Dara O’Kearney: Reflections on the Irish Open 2024

  • I had a good run in the Main but lost out on Day 3 by being four flushed out of the tournament
  • I claimed my third Open cash in the Seniors, maintaining a good lifetime record in the category
  • The rest of the event consisted of book signings, meeting friends, and some commentary
  • The organizers have restored the Irish Open to the premium event on the European calendar
Dara O’Kearney
Dara O’Kearney, poker pro, has reflected on his time at the Irish Open 2024.

Starting out

Every year in the run up to the Irish Open, I post my previous Irish Open blogs in chronological order, one a day. Every year I need to start this process earlier, since there’s one more from last year. I forgot that this year, which meant that by the time this year’s festival started, I wasn’t even up to 2018, the first year I cashed. This made for a pretty depressing preparation, and when the festival started, this all seemed a bit foredooming, as I came out of the gate running appallingly. This continued into the Main Event: I just couldn’t seem to get above starting stack for very long.

This year I went into the Main with eleven bullets online, and due to the changes made by the organizers, under no pressure to bag up for Day 2 (last year you could only sell them, after you’d bagged). This allowed me to skip day 1A, and enter day 1B willing to embrace a lot more variance than I normally would. I bust that first bullet late in the day, so came back the following day and fired two bullets in 1C. That left the final turbo flight as my last chance, and while it was a struggle, I did at least bag up two starting stacks which was less than half average.

so long as you’re still in a tournament anything can happen

Day 2 started as a real test of patience and discipline. Once again I found myself withering down to almost nothing as the bubble loomed. I scraped through with starting stack knowing in most worlds I’d just be getting the money cash. However, so long as you’re still in a tournament anything can happen, and this was another world, one in which I not only laddered but spun up to a big stack, which I bagged up, 18th of the 104 survivors from going into Day 3.

Onto Day 3

Day 3 was another test of patience and discipline. I hovered in or around my start of day stack as half the field disappeared around me and the average rose. After I eliminated online beast Eugenio Peralta, I hit a new peak above average again. The hand that my tournament ultimately swung on happened with 50 left. It started with the chip leader opening in the lojack. I found Ace-Jack on the button and elected to just call for a number of reasons. I think if I three bet I won’t be happy if I get four bet and have to fold, but it doesn’t feel strong enough to go with either, if the opener does decide to three bet.

I was hoping for a hand I dominated, but my opponent flipped over King-Ten

An even bigger reason is the player in the small blind seemed impatient to get his chips in at the first reasonable opportunity. He didn’t disappoint, shoving for over half my stack. After the opener tank folded I snap called, knowing I was miles ahead of the range. I was hoping for a hand I dominated, but my opponent flipped over King-Ten, an annoyingly live hand. The flop of 235 was better than favorable, but a king on the turn and a blank on the river saw me coming to terms with suddenly only having 14 big blinds and a lot less weapons in one foul swoop. Still, I’m happy with the play, just a case of right move wrong time (or vice versa from my opponent’s perspective). I recovered a little through liberal use of the phrase “all in” before I found myself flipping with Jacks against Ace-Ten. An ace on the flop saw me fall behind, a Jack on the turn restored my lead, and when a spade fell on the river it took me a few seconds to realize I’d been four flushed out of the tournament. An annoying way to bust, but still just a lost flip at the end of the day.

Had I held there, or earlier with the Ace-Jack, I would have been very confident of making the last two tables, at least, the way the tournament was shaping up, but it wasn’t to be. In the end I had to content myself with my deepest ever run in the Irish Open. I genuinely feel I’m playing the best live poker of my life, routinely building stacks and running deep, so hopefully the really big result is brewing. My VegasSlotsOnline, Chip Race, and Unibet colleague David Lappin also enjoyed his deepest ever run, finishing ten places ahead of me.

Mystery bounty

As a professional there’s often no real time to grieve for what might have been. I bust just in time to enter the 1k Mystery Bounty as late registration was closing. When progressive knockouts first appeared, I resisted playing them for ages, preferring to stick to traditional (vanilla) tournaments.

I managed to multiply my investment by fourteen in the five hours

By contrast, I embraced mystery bounties from the start, working out the necessary strategic adjustments from first principles, producing the first content and writing the book on them. I’ve done very well in the format live, and though I ultimately fell short of the final table, I managed to multiply my investment by fourteen in the five hours I was in the tournament thanks to a plethora of bounties I claimed.

In the Seniors, I claimed my third cash in two days, and maintained my lifetime record of cashing over three quarters of the senior events I played. I am yet to actually win one, but the very first WSOP 5k seniors this summer would be a great place to start.

