Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Poker in Ireland

Poker in Ireland
by Mick McCloskey

Ireland has a long history of gambling from the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes, surely one of the first international lotteries, to the Irish love of horse racing and its combination with poker at race meetings, in particular the Galway Races and, of course, the Cheltenham Festival. As regards poker, I’m not quite sure when it was first played in Ireland, but I would hazard a guess, that it was probably during, or shortly after WW2. There were certainly U.S. troops stationed in Northern Ireland near the end of the war and it can be assumed that poker was one of the pastimes employed to while away the hours in places pretty much devoid of any form of organised entertainment. Poker was probably passed on from local contacts and from Irish men who served in the armed forces in Europe and the Far East and would have come into contact with the Americans. It could have also been picked up from the movies of the time and the post war years, when most cowboy films featured saloon scenes with the poker game often being central to the indoor action.

 It is generally accepted that it was the Irish who helped introduce Texas Hold ‘em to Europe through the likes of Terry Rogers, Liam Flood and Donnacha O’ Dea, to name but a few of the pioneers. Terry Rogers even organised the Irish Eccentrics Hold’em tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, in the early eighties. Back home at that time, from probably the mid seventies, charity poker tournaments were being held regularly in local hotels and halls, the game being mostly five card draw in the south and five card stud in the north of the country. Being a regular player in the stud tournaments, I was first introduced to Hold’em, probably in 1985 or 1986, when Terry Rogers organised a Hold’em tournament in N. Ireland, the winner receiving a trip to Las Vegas and entry to a support event at the World Series of Poker. I didn’t win the tournament but was fascinated by the W.S.O.P. and swore to myself that I was going to get there some day. I duly did just that, for the first time in 1987, and have been to the U.S.A. every year since. That first trip was a total revelation and I learned a lot in a short space of time. I had to; otherwise I would have gone broke!

     Up until the recent explosion of no limit hold’em games around the country, the game was mostly played in a few clubs in Dublin, where the local players took to it like ducks to water. A new breed of player emerged from these clubs ready to take on the world and eventually led to W.S.O.P. titles for Noel Furlong,Donnacha O’Dea,Ciaran O'Leary and Alan Smurfit and numerous W.S.O.P. final tables appearances for other Irish players, such as Scott Gray, Padraig Parkinson, George McKeever, and the 2005 Irish W.S.O.P. star, Andy Black.

     On the budding European tour, the Irish were also making their presence felt with Dubliner Aidan Bennett being crowned as the first European rankings champion in 1998 and Belfast born Mike Magee also a prolific winner on tour.

    For such a small nation, the Irish have had a significant impact on the world poker scene and, I believe, will continue to do so. There must be something in the Irish character which seems to make them adept at big bet poker. If you had seen 21 year old David O’Callaghan re-raising all in with 7, 2 off suit at the final table of last year’s E.P.T. event in Barcelona, you will know that the future of Irish poker is assured. David finished runner up in that event and can be seen in action on the E.P.T. television coverage.

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