“Making money, friends and memories”: The Rec’s Irish Poker Open experience

Jim Reid and David Lappin with a friend in the bar area of the irish Poker Open, 2024.
Jim Reid
Posted on: April 03, 2024 15:37 PDT

If you haven’t heard, the Irish Poker Open is a poker series like no other, and all my friends have been telling me to go for years. But I’m a recreational player and can’t afford to jet-set all over the world just for poker, so I have to combine my trips with other life events and bucket list items to make it work, and this year that meant celebrating my wedding anniversary in the British Isles!

Do I have the best life? Yes, yes I do.

There are a ton of things to see and do all over Dublin and Ireland generally, so if you are thinking about coming to join the fun next year, give yourself some extra days to get out and about and see the sights like we did. Also, know that accommodation in Dublin is expensive so get a roommate if you can - and you might want to load up on PB&J! That being said, the value of the poker experience itself is unparalleled by other tournament festivals. So let me tell you how I made some money, some friends, and a ton of memories on my first trip playing in the Open this year.

Cards, camaraderie and the ‘Craic Den’

To start, I was surprised on my flight over to see that I was seated across the aisle from my friend Elizabeth Bennett-Martin who won the Ladies Event last year. And in the next seat over? Miruna Muller, who I would later watch from the rail as she won that same event this year! The Ladies Event was a huge success, and while my relatively-less-poker-experienced wife didn’t yet feel comfortable outside of our own home game, she was so impressed with the warmth, camaraderie and friendliness that next year she’ll make it her first competitive playing experience.

Miruna Muller ensured the Ladies Event trophy stayed in Canadian hands Miruna Muller ensured the Ladies Event trophy stayed in Canadian hands Irish Poker Open

That same warmth, camaraderie and friendliness permeates the entire series, and it starts at the very top with Paul O’Reilly and JP McCann. The IO is the longest-running poker festival outside of North America, and since Paul and JP took over in 2016 it’s gotten bigger and better each year. It’s not hyperbole to say that I have never felt so welcomed, so at home, so relaxed and comfortable at an international poker series. Paul and JP in particular, but also all their admin team, press gang, floor staff, dealers, bartenders, servers - even security guards - all blew me away with their hospitality and professionalism. Everything was so well organized and smoothly run; the lines were short but the blind levels were long, the drinks were cold but the cards were hot!

Speaking of drinks, it’s not just about the cards; there are myriad social activities and fun competitions spread throughout the series, many taking place right onsite at the local pub they call the ‘Craic Den’. If you don’t know, ‘craic’ (pronounced ‘crack’) in Irish means a mix of a good time, a fun vibe, and a great story to share with friends. The ‘Craic Den’' perfectly captures this meaning with its fantastic live music, nightly contests and general tomfoolery.

Down in the Den Down in the Den Irish Poker Open

The event sponsors, PokerStars and Paddy Power, contributed tons of great prizes and the Den staff love to give them away! Shuffleboard, cornhole, video games, footraces, casino games, beer pong - you can even lose money at the tables during the day and come out ahead at the Craic Den, as David Lappin and I placed first and second to Spraggy’s third in a series of challenges culminating in a karaoke contest where David was rightly awarded a $2,500 package from PokerStars, and I took home a €1,150 main event package for an ESPT tournament series coming up this June in Malaga, Spain. (Sorry about that Spraggy, but thanks for the pint and it was really nice to meet you.)

This was part of Niall ‘Firaldo’ Farrell’s annual leaderboard competition, which is named after the winner each year, so look for ways to enter the Lappin Leaderboard competition for free in April 2025 to play along and win! Now that’s some good craic!

Niall ‘Firaldo’ Farrell, wearing his kit and ready to play Niall ‘Firaldo’ Farrell, wearing his kit and ready to play Irish Poker Open

What about the poker?

Now, I hear you asking: it sounds like the series is a ton of fun away from the tables, but what about the poker?!? Well, more good news: with buy-ins for side events ranging from €200 to €550 (not including the €5,000 high-roller) and the Main Event at €1,150, there’s a fantastic mix of all different player types and skill levels.

I spoke to several recreational players who only come to the tables once a year to throw some cards and chips around and have a few drinks with old friends, but the fields are also studded with some of the world’s best players. What’s more, they are all to be found at the Craic Den at the end of the night, blowing off steam, signing autographs and making new friends.

There are also cash games running 24/7 with a good mix of players and skill levels at many of the stakes. If you are a disciplined player at the cash tables you can do very well here, although note that these games get deep: the buy-in cap at €1/€2 is €1,000 which is 500 big blinds! So only buy in for a stack you are comfortable playing. I always like to start with 100 bigs and then later, after getting a read on the other folks at my table, deciding if I want to add on to cover the other players… or if I want to find another seat at a better table.

