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I think it was 1992. A bunch of people were in Andy Black’s flat in Ranelagh. Tea was the tipple of the day. No milk. No sugar. Times were hard.

The main topic of conversation was where the next few quid to lift the doom and gloom was going to come from. I thought I was going to be a hero when I drew attention to the fact that there was lots of money in a jar on the fireplace. Nope. I was told that this was Andy’s Irish Open fund and couldn’t be used for non-essentials like rent, utility bills and food and beverages. Andy had finished fifth in 91. He’d caught the bug. He wanted that title badly. He was going to play no matter what. He’s still got the bug. Despite some great runs and great play, he’s never won it. But he knows and respects the history this fantastic event is steeped in. That’s why he wants it so much. Me too.

Andy Black

This year, our paths crossed on Day 3. Andy knocked me out in the wilderness of 78th place. In a show of sportsmanship, he left his seat and shook my hand. An acknowledgement of a shared dream and an unspoken understanding that there’d be no quitting. You can’t quit on The Irish Open.

Equally, the Irish Open can’t quit on us. The Americanisation of what was once the jewel in the crown of European poker would have Terry Rogers, the man who started it all, turning in his grave. Me too, if I was dead. At a tournament that has always been uniquely and proudly Irish, it seems sad to listen to an American on the microphone all day long. It can’t be that hard to find an Irish guy who can talk!
Apart from that, and the fact it’s become a rebuy fest rather than a great championship played on a level playing field, I loved the craic. I loved the way the partypoker ladies event linked the fantastic history of women in Irish poker with the new. It’s a model that could be used positively for the main event too. The colourful history and the characters that graced this event and made it what it was are only real if people know about them. It’s what makes it magical. It’s what makes it different.

Willow Connolly, a fine player in her own right, played the ladies representing herself and the memory of her mother, Irish Open winner Jenny Hegarty. Much was written about Jenny before the event, but the best stories come from the bar. In my opinion, Jenny’s best weapon as a poker player was her ruthless competitive streak. One night in The Griffen, years ago, Jenny was playing a winner take all tournament.

With four players remaining, her son in law Eamonn, who was low on chips, suggested a four-way chop. All were in favour except Jenny who was second in chips but hated the lady who was third and didn’t want to see her get anything. Lovely. Eamonn was livid. An hour later, he had recovered and was heads up with Jenny. She suggested a chop and started to get up. He said no and scooped the lot. Then, Eamonn had to drive Jenny home. This mission was completed in icy silence. It finished with Jenny slamming the car door so loudly that she probably woke half the neighbourhood. When Eamonn got home, Willow asked him how he did. “Well” he said “I’ve got good news and bad news…!”

On one of the last days of the event, I did a detour to shake hands with and say hi to one of the elder statesmen of the Irish game, Artie Woolsey. I’m glad I did because this much respected gentleman who turned up just about everywhere despite his advancing years passed away a couple of days later, playing the game he loved the way it’s supposed to be played. R.I.P. Go Tell The Spartans.

I told Rory Liffey that Artie had left us to join the great tournament in the sky. He asked me what hand he’d had when he died. I told him I didn’t know. He told me I should’ve asked. I replied that of course I’d asked!

The partypoker Grand Prix tour returns to the popular Green Isle on 24-27 May €100,000 guarantee for a €120 buy-in! before we cross the Shannon a couple of weeks later for the first ever Grand Prix Galway!!! See you there!

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