Build It and They Will Come: The Fintan Gavin Approach

  • Fintan Gavin is a poker giant both as a player and tournament organizer
  • His ambition was never more evident than with the recent Irish Poker Festival
  • I personally failed to cash in the Main but made two side event final tables 
  • The event was a success, showing again why Gavin is the best to do it
Fintan Gavin
Poker pro and tournament organizer Fintan Gavin (pictured) has built a reputation for ambitious poker events, none more so than the recent Irish Poker Festival.

A giant of a man

Anyone who has ever played poker with Fintan Gavin knows he’s not a man who is afraid to put all his chips in the middle. As you are at the poker table so will you be in life, they say, and this is certainly true of Fintan. For as long as I’ve been in the game, Fintan has been a giant, both as a player and a tournament organizer. He applies the skills from one role to the other. This was never more evident than when he came second officially in the 2008 Barcelona European Poker Tour (EPT) but allegedly negotiated a deal that gave him the lion’s share of the money.

he has never stopped aiming high and shooting for the stars

He ran the very first UK and Ireland Poker Tour in Ireland, and a few years later the biggest ever in a tent in Galway. Like the country itself, his career has had its ups and downs but he has never stopped aiming high and shooting for the stars. His reach extends across all levels: he’s equally adept at running small events in places nobody else would ever dream of as running massive events nobody would ever dream possible. He hit the ground running after the pandemic with the revitalized Irish Poker Tour taking live poker to the masses in Ireland like never before.

The Irish Poker Festival

Fintan’s ambition was never more evident than when he announced the inaugural Irish Poker Festival with a €700k ($760k) guarantee on the €3k ($3.3k) buyin Main Event, and a total of €1m ($1.08m) in total guarantees across the festival as a whole. This seemed optimistic to say the least, and by the time the International Poker Open rolled around the week before, almost nobody I spoke to in Irish poker gave Fintan a snowball’s chance in hell of hitting the guarantee.

“Fintan will do his boll*cks.”

“Just before late reg closes could be a good time to be hanging around the Intercontinental bar.”

These were the most common sentiments I heard expressed, the latter a suggestion that if they were miles short of the guarantee the organizers would be forced to put anyone they could find who knew the hand rankings in on a freeroll.

The first two flights were ahead of expectations but a big Saturday was still needed. Fintan confided to me that when he came in early that day to find only 17 players registered he felt some waves of panic. As the day went on though more players jumped in, and by the end of the day it was clear that the guarantee was safe. In the end, they comfortably exceeded it, and Fintan’s uncanny ability to pull off the seemingly impossible was reaffirmed.

My campaign

I had decided I would play as many of the live satellites as possible. I still think it was a good plan, even if I bricked all the satellites. It did limit my options as far as when I could enter the Main was concerned, and I toyed with the idea of waiting until the last minute possible (the end of the first level on Day 2) but after I bust the last satellite I noticed that the last (turbo) flight didn’t have many runners and the field looked good, so I jumped in.

with 40 minutes left in Day 1 I was looking down at just over half a starting stack

This looked like another “good in theory, in practice not so much” idea when with 40 minutes left in Day 1 I was looking down at just over half a starting stack. Then I limped A8s from the small blind, the big blind shoved an optimistic holding, and I held to double up.

Irish legend Marty Smyth arrived at the table looking exactly the same as he had over ten years ago when I last saw him. In my first year playing, Marty had an annus mirabilis winning the Irish Open, the Ladbrokes Poker Million, and the 10k PLO World Series of Poker bracelet event all in the same year. He effectively retired a few years later, so it was a real treat to see him back.

He hadn’t been there long when I raised AQo under the gun, he called in mid-position and the big blind called. The flop came AQJ with two hearts and I continuation bet. Marty unexpectedly shoved for about 20 times my bet, I called, and held against his J7 of hearts (bottom pair and a flush draw) to double again. I picked up a few more pots to bag up the chip lead in the flight, and 6th overall in the tournament across all flights.

Day 2 however did not go like I hoped it would. Early on I lost a massive flip against The Deal specialist Marc McDonnell for almost half my stack, and I never really got anything going thereafter. I bust running AQ into AK about 30 from the money.

Side events

I continued my recent side event form, making two final tables. The first came in the Mystery Bounty, where I ultimately fell in 5th with… *checks notes*… 0 bounties (much to the amusement of those who knew I had written the book on the format emphasizing the importance of chasing bounties). The event (and most of the bounties including the two big ones) was won by the incredibly impressive Thomas Murphy. I’ve gotten to know Thomas pretty well since his breakout at the Irish Open this year, and rarely has a young player impressed me so much both in terms of rapid technical improvement and temperament. It’s fair to say I have a very high estimation of Thomas both as a player and a person. The way he carries himself at the table and in life is a model many would do well to follow.

Thomas beat my good friend Michael Dwyer heads up. Michael is a genuine gentleman and enthusiast of the game who has put up some impressive results in recent years and seems to be edging closer to taking one of these down. I’m currently halfway through his book “From the Arena,” a riveting ride detailing how he took Pigsback from an idea he jotted down on a plane to a multimillion international dotcom success. I heartily recommend the book to anyone who wants a glimpse of the entrepreneurial life and mindset from someone who has been there, done that, and is honest enough to give a true account of the ups and downs as opposed to a vainglorious vanity piece like most other business biographies I’ve read.

I’ve always taken more comfort from consistency than one-off big scores

My second final table of the festival came in my last event, the Leinster Cup. I came into the final table as chipleader, but lost that position to Paul Carr who has crushed the live scene in Ireland this year running away with the Irish Poker Tour leaderboard when he coolered James O’Brien early on. After that, it was always going to be difficult out of position to Paul. We have both been saying we want to get headsup in an event soon, and we were one card away from that three-handed on this occasion, but ultimately I fell in third. It would be nice to actually win a live tourney this year, but throughout my career I’ve always taken more comfort from consistency than one-off big scores. This was my 25th live cash of the year and my 7th live final table.

Looking ahead

I started this piece by saying Fintan Gavin is not a man who is afraid to put all his chips in the middle. He is also not a man who is afraid of raising the stakes. More timid souls might bask in the glory of this success for a while before deciding what next, but late reg had barely closed on the Main before he was up on his feet announcing the event is here to stay, with an increased guarantee of €1m ($1.08m) for the Main next year and €1.5m ($1.62m) for the festival as a whole. Having pulled off what many thought impossible this year, I expect this event to grow and grow into a rival for the Irish Open as the biggest annual event on our shores.

it was always going to take someone with the unique skill set Fintan possesses to pull it off

The venue will be the same, which is great because everyone who set foot in it was raving about it. Many comparisons were drawn with the Wynn in Las Vegas, and Merit in Cyprus. Not only is it (by far) the plushest venue where I’ve ever played poker in Ireland, but it’s one of the best I’ve played anywhere in the world. Foreign visitors echoed this sentiment, and were left wondering what took us so long to run an event here. The reality is that it’s very hard to persuade most upmarket hotels to even consider running a poker tournament, and it costs an arm and a leg, so it was always going to take someone with the unique skill set Fintan possesses to pull it off.

Ireland has produced more than its fair share of great players and characters down the years (Fintan included, in both categories). It has also produced raconteurs, commentators, podcasters, Twitchers, writers, and industry people who have had a massive positive influence. But in terms of sheer impact on poker in Ireland as a whole, it’s hard to put anyone ahead of Fintan Gavin. If there is ever an Irish poker hall of fame, he should be the first person in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *