The Legacy of the Irish Poker Open: More Than Four Decades of Poker Excellence

In the myriad of poker tournaments around the globe, only a select few can claim the legacy and heart of the Irish Poker Open. Renowned as one of the longest-running No Limit Hold’em tournaments outside of Las Vegas and the oldest in Europe, it’s brought together players from the Emerald Isle and beyond for 43 years.

With less than a month until Dublin once again opens its doors to thousands of players around the world, let’s delve into the rich history of the Irish Poker Open and why the festival is a must-visit for every poker player, from poker professionals to amateurs.

The Birth of a Tradition

The event’s inception goes back to 1980 when Terry Rogers, a visionary bookmaker, organized the first poker tournament in Dublin after a visit to Vegas a year before and stumbling upon World Series of Poker (WSOP) played in Binion’s Horseshoe Casino.

Inspired by the WSOP, Rogers sought to create a European counterpart that would mirror the competitive part while giving it its own Irish charm. The inaugural event in Dublin’s Eccentric Club laid the foundation for a tournament that would grow into a prestigious and beloved event.

Initially, it attracted mostly local talent and later drew the attention of international stars, such as Doyle Brunson, Stu Unger, Dan Harrington, Amarillo Slim, Chip Reese, Puggy Pearson, Tom McEvoy, Jack Keller, and Perry Green. This blend of local players and global stars helped elevate the tournament, which became a cherished fixture in the poker world.

The New Era

The Irish Open faced a pivotal moment in 1999 following the passing of Terry Rogers. His death marked the end of an era but also the beginning of a new chapter under the leadership of Rogers’s close friend, Liam Flood. Flood, affectionately known as “The Gentleman,” was not only a seasoned poker player who won the Irish Poker Open in 1990 and 1996 himself but also a respected figure within the poker community.

Liam Flood – The Gentleman

Taking the helm in 1999, Flood was determined to honor Rogers’s legacy. Under his guidance, the Irish Poker Open flourished, retaining its unique Irish charm while expanding its reach and prestige in the international poker scene. From its humble beginnings at the Eccentric Club to the Merion Casino and to larger venues as the festival outgrew its previous homes.

The Poker Boom

When Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP Main Event, everything changed in poker worldwide, and the Irish Poker Open was no exception. With the poker boom, Paddy Power Poker stepped in as the event’s sponsor in 2005, capitalizing on the poker’s explosive growth in popularity.

In 2006, the prize pool surpassed €1,000,000 for the first time when Vincent Melinn topped the field of 356 players to win €350,000. The first place was nearly equivalent to the entire Main Event prize pool from the previous year. In 2007, the Irish Poker Open moved to the Burlington Hotel, and the Main Event’s prize pool soared to €2,336,500 and €3,000,000 the following year. Each tournament seemed to have added a new chapter to the festival’s rich lore.

2008 Irish Poker Open, Heads-Up for €801,400

The Decline

In the subsequent years, Paddy Power Poker continued its sponsorship, striving to offer players the quintessential Irish experience. However, despite these efforts, the numbers began to dwindle.

The organizers experimented with buy-ins, ranging from €2,250 to €4,500, yet these adjustments did not stop the decline. In 2016, Paddy Power Poker made a business decision to end its sponsorship of the Irish Poker Tour. The torch was then passed to Paul O’Reilly and JP McCann, who took on the mantle of organizing the event.

The Revival

O’Reilly and McCann were both veterans with deep ties to the Irish Poker Open and many experiences running and directing poker tournaments. Their ambition was to transform the tournament into a week-long festival that was not only accessible but also appealing to players, ensuring they would eagerly return each year.

Their first adjustment was to set the buy-in to €1,150 – a figure that remains to this day – with the Main Event guarantee of €500,000. They relocated the Irish Poker Open to the Citywest Hotel and significantly expanded the festival’s scope from 7 to 26 events.

They took a gamble, and it paid off. The Main Event attracted 802 players, and the guarantee was easily smashed. In 2018, partypoker became the main sponsor, setting a €1,000,000 GTD, and the number of entries hit four digits for the first time in history. Griffin Benger topped the field of 1,129 players.

The records were also broken the following year with an incredible 1,807 participants in the Main Event. Even the COVID pandemic could not halt the tournament’s momentum. The 2020 and 2021 editions were held online on partypoker, drawing 2,954 and 1,880 entries, respectively. Brazilian Pablo Silva won the 2020 edition for €462,099, while Ukrainian Pavel Veksler took down the Main Event in 2021 for €265,999.

The Legacy Continues

While the online events were well-received, a return to the physical felts was evident among the players. In 2022, restrictions were lifted, and poker returned to the Citywest Hotel, nested in the heart of Dublin, attracting a massive crowd of 2,040 entries. The Main Event saw an American-born resident of Dublin, Steve O’Dwyer, dominating the final table, knocking out each and every opponent on the final table, and steamrolling, fulfilling his long-held wish to capture this prestigious event.

Steve O’Dwyer

In 2023, The Main Event saw an unprecedented turnout of 2,491 entries, making it the largest tournament ever held in Ireland. In the end, it was a qualifier, David Docherty, who navigated the best through this record-breaking field, starting from a modest €109 satellite to a payday of €365,000 and securing his place in the annals of the Irish Poker Open.

The anticipation is already building for this year’s edition, which promises to impress the poker world once again. Scheduled from March 25 to April 1, 2024, the festival will return to the prestigious Royal Dublin Society with 35 different events. For those looking to secure their spot at the €1,050 Main Event, various qualification paths are available, so make sure to check them here.

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As the Irish Poker Open moves beyond its 40th anniversary, its legacy is a beacon for the poker world, embodying the joy, challenge, and camaraderie of the game. The festival’s ability to adapt while staying true to its roots is a testament to its organizers, players, and the whole poker community. Looking ahead, the Irish Poker Open remains a cherished event on the poker calendar, promising to continue its tradition of excellence, hospitality, and the celebration of poker in all its forms.

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