Canucks galore – why Canadians fly more than 3,000 miles to compete at the Irish Open

Every year hundreds of Canadians make their way to Dublin to compete in the Irish Poker Open. It’s an annual migration that many of them wouldn’t miss for the world – and they rank the event their favourite overseas tournament.

For Canadians, the Irish Open is all about the “craic” – getting together with old friends, making new friends, listening to music, joining in all the fun and games and, of course, playing poker.

This year’s Irish Open is taking place from April 3 to 10 at the Royal Dublin Society – and once again Canadians will be out in force. This year Canadians can even qualify for the event online: Ontario players can qualify on PokerStars and, in other regions, players can qualify on the iPoker network on Guts, Coolbet and William Hill. Click here for full details of all the Irish Open satellites.

But what has triggered this extraordinary interest in a €1k tournament
that’s at least 3,000 miles away?

For June Jenkins and Elizabeth Bennet-Martin, it all started seven years ago when they were competing at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and started chatting about ancestry with Dublin-based TD Nick O’Hara. During the conversation, Nick mentioned an event he was involved with back home – the Irish Poker Open – and it piqued the ladies’ interest.

A road trip around Ireland? With poker thrown in?? What more could they want!!!? With her Irish background, Elizabeth was super excited as Ireland had always been high on her bucket list; adding poker into the mix was just icing on the cake.

June said: “Our first trip was just us four ladies.  It was all very last minute and we bunked in a dealer’s room. It was a helluva fun trip as we also rented an SUV and travelled around. When we got back, I started promoting it. I did a lot of travelling and shared about the Irish Open with many players including on social media. In all, I think I connected with at least 100 people who wanted to come!” Elizabeth and Kim likewise were promoting the event and telling all their friends that the Irish Open was “the most fun place in the world to play poker”.

The Canadian phenomenon takes off

Since then, the women have helped kick-start a Canadian phenomenon which shows no sign of slacking yet. June has also encouraged a lot of Americans to give the event a whirl and this year aims to bring a whole load of new players from Gulf Coast Poker. June added: “I’ve played the event five times now and what really sets it apart is the people – they play for the sport of it, but also the Craic. It’s about fun times, music and games. It’s not about winning big – it’s all about the quality-of-life factors. Beer pong and live music with nice cubbies to have a pint and chat.  This is what we come for!!”

“The best place to play poker in the world is Ireland!” 

Elizabeth Bennet-Martin

Kim said: “Our trip was so much fun we talked it up and had about 30 Canadians the following year, then closer to 100 and it has only increased every year with the exception of Covid years. Ireland itself is so beautiful and I have now seen much of it after six trips. I also love the way the event is run and the structure and affordable buy-ins for the recreational player. I like the live music and all the little extras JP and the crew do to make us all welcome – even hosting an Americas Cup tournament especially for us.”

The Griffin Benger victory!

In 2017, the Canadians really claimed the Irish Open for their own when Toronto player and poker commentator Griffin Benger won the Main Event for €200,000.

Griffin, who played the event on a whim, was thrilled that so many fellow Canadians were cheering him on at the final table.

He said: “I didn’t know any of that crew before but they were hugely supportive during my run. They go every year and just really love the balance of good fun and beautiful location that Ireland provides.” Kim added: “Celebrating with Griffin and the other Canadians after his win in 2017 was a real highlight!”

Kim’s other favourite moment was her deep run in the 2018 Main Event. She said: “Going deep in the Main Event was the best, with all my friends there to rail me, playing on the feature table and taking everyone for a celebratory dinner after finishing in 23rd position. Elizabeth, Stuart Kerridge and I were travelling together that year and I bought us matching rings which we all wear whenever we play poker.”

The World’s Largest Home Game

Another Canadian regular is Raph Verdugo from Calgary who attends the Irish Open every year with his friends Kelly Kellner and Tim Silman. This year Raph and Kelly are bringing their sons with them – “the start of a new tradition” says Raph. Raph, a sales manager in the construction industry, says the Irish Open was on his bucket list for ages before he first competed back in 2016; this year will be his sixth trip.

He said: “People always ask me why I keep going back and the answer is very clear – I call it the World’s Largest Home Game because everyone makes you feel like you’re playing down the street with all your buddies. The IPO is as inviting as any poker tournament that I have ever played in and I have played around the world in some of the biggest venues.” Raph, who enjoys up to four poker trips a year, said: “It’s the attitude that JP & Paul put forward that makes the difference; it doesn’t matter if you’re there to play a €100 satellite or if you’re a high roller in a 25-50 PLO cash game – these gentlemen treat you the same. I consider them good friends now and I can’t wait to share a beer with them!”

All the above have enjoyed cashes at the festival even if they’ve yet to take down the Main Event. Their passion for the Irish Open knows no bounds and their enthusiasm is certainly one of the reasons why the festival is such a huge success.

Good luck to all those travelling across the pond for April’s event!! is the Official Travel Partner of the Irish Open and can help with all aspects of travel for Dublin including flights, hotel reservations and even Main Event direct buy-ins. They are currently offering numerous special packages with accommodation and buy-in combined.

Picture credits: June Jenkins, Kim Kilroy, Raph Verdugo