The cash game tables were bustling The cash game tables were bustling Irish Poker Open

The tournament experience

I loved that most of the tournaments were one rebuy only, which feels like the sweet spot for recs like me. Unlimited rebuys very clearly advantage pro players with deep pockets, who can take flip after flip and bust/rebuy as often as they need to in order to get a big stack. Freezeouts are the most fair format from that point of view, but when traveling it can be frustrating to bust early via a bad beat and not be able to fire again, so I was very pleased to see one - and only one - rebuy offered for most of the events.

I was particularly pleased with my own tournament experiences this week, and that includes starting each day with a ‘ breakfast Guinness’ (I mean, when in Rome…). On the first day I entered the 6-max for €350 to knock some rust off before the bigger events. I don’t like to play short-handed, so this was the very first live 6-max tournament I have ever played - and I made the final table along with Joe Stapleton and some real crushers!

I was able to play at Joe’s table a few times throughout the day, which was great because he was buying rounds every time we laddered up. Plus, I found out later that because I was at Joe’s table I was featured on the live-stream by Felix Schneiders’ awesome stream team and co-commentator Olli Petri, and I think they really got a kick out of my shot glass chip protector!

It was great to see some other recreational player friends of mine get some screen time and shout-outs too. That’s one of the intangible benefits of live events like this - you get to mingle with the hoi polloi of the poker world: I even got invited to sit for fish’n’chips (I was the fish) with Dara O’Kearney, Barry Carter, David Lappin, and their two friends Laura and Keith at the dinner break. How cool is that?

L-R: David Lappin, Adam McKola, Ben Spragg, Jim Reid and Niall Farrell in the ‘Craic Den’ L-R: David Lappin, Adam McKola, Ben Spragg, Jim Reid and Niall Farrell in the ‘Craic Den’ Irish Poker Open

Back at the tables in the 6-max, while I didn’t play flawlessly (in fact I quite clearly ICM-punted off my last 9 big blinds to bust in 6th place overall) I used my years of podcast learning to really crush the fundamentals and I think I played very well to get there. I didn’t mess with the big stacks but I raised the others relentlessly; I didn’t bloat pots out of position; I was methodical with my sizings; I abused the bubble when I had a stack; I picked good bluff spots and value bets… it felt great, and I took home €4,700 from one €350 bullet, which is a fantastic result for someone like me who isn’t bankrolled for the bigger events out there.

But that’s not all! Later in the week I also cashed the main event in 369th place for another €2k! I never really got a stack on day one, but I had a fantastic time making new friends and laughing it up at the tables - if you were following along on Twitter you probably saw me drinking three shots and two pints in the last hour of play for day one. While I don’t recommend that strategy for everyone, it was a spectacularly fun way to wrap up the day and that’s not the kind of experience you can find just anywhere.

Laddering up and tipping out

Later in the Main Event I was most proud of nursing my 7-10 big blind stack along for the last two hours of play on day 2 before the bubble burst, and laddering up with 4 bigs to claim an extra €300 just by folding for 40 minutes after the bubble. Folks that know me know that I like to get my chips in the middle, so that’s probably the most disciplined I’ve ever been with a short stack and it was extremely validating to have it pay off.

A green all-in triangle sits atop a pile of chips at the Irish Poker Open Danny Maxwell/Rational Intellectual Holdings Limited

While I bricked two bullets each into the America’s Cup and the Hendon Mob Championship, between the four tournaments I entered I cashed two and final tabled one, buying in for a total of €2,200 for the week and cashing for a total of €6,700. I therefore netted out around €4,500 to the good in tourneys alone, not counting some juicy cash game action or the €1,150 PokerStars Malaga Main Event seat I won via karaoke - but also not counting tip-outs to the dealers after I claimed my prizes.

After some spirited debate on Twitter, it seems that anywhere from 0.5% to 2% is a customary amount to choose to tip out at the cage - if you want to - with some players preferring to leave a little more and some none at all. Most tournament buy-ins these days already include a gratuity for the staff, so don’t feel pressured to leave some behind if you’re not inclined to.

So, all in all, a great event, a great crowd, a great experience and great fun! But the highlight of my trip? While I was trying to figure out how to pitch a return visit to my wife (Mrs. BLUFFSTORINI, as she prefers to be known) she turned to me and said “You know, Jim, I think we might just have to come back every year!”

Hope to see you then as well, readers, and if you can snag a seat next to me on the flight over, I’d say that’s a sign of some good craic to come!

Jim Reid is a longtime lover of poker, a member of the  PokerOrg Player Advisory Board, and host of the popular  RecPoker podcast.