Craic’d aces: The history of the Irish Poker Open

An archive photograph from the early days of the irish Poker Open
Author Adam Hampton
Adam Hampton
Posted on: February 23, 2024 21:39 PST

You may have heard that there’s a prestigious poker tournament taking place later this year, in one of the party capitals of the world, with five decades of history behind it. And that history features some of the greatest players to have played the game, from Stu Ungar to Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, Chip Reece, Tom McEvoy and Puggy Pearson.

But before you go shouting that you already know all about this year’s WSOP, that’s not the tournament we’re talking about.

No, the one we have in mind is taking place 5,000 miles from the Las Vegas strip, but should still be circled in every tournament player’s calendar: the Irish Poker Open (IO).

When this famous tourney returns to the Royal Dublin Society, from March 25 to April 1 this year, it will be the latest in a history of epic ‘ craic’-filled tournaments that stretches almost as far back in time as the WSOP itself. How far back? Glad you asked.

Mr Rogers’ kind of neighborhood

Irish bookmaker Terry Rogers was on a trip to the west coast. The year was 1979, it was summer, and he stopped off in Las Vegas looking for a poker game. With the WSOP in full swing, he found the biggest one he’d ever seen.

WSOP 1979 champion Hal Fowler

1979 was the year Bobby Baldwin won the 2-7 Draw bracelet, Doyle Brunson and Starla Brodie won the mixed doubles, Johnny Moss won the big 7-Card Stud event, and Gary Berland and Lakewood Louie each won two bracelets - not bad going, considering there were only 12 tournaments on the schedule.

The winner of the Main Event, however, was Hal Fowler (pictured). His status as an amateur, emerging victorious from a field of pros, helped draw focus to the event and led to a significantly larger field the following year - where have we heard a story like that before?

Terry Rogers loved what he saw and, having made friends with the tournament organizer Benny Binion, resolved to bring the idea back home to Dublin.

Rogers made one small tweak to the formula: back in the days of disco, hold’em was barely played in Europe, so when the very first Irish Poker Open took place in April 1980 it was played as a 5-Card Stud event (kids - look it up). Colette Doherty finished first for £22k, using some of her winnings to become the first woman to play the WSOP that summer.

She’d go on to win the IO once more, in 1991, but it wouldn’t be as a stud player; ever since the IO’s second running in 1981, the Main Event has been a no-limit hold’em tournament. Poker in Europe would never be the same again.

Two-time Irish Poker Open champion Colette Doherty

Friends with benefits

Rogers’ friendship with Benny Binion helped the Irishman draw some of the biggest players from the Las Vegas scene over to play the IO.

Those famous names listed above all made the trip across the Atlantic (it was the first time Stu Ungar had left the USA) and Rogers went to great pains to make them feel welcome, going so far as to meet Amarillo Slim at Dublin airport with a white horse to ride.

This blooming relationship between Ireland and Las Vegas was no one way street, and more and more Irish players began traveling to play the WSOP each summer. Noel Furlong made the final table in 1989, having already won the IO the same year, and went on to become the first Irish WSOP champion a decade later. His Irish compatriot Padraig Parkinson came third, outlasting Erik Seidel and Huck Seed at the final table.

Bigger and bigger

Amarillo Slim, Liam Flood and Mr T at a poker game

By then Rogers had passed on the reins to tournament director Liam Flood, and under the late Flood’s leadership the IO became the largest, and longest-running, poker tournament series in Europe. It even survived an incident in 1990 when the tournament cashiers made off with the entire prize pool! At the time Rogers reimbursed players from his own, presumably deep, pockets.

Rest assured that security standards have improved dramatically in the intervening 34 years, while buy-ins, prize money, side events and the size of the field have all increased exponentially. The 2023 ME winner, David Docherty, won just shy of $400k for his victory, after the €1 million guarantee was smashed with a total prize pool of almost €2.5 million. This year’s showcase tourney also features a €1m guarantee, with a Mini Irish Open offering a crazy €500k guarantee for a buy-in of just €200. 

Ireland-based poker pro Steve O'Dwyer poses with his Irish Open trophy

And echoing the days of Ungar, Brunson and Reece, more recent years have seen other big names from the USA traveling to take their shot at the IO title. The likes of Jamie Gold, Dan Harrington, Jennifer Tilly and Phil Laak have all made the trip, enjoying the poker, the city and the famous ‘craic’ for which it’s famous.

Because yes, the stories of Dublin’s notorious nightlife are true, and the IO has become as celebrated for its thriving social scene as its top-notch poker tournaments. As Liam Flood himself once put it, “It’s half and half to do with the poker and the boozing. When you’re knocked out of the tournament, there’s a lot of partying going on.”

Former IO champion and Hendon Mob co-founder Joe ‘The Elegance’ Beevers agreed: “I’d actually say that it was 100 percent about poker and 100 percent about drinking. Most people aren’t sat around with drinks while playing in the tournament but the attitude of players in Dublin is very different from London or Paris. People have  great craic. It really is unlike any other tournament.”

So, if you’re looking for a great tournament - and a great time - this spring, we’d recommend heading to the Emerald Isle to play Europe’s longest running tournament series. You’ll be joining some illustrious company.

A 1984 shot of the Irish Poker Open in action

Satellites are available now at PokerStars and PaddyPower Poker, and direct buy-ins are available at both sites. PokerStars is also running an Irish Open Online series, with IO prize packages added for all tournament winners, while Montreal's Playground and the UK's Dusk Till Dawn are also running live mega-satellites.

The Irish Poker Open takes place at the Royal Dublin Society, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, from March 25 to April 1. Events include PLO, heads-up and mystery bounty tournaments, with buy-ins ranging from €150 to the €5,000 high roller. A dedicated room for cash games is available that runs 24 hours with its own late bar!

The €1m GTD Main Event is a four-day event with a €1,150 buy-in and four starting flights, starting March 27. Head to the Irish Poker Open site for more details, including a full tournament schedule.

Images courtesy of the Irish Open/UNLV Special Collection on the WSOP