Ten years on: Meet 2013 Irish Open Main Event Champion Ian Simpson

In April 2011, an Englishman embarked on a journey to Dublin and was buzzing to join the action of the Irish Open. His live poker resumé until then featured three minor cashes for around £1,000, essentially what one now needs to enter the Irish Open Main Event. Ian Simpson didn’t have to pay the entry fee of €3,500 to enter alongside 614 other players however as he qualified through a satellite.

“I don’t think I even made Day 2 back then, ace-king versus ace-king versus jacks and I couldn’t find a card,” he grinned. “Back then I was a recreational player and it was a freezeout. Amazing experience all the same,” Simpson said with a smile on his face during the first break of Day 1c today.

“But yeah, looking back at those memories and being here more than a decade later, at a brand new venue and it has grown to thousands and thousands of people, is fantastic.”

Simpson would be back the very next year and not only made Day 2 but went far further. Out of a field of 502 entries, he finished in fourth place for €107,500 while Kevin Vandersmissen from Belgium collected €420,000 and posed for the winner shots.

The poker bug and perhaps the Irish craic certainly caught Simpson as he returned yet again the following year and what a memory that trip turned out to be. Again, there were no big cashes in between with two scores at the EPT London. He was still, kind of, the same recreational player but that would soon change. Under the spotlights of the live stream cameras, Simpson came out on top of a 505-entry strong field to claim the title, trophy and top prize of €265,000.

Back then, the tournament was a freezeout, which helped the self-described amateur player who was not afraid to put the chips in, as he was getting more folds than he should have.

Moments after his victory, Simpson went down on bended knee and proposed to his girlfriend Emma. It was a long-planned move but not the location.

He said: “I’d planned to propose in St Stephen’s Green Park in the city center. I was going to propose there but then I realised I was going to have all the cameras on me, and all of my family, and all of Emma’s family, all of our friends watching the Irish Open. And I realised she couldn’t say no, she was handcuffed into it – perfect plan!”

[There was a big smile on Ian’s face, perhaps that part was just a joke.]

Since then, a lot of things have changed at the Irish Open, – a change in venues and a more moderate buy-in with re-entries.

“The landscape of poker has changed to accommodate all that. I understand the change, I was nostalgic about the time it was a €3,500 Freezeout with a more robust side event schedule … I loved those days but I actually love the €1k re-entry as well, both are great”.

As far as Simpson is concerned, he went from being recreational poker player to a sponsored ambassador. Previously patched up by Unibet, he is now representing 888poker and regularly live-streams his exploits in the online arena with his secret poker coach lurking in the background – his cats, obviously.

Every year since the back-to-back final tables, he has come back to Dublin to participate in the Irish Open Main Event and potentially become the first two-time winner in modern times. Even during the global coronavirus pandemic, Simpson played in the online edition as well to keep the streak alive.

While each table can be different during each of the times – from quiet to boisterous or trash talking and enjoying a point of Guinness – the overall atmosphere has pretty much remained the same.

“People are having fun, they’re relaxed, everyone is friendly and railing each other, cheering on. There is a little bit less anxiety about busting. I noticed that little change, especially the regs, but that is a little change.”

The atmosphere and also the event’s history as the oldest running live poker tournament in Europe is actually the biggest reason for Simpson to make the event in Dublin so special. Well, apart from running good in the event two years in a row, because otherwise he might not actually be the renowned player that he is now.

“The Irish in particular treat it like a rite of passage to get here and play. The Irish recreational players every year post on social media. Even before social media, it was sort of word of mouth. Everyone would make the pilgrimage here to play it and that still exists. You can really see that in the excitement of the players who come here.”

In this past decade, Simpson has also undergone a change in his playing style as well. No longer the absolute maniac far far away from GTO, he now almost spends more time studying the game than actually competing. “So much has changed since in my game. I couldn’t even begin to list what has …” he joked.

“I try to study as much as I can besides being a dad and husband, and actually playing the game. But yeah, my game has changed dramatically. I try to keep on top of my studies because if I don’t, I get overtaken by the good regs.”

The favourite aspect of the new Ian Simpson is “putting people in the bin with bluffs … no, that is consistent, I have always done that,” the Englishman joked. He has also come along quite well with all the banter of coming here to steal the trophy and title, even in his Ireland-heavy WhatsApp chat groups.

Whether or not he will be back on the final table in a few days remains to be seen. The first few levels were eventful but his stack size didn’t show much of that in the first break of Day 1c.

“Yeah, I have been ready to fire all-in on the river like three times already but I got the folds. I have just over starting stack, because those moves actually worked but everything else went wrong so I am just a little up.”

He plans on bagging whatever the hell he can and then come back to battle on Day 2.