I say, it was such a joy playing in Killarney! The Irish Poker Tour put on yet another fantastic event – the room was buzzing and the atmosphere filled with laughter and great spirit! I am so happy I made the trip- and I can’t wait to come back.”

After the success of the event, I spoke to Tanya. First, I asked her what it meant to her to be appointed to the role by the IPT:

Tanya Masters: “I approached Fintan a few months ago about having a ladies game in Killarney and he said he loved the idea enough to go with it and could I host it. A month later I was asked to join Team Pro: I was over the moon so my next aim is to become a Lady Ambassador.”

Ladies Event winner Willow Connolly (center) celebrates with Tanya Masters and her fellow players.

Next, I asked her how she went about the task of making it such a massive success:

Tanya Masters: “I just put the word out there that the IPT are fun and friendly games with a great poker community. So I thought how fun a ladies game would be too. I ran competitions on my social pages and asked Paddy Power to run satellites online for €10 ($10.55) and any of the online qualifiers got a merchandise bag too. I got some of your books for spot prizes and bottles of gin for an all-in or fold game just after the first break for a bit of fun.

I also had one man register Shane Keary and we got a bounty of €1,400 ($1,477) on his head. I arranged for the hotel to provide us with Prosecco and strawberries all funded by Irish Poker Tour and got boxes of chocolates to keep us sweet. I was also excited to hear that Author Alex O Brien was joining the game and she brought a bounty of five amazing books.

Alex brought great energy to the tables and I can’t wait for her to join me in my next game in The Intercontinental Hotel on the 4th November at 2pm. I just want to create a fun energy for the ladies game. I hope I can entice more ladies to the tables and to know that we support each other and to show them how The IPT games are one of the best around to play as everyone looks out for each other. Willow, the poker queen, won the game which was funded by her son Keith in Australia who contacted me a few months back to pay her into the game. I also picked up a box of chocolates and gave her a hug to let her know he was thinking of her.

Til the next game ladies: I look forward to it.

Paddy Power was very generous too giving me a €1,200 ($1,266) Galway package on top of the prize pool and some merchandise to give to the ladies. I was just so happy that everyone had a great time as that was all that mattered to me. Til the next game ladies: I look forward to it.

As mentioned, Tanya is running another ladies event in the Intercontinental Hotel Dublin as part of the inaugural Irish Poker Festival. The buy-in is €220+€30 ($232+$32) and it promises to be another absolute blast.

The Main Event

The Main attracted a field of 848 entries, smashing the guarantee with a prize pool of €441,893 ($466,522).

The final table was an interesting mix of promising up-and-comers and seasoned old-timers. Apart from myself, the oldies included the legend that is Bobby Willis, perennial Irish reg Alan “Big Al” Kelleher, Tony “THEPIRAT” Rafter, and Northern crusher Tomas Flanagan who was the only to bust the FT before me. The new kids included eventual winner Jamie “JAMFLY” Flynn, who has broken out live since the pandemic, and the man he bested for the win, Niall McAree. Then, there were also a couple of enthusiastic and skilled recreationals in the form of local restauranteur Sandro Taddei and the popular Tadhg Conway, both of whom scored their biggest ever live cash in the event.

Jamie “JAMFLY” Flynn raises the Killarney Main Event trophy after bagging himself €70,000 ($73,886).

McAree made waves by chopping the Paddy Power Sole Survivor last year in a 3-way deal, but this year he outdid himself. Niall’s journey culminated in a remarkable 2nd place finish at this year’s festival Main Event earning him an impressive €63,000 ($66,497) to go on top of his Paddy Power Sole Survivor prize money.

Keeping customers happy

The key to the continued success of the Irish Poker Tour is going the extra mile to keep their players happy. I’ve heard countless stories of this, but I’ll share one of these as a sample, from Shane Cawley who messaged me on Twitter after the event:

Shane Cawley: “I just see that you may be doing a Killarney review. I traveled down to play the Omaha 200 on Friday, unfortunately, there was no capacity, so hopped into the 300 Killarney Cup. Great craic, made Day 2 and got lumped out early!

A few of us asked for 8 game mixed, and the floor and the dealers accommodated us”

My point is that we were craving some game outside of Hold’em, the Omaha cash game was the best bet, which was grand. A few of us asked for 8 game mixed, and the floor and the dealers accommodated us late on Saturday morning. It was class!

Really great fun, and the dealers that took on the game were on another level! I just wanted to mention it here, with the ultimate hope that mix or hi/lo games might get some more attention for club tourneys or cash games!

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