Book signings

Speaking of books, PokerStars put a free copy of my first book, “Poker Satellite Strategy,” into the goodie bag they gave out to online qualifiers. This went down very well with both the qualifiers, and Barry and me.

Many of the qualifiers approached us to get copies signed, and even those who already had it said they were happy to get the recently updated version with a new chapter on the target or milestone format that seems to be replacing traditional satellites (all the ones at this year’s festival were the new format, and the World Series of Poker has announced the same will be true for theirs this summer), where the strategy is radically different.

When Barry and I released the book five years ago, he gave me three numbers: the number we’d probably sell, a bigger number that we might sell if it went really well, and a much bigger number still that was the most we could conceivably sell. The buy from Stars for their qualifiers pushed the lifetime sales of the book past that third number.

Catching up with friends

The Irish Open is a great occasion to catch up with friends from all over the world. I met Alex O’Brien for coffee before my first Day 1 and she observed it was nice to see me in a setting where I wasn’t going to get mobbed. It’s true that the amount of people who want to interact with me in the poker room at something like the Irish Open can be a little overwhelming and draining at times for someone who can happily go for hours without saying a single word, but on the other hand most of these are very pleasant and energizing.

I will shout out Ian Drake who came straight from the airport to late register

One of my oldest friends Asif was also there to collect another free book (I gave up years ago trying to out haggle the master), and I caught up with countless other poker friends, too numerous to mention.
Another big plus was the number of deep runs by my students, again too many to mention. But I will shout out Ian Drake who came straight from the airport to late register the toughest event on the schedule, the 5K high roller, and not only held his own in a world class field, but finished 5th for his biggest ever score. He also cashed the Main Event, and was very generous in his comments afterwards about how much a role the work we have done together played.

Poker In The Ears and commentary

Lappin and I recorded an interview with James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton for their GPI award winning podcast Poker In The Ears. We all joked it was the podcast crossover absolutely nobody asked for, but it was a lot of fun nevertheless. During the interview we promised to do some guest livestream commentary when we weren’t playing.

In my case, this meant just one visit late on the penultimate day after I bust the Mystery Bounty, but Lappin bagged up in the Main at first attempt and didn’t grind as many sides as I did, so he was available to put in a few stints. David loves the sound of his own voice at the best of times, and genuinely loves commentary, and has developed to one of the best in the business. He’s very versatile, able to switch between color and analysis whenever necessary, and to slot in alongside anyone in the booth. Hopefully he’s not reading this as I’d hate him to hear me admit he’s my favourite commentator to listen to.

He’s a true natural both as a player and commentator

Special shout-out to Thomas Murphy, who has become one of my closest friends and favourite people since we met at the Open last year. I suggested him as a potential guest commentator, and he did brilliantly. He’s a true natural both as a player and commentator, and has a very bright future in poker if he sticks around.

Final thoughts

I have a lot of happy memories from the Open down the years, but I think this was the best one yet. The organisers took on board criticisms that were made by me and others after last year, and as I said on Poker In The Ears, that made for an event that was 100% better this year. Lappin and I are not shy about voicing criticisms when we think they’re warranted, but when we do they are always intended to be constructive.

We are lucky enough to have a sponsor in Unibet who allows us to offer our genuine opinions, both positive and negative, on their competitors. I know from friends who represent other brands that this is unusual: most brands play it safe and don’t allow their ambassadors to voice their opinions on rivals, seeing it as a negative freeroll: positive opinions can be seen as promoting a rival, while negative ones can be dismissed as biased or even bought and paid for. Being free to use our platform to put forward views that help improve experiences for recreational players rather than simply serving the interests of pros or our sponsors is something we value highly.

They have restored it to the premier event on the European calendar

JP and Paul took over the Irish Open at its lowest point. They have restored it to the premier event on the European calendar and deserve full credit for that. There will always be room for improvements, but at this stage we are talking about minor tweaks rather than radical changes. It would be nice to see the championship events extended into a second day, even if it just means playing down to a final table on the first day. Sending people home to their bed and having them come back the next day makes for a better final table both for players and their rails than forcing it to finish at 7am in an empty poker room populated only by a few tired souls. Other than that one minor change, I can’t really think of anything else I’d change about what is the best event I have attended so far this year.

Finally a shoutout to one of the rising stars of Irish poker, Joe Carey, who took down the mini Irish Open. A couple of years ago we read out a question from him when we interviewed Tom “Jabracada” Hall on the Chip Race, and Tom was so impressed by the question he predicted a bright future for Joe. Good shout Tom!

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