Women take center stage
For as long as I’ve been playing poker, Galway has hosted the first major live stop every year. First there was the IPC, then the UKIPT (the very first UKIPT was held here), and more recently the IPT, all the brain children of Fintan Gavin. This year was no different, with the first IPT of the year taking place at the Galmont Hotel. The festival featured a wide range of events with aggressive guarantees, all of which were comfortably smashed. The €600 ($657) buy-in main event had a €300k ($329k) guarantee, but 833 entries over six Day 1 flights generated a €433k ($474k) prize pool.
The IPT has fostered a new golden period of grassroots poker in Ireland. Another feature has been the rise of Ladies events, and Galway was no exception. Sia Browne not only took down the Ladies event hosted by IPT Ambassador Tanya Masters, but also won the opening freezeout (defeating Game of Gold star Lukas Robinson heads-up) and was involved in a four-way chop of the Monster event (a chop which also featured legendary Irish lady Wilhelmina “Willow” Connolly).
two of the top six on the overall leaderboard are female
Other women with deep runs included Liz Kelly, fresh off her chop in the Dublin Main Event in November and who was 5th in the Claddagh Cup (just ahead of her partner Derek Baker – more on him later), and Katie Harrington, who won the Opener. At the time of writing, two of the top six on the overall leaderboard are female (Sia and Katie).
The old ones are the best ones
That other great forgotten demographic in poker, the seniors, also had a very good festival. I took down my first live event in ten years: the Paddy Power Twitch 5k freeroll. I tried advancing the argument to anyone that would listen that this was actually the toughest (and therefore most prestigious) event of all, since you had to win a Twitch game on Paddy Power to qualify (so everyone in it was an online crusher) and there was no re-entry, but nobody was buying it. Although I’ve never been one to put much stock in my poker trophies (when visitors to Doke Manor ask about the few dozen trophies in my cabinet, I take great pride in showing them the one I got for winning the Irish 24-hour running championships, the world indoor 6 hour championship, and the New York 60 km, and I also have a lot of pride for my Leinster chess champion trophy, but not quite so much for “this one I got for winning lots of flips, and this one where I hit runner-runner”), it did feel good to take down a live tournament, even if again there was more than a big slice of luck involved.
all my “best hands” but one held up
The final table was a real rollercoaster: I went in 8th of nine and was shortest for much of it (dropping below two BBs on more than one occasion), but I did manage to get it in ahead every time except the final hand. All my “best hands” but one held up, a disguised form of luck similar to an acca on a bunch of odds-on favorites that all come in, meaning than when I got heads-up with Ger Keenan, I had most of the chips for once. In the final hand, Ger trap-limped Queens on the button super short and when I check-raised all-in on a T-6-2 flop, he found himself up against one of the best possible hands for the Queens, my Q-6, but another 6 on the river sealed the deal for me.
Many seniors had deep runs in most of the events across the festival, but the best was saved until last when Derek Baker came out on top of a very strong Main Event final table that featured four of Ireland’s top pros over the last decade. Those pros included Cathal “Shinerr” Shine (who had a great festival overall, taking down the 1k High Roller and making two other final tables), Marc McDonnell, Tommy “LuckyMo” Geleziunas, and Ivan Tononi. When I dropped down with five left, Derek told me he needed help with just 15 BBs, and that help came as he was on the right side of a couple of big hands against Cathal.
This time last year, Derek and I found ourselves in the last three of the Seniors at this festival with Jay O’Toole. As it dragged on longer than anticipated, Derek quipped that our caregivers were becoming concerned for us. Derek went on to have quite the year on the live felt, making so many final tables on the IPT circuit that he ended up qualifying for the leaderboard playoff at the end of the year.
Derek is a guy who has been a popular figure on the circuit for as long as I’ve been playing, but he really seems to have kicked on since live poker came back after the COVID lockdown. In the two years since, he has amassed almost five times as much money in live cashes as he did in the ten years before the pandemic.
Fun times at the tables
Many of my foreign friends were visiting Galway for the first time, and all remarked on the remarkable craic and good spirits at the table. I saw several examples of the sharp Irish wit over the festival. At one point in the Main Event, I was seated beside the inimitable Dermot Allen. When Andy Black wandered over to talk to him, Dermot opened with: “I’d love to tell you you’re looking well Andy, but you’re not. You look shite. Get yourself together, man.”
Later, last year’s leaderboard winner Paul Carr wandered over for a chat with Dermot.
I looked for Dara’s shirt and saw you immediately”
“I was looking for you, but couldn’t see you. Then your daughter said, ‘he’s sitting beside Dara,’ so I looked for Dara’s shirt and saw you immediately.”
Less lucky was a student of mine, who told Ciaran Cooney that he’d never met me in person. Scanning the room for the loudest shirt in the place, Ciaran quickly spotted it and pointed him in the right direction, and off he went. Only problem was that it wasn’t me in one of my shirts on this occasion, it was Colette “Smurph” Murphy in one of her blouses!
Let’s talk about Smidge
The festival also featured the first outing of EPT Prague champion Padraig “Smidge” O’Neill since his win there. Fintan and the IPT crew marked the occasion with a special presentation to Ireland’s first real EPT champion (as I pointed out in my speech, Fintan, while getting the lion’s share of a chop at EPT Barcelona, didn’t get the trophy, and as much as we all love Steve O’Dwyer, he himself would admit he’s about as Irish as Lucky Charms).
someone I’ve always admired as a player, but most importantly as a person
Most of my speech lamented the fact that I wasn’t in Prague, as had I been, I would surely have had a share in the million he won in the form of a swap. Genuinely though, I found myself tearing up as I spoke about someone I’ve known since the start of both of our careers, and someone I’ve always admired as a player, but most importantly as a person. I’ll have a full interview with Smidge here soon.
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