Thousands of poker players from all over the world will be making their annual pilgrimage to Dublin in a couple of months to take part in the Irish Poker Open. The €1 million guaranteed event – which is taking place at the Royal Dublin Society from April 3 to April 10 – is considered an absolute must on the international poker calendar and always attracts a stellar crowd.
However, what many Irish Open entrants don’t know is that they are competing in a truly remarkable event, the longest-running No Limit Hold’em tournament outside of Vegas with a history going back more than 40 years.
The Irish Poker Open was first held in 1980 by maverick Irish bookmaker Terry Rogers. Rogers, a well-known and well-established bookie in Dublin was a real poker fan who had been hosting stud and draw tournaments at his Dublin “Eccentric Club” throughout the 70s.
At the time, No Limit Hold’em was starting to make an impact in the States but was virtually unknown on this side of the pond. That all changed when Rogers visited Vegas during a business trip to the USA. There he met the legendary casino owner Benny Binion and started befriending players at Binion’s high-stakes poker games. In 1979, Rogers took part in the World Series of Poker event – which was then held at Binion’s celebrated Horseshoe casino – and realised just how exciting and thrilling Hold’em could be.
Up until then, poker in Europe was dominated by stud and draw, but Rogers’ passion for the new variant was contagious and helped kick-start the game’s dominance across the Continent.
In 1980, Rogers held the first Irish Poker Open. It was won by Irish player Colette Doherty who actually won the Irish Open twice, taking it down again in 1991. She also hit the spotlight for being the first European – and the first female player – to compete at the World Series.
The real game-changer for the Irish Poker Open however came in 1984 when a group of around 25 Americans travelled to Ireland to play the tournament at Killiney Castle. The group included the reigning World Series of Poker champion Tom McEvoy as well as two times World Champion Stu Ungar, Chip Reese and Doyle Brunson. Bobby Baldwin and Amarillo Slim also both played the Irish Open at some point during the 1980’s. The £1,000 buy-in Main Event attracted widespread TV and press coverage in Ireland and put the Irish Poker Open firmly on the map.
When Terry Rogers died in 1999, his long-time friend and colleague Liam Flood took over. Flood was one of Ireland’s most celebrated poker players and had already won the event twice – in 1990 and 1996. Flood was responsible for taking the Irish Open from a smallish event to one of the largest and most prestigious poker tournaments in the world.
Flood died in 2014 and the Liam Flood Memorial Championship Event has been held in his honour ever since. The €250 turbo is one of the flagship events of the Irish Poker Open schedule and takes place next year on April 9.
JP McCann & Paul O’Reilly take over
Today the Irish Poker Open is one of the most popular and important fixtures on the international poker calendar. The annual event, now in its 43rd year, has played out at many different venues – from its humble start at the Eccentric Club in Dublin to the Merrion Casino, Killiney Castle, the Burlington Hotel, Jury’s, CityWest and this year – for the first time – the historic Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge.
In 2016, Paul O’Reilly and JP McCann took over the Irish Open – bringing the buy-in back down to an affordable €1,150 (from €3,200) and slapping on a massive guarantee. Their vision for the event was a true festival of poker that would appeal to players of all kinds. Their vision was spot on; the very first event smashed the €500k guarantee and attracted 802 players, generating a prize pool of over €800k.
Ever since O’Reilly and McCann got involved, the Irish Open has enjoyed ever-increasing fields. In 2017, the Main Event field was up to 1,129 players – with Canada’s Griffin Benger seizing the iconic title and a €200,000 first prize. In 2018 there were 1,348 entries and, in 2019, 1,807 entries.
The event was held online for two years during the pandemic but was back as a live event last year with a huge field of 2,040 entries. Poker legend Steve O’Dwyer, who has lived in Dublin for the last ten years, won the first prize of €318,700 in a stunning display of poker acumen. O’Dwyer bulldozed his way to victory by busting all eight of his final table opponents. Despite 30 major tournament victories and more than $33 million in live tournament winnings to his name, the Irish Open was the first time O’Dwyer had won a tournament with a field of 2,000+ players.
The 2023 Irish Open
O’Reilly and McCann are expecting huge number of entries this year. O’Reilly said: “JP and I have always loved the Irish Open and really wanted to throw ourselves into making it one of the best tournaments in the world but the way it has grown since 2016 has really blown us away. We are delighted that so many players, from all over the world, attend the event every year and clearly have such a great time when they’re here. We are very excited about this year’s festival because of our new partnership with Paddy Power Poker, PokerStars and the iPoker network. This has opened up the Irish Open to thousands of players worldwide who now have a chance to win their way into the event”
The Irish Poker Open takes place at the Royal Dublin Society from April 3 to April 10. MainEventTravel is the Official Travel Partner, making it easier than ever to sort out everything you need to take part in the longest-running NLHE tournament in Europe all in one place: flights, hotels AND Main Event buy-ins.