Thursday, May 16, 2013, 9:35 AM
The final day of this year’s Irish Open was a great laugh. If you happened to be in the bar. Popular northern Ireland player Billy Johnstone was claiming he’d chopped up a side event. If you’d seen him playing, you’d find it hard to believe. His wife certainly did, as when he phoned to tell her he’d had a good touch, she assumed it was an April Fool joke. There a school of though he should have told her she was right. I only believed it myself when he started buying beer for everyone, as he’s originally from Scotland, where such extravagance is frowned upon.
Then two cops arrived. They seemed surprised that the place was half empty. They quickly figured out that the TV set was the biggest security headache and set about staking out the area immediately around it. They had obviously been to disguise school as they removed their hats during the horse racing. You’d never have known they were cops. If You only looked at their heads. One of them asked me how I was getting on at the poker. I told him if the poker was going well, it was unlikely I’d be in the bar talking to him. I also advised him not to waste too much time studying for detective exams. You’d need to have been a pretty good detective (or play on 888) to figure out that there was an 888 Super Stack tournament in Dublin last weekend. It was the best kept secret in the history of Irish poker. Considering most Irish players are either gossips, drunks or both it was a hell of an achievement. Those who didn’t know about it missed out on a decent overlay and a tournament played in the true spirit of Irish poker, played mainly by English players and three danes who turned up out of nowhere. Sadly, the next one is going to be open to everyone!
I fell in love with the Irish Open when I first played it in the Eccentrics club in the eighties and became its biggest fan (except for Jesse May maybe). It’s sad, despite the efforts of a dedicated and talented team, to watch it slide down the totem pole of mustplay european tournaments. I blame the bean counters who’ve cut out TV coverage, added money to side events and a few other things that made this event the best in Europe. I’d like to take them in a time machine to visit the Eccentrics club the day Furlong beat the great Jimmy Langan. Then, I’d take them to the jackpot to hear Micky Finns victory speech which showed just how much this title used to mean. After that, to the Burlington to see Marty Smyth and Neil Channing win in as electric an atmosphere as you’ll ever witness at a poker tournament. Maybe then, they’d realise that what they have is priceless.
Sunday, April 28, 2013, 3:06 PM
A good few years ago, Liam Flood and Dave O’Neill were in the bar in the Aviation Club in Paris. Flood was there pretending to be promoting the Irish Open and he brought Dave along to make himself look important. The fact that Paris was full of Irish players and the French were sick of listening to people banging on about the Irish Open was irrelevant. If anyone could appreciate two guys doing one job which didn’t need to be done, it’s the French. Liam was at the bar bull**** some guy, while Dave was having a beer with the lads. After a while, Liam shouted over to Dave, asking him what was the cheapest way of travelling from Paris to Vienna. “Walking”, Dave replied and carried on with his conversation. Some people found this funnier than others!
Picking an Irish team used to be pretty easy. Sober and solvent was enough to get you in. Solvent anyway! Nowadays, about 25 players think they should be in the team and most of them have a good case. I wish it was a 15 man team, as I think we could go that deep without weakening the team, but it’s not. So, I was relieved when I asked Mr Blaines his opinion at an awards dinner in Paris (He won one. I didn’t. Ok, I wasn’t even ****ing nominated.) and he came up with the same team I did. I was delighted to have a fall guy ready to throw under the bus if required.
It turned out that the only way to get to Cyprus within the budget we’d been given was to take Dave O’Neill’s advice and start walking. The second option involved a 12 hour journey which, if you don’t drink, is a proper pain in the ass, so it says a lot about the honour it is to play for your country that 5 (Eoghan ODea, Dermot Blaine, Big MickG, Cat Taylor and me) out of the 7 players selected in the original team showed up in Cyprus. The two who didn’t had good excuses. Jason Tomkins was in Australia. There was a time when this wouldn’t have been a problem, as the English used to run a free shuttle for the Irish. All you had to was steal a loaf of bread or a head of cabbage and you’d be on your way in no time. The day a Tory government suspended this junket was a sad day indeed for Ireland. ****ing Tories Luckily, Dara O’Kearney, a guy with a knowledge of duplicate competitions from playing bridge, was available to sub up and made history by being the first Irish player to do exactly what he was asked to do. A few guys I asked to play had to cry off for genuine reasons like college exams, TV commitments, no passport and didn’t want to get one as that would mean he’d miss the Masters and most reasonable of all the wife wont let me go. I won’t embarrass the last guy by naming him and wouldn’t be giving too much away by saying his surname rhymes with Navan. Navin even. He was a huge loss as a) he pulled out at the last minute and b) he’s Irelands champion drink buyer. It wasn’t too bad as it turned out drink was cheap, and better again Rob Taylor, a decent player in his own right was going to be there anyway so all was fine.
