Poker: A Team Sport in Ireland

Poker: A Team Sport in Ireland 0001

The City West hotel, Dublin was the venue for the first ever Irish Poker Cup, one of the most exciting events this year in Irish poker run by pokerevents.ie, and the first ever All Ireland inter-county team event. 32 teams (one for each county in the Republic and Northern Ireland) made up of 10 players each lined up for a 320 player freeze out.

The idea is simple. Each team starts with 500 points and as players get knocked out, points are deducted from their team’s overall score. The earlier a player exits the tournament the more points their team loses. There were also bonus points for players who made the final table. Also, players on the same team would not be placed on the same table unless it was impossible to keep them apart. This wasn’t expected to happen until the final 3 or 4 tables.

The cream of Irish Poker showed up to wear their county colours with pride. The connections however, that some players had to their chosen county teams were somewhat hazy. Many teams had several Dublin based players in their line-up, who may or may not have had a great aunt with whom they once spent a weekend in the country. Apparently that was enough get on that counties team despite the rules explicitly stating you had to be based or have a family tie to that county. This was understandable though as Texas Holdem is very much still in the toddler stages of its development in rural Ireland. The game has been played in Dublin for at least 30 years, but in my home City of Limerick people have really only been playing the game (mostly in pubs) for about 2-3 years. For this reason many counties struggled to find players strong enough to compete with the likes of Dublin, Cork and Galway and many of the strong players from Northern Ireland.

Counties where casinos or cardrooms have been in place for some time had the advantage of a bigger and more experienced player base to chose from, so naturally other team captains (including myself) had to do some scouting for “foreign” yet eligible players. Some counties in the end failed to field a full team and Offaly lost the toss to have their team broken up and used as substitutes for the other counties that were short players. This was good news for me, as 2 of my players decided to let their county down in the worst way possible and not even bother to get out of bed.

Leitrim (the county with the smallest population in Ireland) surprisingly had the strongest team on paper with no less than 3 players from this years Irish Open final table and several other players with excellent reputations. Mick McCloskey’s very strong Derry Team were made early 6-1 favourites. Padraig Parkinson who missed The Legends of Poker WPT tournament in LA for this event, was unhappy in the Galway camp and made a late defection to Dublin who he said were “a more intelligent team” When I spoke to Padraig at the event apart from discovering that we are both originally Donegal natives and attended the same secondary school the one very important thing that we both have in common is that we believe poker is primarily about having fun, and that’s what a team event should be all about i.e. Getting behind your team, getting one over on your neighbors by cracking their captains Aces with T-5 off, that sort of stuff. Once you’re in a team that takes things too seriously then you end up not really feeling part of a team at all.

Other big names of note were Scott Gray (Monaghan), Dave O’Callaghan (Waterford) Roy “The Boy” Brindley (Wicklow), Ivan Donaghy (Down), Mike Magee, Paul Leckey and John McGill who finished 12th in this years WSOP all representing Antrim,. I had the honour of captaining the Limerick team and was pretty happy with our 14-1 price-tag.

We had been discussing our strategy for this event for weeks and it was agreed that the more aggressive of us in the team should probably think more in terms of survival than accumulation. After I’d sat through the first few blind level like a pot plant, where I would normally be making as many moves as I possibly can, it suddenly dawned on me that our strategy just wasn’t going to work without the deck hitting us in the face.

Most of the players on my table were playing so tight early on that there was just no way I could survive the first day by sitting waiting for hands. The aggressive players were just slurping up the chips too easily. A Sligo player on my right was not only bossing the table and buying pots left right and centre but was also waking up with big hand after big hand, which meant my bluffing opportunities were few and far between. I did however manage to get all my chips in against him preflop with 3 high which although suicidal for a team captain to do half way through day 1 was a hell of a lot of fun!

My team lost 2 players in the early stages. One of them some how going broke when deep stacked with 2 pair on the river when there was a flush on the board, after a bet, raise and a re-raise all in. Ugh! At the break as I scratched my head in disbelief I had to tell my team to try and keep it together. I couldn’t lose any more players in the early stages. The 8 of us had to stay alive and try to catch up with the teams that were yet to lose a player. Amazingly we didn’t lose a single Limerick player as 80 more players dropped out of the tournament, and as some of the early leaders started to lose their short stacks we suddenly found ourselves in contention, in second position overall. The real problem though was that as a team since we had been playing very tight we had quite a small % of the chips in play compared to the teams around. Towards the end of Day 1 our shorties couldn’t withstand the pressure and we lost 3 players in the closing stages which left us down in 9th position of the 31 teams. I had managed to outlast half my own team but was playing with the second shortest of our stacks. By that time it was too late to change my strategy, but it was obvious that as a team we should have been much more aggressive.

Rory Liffy (Laois) was the individual Chip leader after day 1 with 95K. This was partly thanks to an astonishing pot on the last level of Day one. I believe he somehow managed to get involved in a preflop all in for a pot worth over 100K with JT versus A5o and river a ten!

4 teams were now way ahead of the field.

Donegal 381

Monaghan 378

Leitrim 370

Galway 366

At the start of Day 2 145 players remained and Monaghan were expected to take control early as some large stacks were developing among their team, and although they had lost Scott Gray, by the end of the fist level they took the lead as Donegal’s short stacks blinded out.

But nobody was watching Keith McInerney’s Clare Team and as some of the chip leaders began to blow up they were quietly beavering away, and most importantly staying alive.

Meanwhile my Limerick Team were really struggling. An hour into Day 2 and I was too short to fold Tens in the big blind and walked into Kings. I exited the event with about 120 players remaining of the 310 starters. By this stage I had 3 Limerick players still alive, none of them comfortable but not under enormous pressure either. I went back to my room to get my camera but to my horror when I returned 5 minutes later all 3 had been knocked out. We had the embarrassing honour of being the first team to lose all of our players.

By the first break on Day 2 the leaders were as follows.

Clare 327 (6 left)

Leitrim 310 (5 left)

Monaghan 292 (4 left)

Kerry 284 (4 left)

Laois 278 (4 left)

When the players returned Clare began to collapse as they lost 3 players in quick succession. With about 70 remaining, Tyrone who had been languishing in the middle of the pack on points because of some early exits joined Leitrim as one of the only 2 teams remaining with 4 players left. If they were to get a couple of players to the final table they could overtake Leitrim by having points added to their overall score rather than have them deducted.

As the tournament was inevitably reduced to 2 card ninja poker the field was whittled away very quickly and many teams were busted out completely, including uninspiring performances from teams like Dublin, Cork and Derry who were all expected to do better. Some teams were now relying on just 1 player to make the final table in order to get the bonus points to push them into the top 3. Waterford’s David O’Callaghan who would have arguably been the pre-tournament favourite to win the individual first prize, was now chip leader and was wielding his stack like a samurai sword. As entire teams were being beheaded left right and centre, the strategy for players needing to survive to the business end of the tournament seemed clear. Avoid O’Callaghan at all costs!!

The following players made the final table. 3 players made it for Tyrone. As some people began shouting “Come on Sligo” many spectators began to scratch their heads with confusion as there was no black shirt of Sligo to be found at the final table. They had to be informed that people were actually shouting for Sligo John, playing for Roscommon!!

Paul Walsh (Leitrim) 439k

Eamon Grimes (Tyrone) (439k)

Rory Liffey (Laois) (377k)

Alex Collyer (Wexford) (414k)

Noel Lynch (Kildare) (229k)

Kiero Barnard (Tyrone) (98k)

Robin Maharaj (Kilkenny) (564k)

Sligo John (Roscommon) (143k)

David O'Callaghan (Waterford) (624k)

Stewart Dobbin (Tyrone) (165)

What I found most interesting about this Team event was the fact that at the final table, Tyrone were completely unable to use their majority presence to their advantage. This was due largely to some high quality pressure point poker played by Dave O’C, Paul Walsh, and Sligo John who were all targeting the Tyrone Team since they knew Tyrone had to get 2 players into the top 4 to have any chance of outright Victory. In my opinion their increased numbers may have worked against the Tyrone team as it meant they could target fewer big blinds at the table and could get action from fewer players at the table with their big hands.

With 4 players remaining Tyrone were all gone and Leitrim were confirmed as All Ireland Champions. Attention now turned to the individual prizes and the 2nd and 3rd place team places.

The remaining players were David O'Callaghan (Waterford), Sligo John (Roscommon), Noel Lynch (Kildare), and Paul Walsh (Leitrim) and the stacks were relatively even.

A discussion evolved as the players were told that a deal that was suggested on the table could not be allowed, because of the implications for other teams.

At this stage if Dave O’C won the event he would have single handedly dragged Waterford into second in the money!! Roscommon could also still cash as a team if John won it. Kildare could also cash if Noel Lynch finished second, and Paul Walsh of Leitrim was now the only player at the table without the added pressure of playing for his team. This may have worked in his favour as he went on to capture the first place individual prize. He did however need to get lucky to overcome O’Callaghan’s chip lead.

Here were the decisive Heads up hands:

...Paul doubles up by calling with KJh when Dave had gone in with A8h. Jack on the flop and its roughly even in chips..

...Dave missed a huge draw (up and down straight and a flush draw on the turn) when Paul had top pair. Harsh but Dave is out in second and Waterford get no miracle money finish.

Team results

1st Leitrim €67,750

=2nd Laois €23,750

=2nd Tyrone €23,750

Individual placings

Paul Walsh (Leitrim) €15,000

Dave O’Callaghan (Waterford) €8,000

Sligo John (Roscommon) €5,000

The performance of the Limerick team was very disappointing for me as captain. Thankfully though, we did not finish the day last on points. Because of our earlier survival efforts we actually ended up scoring higher than 6 other teams. It was upsetting though that the Limerick based players I had chosen to play felt they had better things to do than represent their county, and this undoubtedly affected our overall performance. It’s true, poker really can be a team sport.

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