I would like to take a lot of the credit for our victory but can’t really. At a team meeting the night before the event, I outlined a plan I’d come up with that I thought would ensure our finishing comfortably in the top six, which was all that we needed to do to qualify for the World Championship. Basically, it involved everyone playing a style that they as individuals would be happiest at. Nobody disagreed but maybe that was because I’d had a few drinks. It seemed to work the first day as we were well placed overnight. There was a change of tactics the next day that nobody told me about. Maybe it was because I’d said I’d step down as captain if we didn’t qualify and that was a higher priority! Somehow or other we fell over the line anyway. It made me feel great to be Irish when I saw just how delighted the team were at winning **** all. Did I mention there was no prize money? Spain and Cyprus also qualified and won the same prize money we did. Who said poker doesn’t reflect life? It was great for Big Mick. He’d never won a trophy before and then won 3 in one day including MVP. I hadn’t realised there was a cup and medals and stuff. This is my excuse for a speech that thankfully has not been preserved for posterity.
It was great to see the UK qualifying with us. Jesse and I had a lot of fun slagging them off in the commentary during the final session, but the truth is most of their team have been friends of ours for years so we are allowed to take the piss. Barny Boatman, as proud a man as I’ve ever seen captaining his country, came up to Jesse’s commentary position and kindly explained all. He said he’d picked an experienced team as he felt they could operate efficiently as a team and discuss and formulate tactics without egos getting in the way and that that was exactly what had happened. A few hours later, I was congratulating Barny on both his individual award and his teams success, when he told me he’d just found out that two of his team mates had completely misunderstood the scoring system. You couldn’t make this stuff up!
The losing of the cup? After the celebration, my last beer for 3 months, the team all made it home safely. That’s more than I can say for the trophy.
Sunday, April 21, 2013, 7:56 PM
As captain of the Irish poker team, I’d like to tell you that I spent the two hours before the final session last weekend of the IFP Poker Nations Cup poring over hand historys, discussing tactics and considering a possible substitution with my team mates. But I didn’t. Because A) I’d lost my team and B) the Manchester United match was on TV (maybe I’ve got A and B mixed up).What I was really doing was drinking beer with Jesse May and watching the football. We got around to swapping Alan Betson stories of which there are dozens. One of our favourites concerned the early days of internet poker when a player was considered all in for whatever he had in the pot if he was unfortunate enough to be disconnected in the course of a hand. The only certainty in poker as in the game of life is that if you give people a chance to cheat, a certain number will consider it careless not to do so. As a result, disconnections were a little more frequent than they should be and usually favoured the player who was disconnected. Alan had an account of his investigated after numerous complaints about him disconnecting. The investigator was baffled when he discovered that for once these disconnections were a mixture of profitable and costly for him which was not what they were expecting to find. They advised Alan to talk to his internet provider and they duly sent a guy around to his house who found everything was fine. Just before he left, Alan opened the door of a fridge beside his computer to get himself a beer and his computer disconnected! The technical guy quickly worked out that these two events were related and advised Alan to either quit drinking, or move the fridge. He moved the fridge.
If you think this has nothing to do with team poker, you’re wrong. It’s got everything to do with it and I’m going to tell you why. I’ve been involved in every Irish team that’s played a major international event for years now. I’ve been both the problem and the problem solver. As a player, I’ve been guilty of keeping the team up half the night. As captain, I’ve been the first to impose a curfew. Ok… I’m a hypocrite. What I have seen is that some guys up their game when playing for their country while others either crack under the pressure, shit on it or can’t leave their egos at the door and seek attention, not points. This applies to the Irish at least as much as anyone. We have definitely underachieved. One of our number threw away the PPP Grand Slam when we had it in the bag. Their have been other offences sometimes when you’d least expect them, but poker players are like that and you never know what’s going to happen till it happens. You could show six monkeys a couple of bunches of bananas in a cupboard and an empty fridge beside a laptop. With a little training, they’d ignore the fridge and head for the grub. Substitute six poker players for the monkeys and at least one of them will look longingly towards the fridge. That’s why when Ireland play team poker, you don’t hear shouts of “Go Ireland” or “Go on you boys in green”, but will frequently hear a roar of “Stay away from that ****ing fridge.”
Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 11:07 AM
On our recent tour of Ireland, Scott Gray and I visited casinos, clubs, pubs and backrooms all over Ireland, playing with guys who play for the love of the game. It was great craic. At every venue, we were giving away 888 gear as spot prizes to the bubble, high hand, 7 2 winners etc but in Claremorriss, a guy suggested the main prize go to the first guy who had to go to the cash machine! That’s the Irish for you.
We were asked all the usual questions like “How good is Ivey?” and “Is Helmuth for real?” etc, but I was surprised at how many guys wanted to talk about the great Stu Ungar. I’d only played an hour or two with him, which was fine by me. His buddy Mike Sexton had advised me to stay well out of his way and I did! Scott had played with him in a big NLH game in Binions back in the day. Stuey was obviously between bankrolls at the time, as there was a large gentleman sitting behind him who was hugely interested in proceedings. As a result of this setup, Scott ran a bluff on the river in a big pot against him. He said he’d never have done it if the big guy wasn’t supervising Stueys play. Stu squirmed a few times, looked at Scott, looked at the pot, looked at the big guy, looked at the pot again, looked at the big guy again and mucked his hand. Being a gentleman, Scott showed the bluff. Stu tapped the table and complimented Scott on his play. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. Stu stood up, screamed "I xxxxing knew it" a couple of times and ran out of the room. For the next week, he followed Scott around challenging him to a heads-up match (a good internet play). There was no chance of that happening, so they became friends for life!
In 1981, Stu was one of the big names who travelled to Ireland for a star-studded event that kicked off big time tournament poker in Europe. At one stage Doyle, who was also on that trip, included him in his list of the top five players in the world. He liked that but was less than pleased when he also included him in his list of the top five steamers! It’s a shame Stu is no longer with us. He could have joined us on our Irish tour. He’d have loved Claremorriss. If Doyle was right, he’d have either won all the money or at least got an 888 shirt for first visit to the cash machine. A win win situation!
Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 1:37 PM
At one stage on the 888 IRISH TOUR, I was asked if the story about a hand I’d played 25 years ago was true. I said it depended on which version you’d heard.
The incident occurred in the Rathmines club, a spot where the bizarre was usual and treated as such. It couldn’t last and it didn’t. The guys involved in the pot were me, Johnny Suitcase and Peter Mulligan. Suitcase was so called because he developed the habit whilst in Vegas of jumping up and shouting “Suitcase!” every time he was all in which was apparently an indication that if he was called and lost he was off to the airport. As Johnny was the same height standing up as he was sitting down the standing up bit impressed no one but the shout was admired far and wide. Peter Mulligan was so called because that was his name.
We were playing a 3 table 100 quid tournament. Mulligan was dealing and I was seated directly to his right. After a while, I raised a pot, Suitcase called and then bet when 3 clubs appeared on the flop. For a second I thought this was great news. Then I realised Peter, who was at least half in the bag, had very efficiently taken my two lovely clubs away preflop. I felt like a complete idiot for not realising that this was a strong possibility and I should have been more careful. Especially as I’d been in the pub with the dealer. So I moved all-in anyway and Johnny mucked his hand.
That should have been the end of it but the Irish love a good story, especially if they can embellish it. They did. Over the years, the tournament got bigger and bigger until it eventually became a cash game. I’ve heard it told by several eye witnesses who weren’t even in Dublin at the time. Llast time I heard it the pot was 30k. Sterling.
Years later Nicky Power asked me about the pot. I told him the truth. You’d think he might have learnt something from it. You know like it’s considered a good idea to protect your hand at all times. Not at all! That’d be too simple for Nicky. A while later, he was very deep in the Irish Open. Roland de Wolfe has bet the flop. Nicky moved all in. This was ballsy of him as Roland was running like God at the time. It was particularly so as, when Roland passed, Nicky revealed that he had no cards. He went on to make the final table and is these days living happily in a lunatic asylum known to outsiders as Waterford.
It goes on. One day, I was talking to TJ Cloutier who began to tell me a story about how he won a pot after the dealer stole his hand. I swear I kept a straight face when I asked him why a player of his experience hadn’t protected his cards.