How Ireland dominated the 1999 WSOP

In 1999 the World Series of Poker saw an invasion from across the Atlantic. Over the course of its nearly 30-year existence prior to 1999 the World Series of Poker had been dominated by the Las Vegas poker pros, but at the 1999WSOP that all changed, and the WSOP became the playground of a dominant group of Irish poker players. This is the story of how the Irish rose to prominence in the poker world, culminating with 1999 WSOP Main Event where three Irishmen made the final table; one of them going on to claim the WSOP Main Event title.

Terry Rogers

The Origins of No Limit Texas Holdem in Ireland can be traced back to just one man, Irish Bookmaker Terry Rogers. Rogers became fascinated with the game after a trip to Las Vegas in 1979 after witnessing the World Series of Poker, and upon returning to his small bookmaking operation in Dublin he opened a private poker club: The Eccentrics Club. From this point forward Rogers would make an annual trip to the World Series of Poker, where he would not only book bets on the WSOP Main Event, but was also learning the nuances of the game and bringing his burgeoning students to Las Vegas to compete. Just 20 years later, Rogers ‘students’ from the Eccentrics Club would be the talk of Las Vegas.

Rogers was the prototypical bookie, so his personality wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Often clashing with many of the Irish players, Rogers had several falling outs with Eccentrics Club patrons, but he was also known for a quick wit and charming personality. Scott Gray (an Eccentrics Club regular) summed up Rogers and the Eccentrics perfectly with the following tale he told to the website

‘Dave Jackson’s cards were accidentally pulled in by the dealer but they didn’t hit the muck. Jacko lost his head, so Terry was called in to make a ruling. “That hand’s dead. You should know better; put a chip on your cards to protect them.”

 ‘Dave replied: “I don’t have a chip. I was all-in.”

 ‘Terry said: “Well, put a lighter or a box of matches on them then.”

 ‘Dave said: “But I don’t smoke.”

 ‘Quick as a flash, Terry said: “Then give the man back his cards.”

 ‘Anywhere else but the Eccentrics Club and there would have been a riot over that contrary ruling, but there everyone just cracked up laughing and got on with it.’

The Eccentrics Club Roster

The Eccentrics Cub may not have had a lengthy list of patrons, but the names that went through those doors are reminiscent of the early days of the Mayfair Club when poker gripped the city of New York and players like Erik Seidel, Steve Zolotow, Dan Harrington, and others were Mayfair regulars. A continent away, at the Eccentrics Club in Dublin, in addition to Rogers, there was Padraig Parkinson, Donnacha O’Dea, Scott Gray, Liam Flood, Noel Furlong, and George McKeever. These men left their mark not only on Irish poker, but on the WSOP, and their contributions are still bearing fruit to this day –considering Donnacha’s son Eoghan O’Dea made the final table of the 2011 WSOP Main Event!

The Eccentrics Club wasn’t just a boy’s club either; one of the regulars in the game was Colette Doherty, a two-time winner of the Irish Poker Open (in the inaugural year of the tournament 1980 and again in 1991) who would also go down in poker history as the first woman to play in the World Series of Poker Main Event.

The 1999 WSOP

By 1999 the Irish had already made some waves in the poker world having cashed in numerous WSOP tournaments, with Donnacha O’Dea and Noel Furlong having previously reached the Main Event final table, and O’Dea owning a WSOP bracelet. The skills of the Irish players were also known thanks to Terry Rogers’ creation, the Irish Poker Open, which attracted some of the top poker players from around the world at one point.

The Irish Poker Open was an instant hit from its inception in 1980, and still continues to this day, making it one of the longest-standing poker tournaments in the world having never missed a year since 1980! Rogers used his relationships with US poker pros to bring them to Ireland for the tournament in 1982 and 1983 according to a citation in Wikipedia. Players like Tom McEvoy, Jack Keller, Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, and Perry Green were only too happy to fly across the pond to show their gratitude for Rogers’ bookmaking services at the WSOP.

But in 1999, with 20 years of Texas Holdem under their belt, the stage was set, and the Irish were the stars of the show. Noel Furlong (who never considered himself a professional poker player, but like Dan Harrington had incredible results playing a limited schedule) was the victor at the Main Event, with countrymen Padraig Parkinson coming in 3rd place, George McKeever in 7th place, and Mickey Finn in 14th place.

The showing by the Roger’s led group of Irish poker players would leave its mark on the poker world. As poker, Texas Holdem in particular, gained traction in Ireland and spread across Europe; the US was also put on notice that the game was no longer theirs alone.

You could argue that the Irish performance in the 1999 WSOP was instrumental in the poker boom in Europe just a half a decade later –of course Chris Moneymaker, the World Poker Tour, the Hole-Card Camera, Late Night Poker, and the Internet also deserve some credit for the rise of poker in Europe!

The Legacy

Remarkably, Irish poker players have only captured four WSOP bracelets –Furlong’s 1999 WSOP Main Event win, O’Dea in 1998, Marty Smyth in 2008, and Ciaran O’Leary in 2007—but success in poker is not simply measured by WSOP bracelets, despite what Phil Hellmuth might say!

Ireland has been producing quality poker players for 40 years, and the current crop of players that includes top talent like the junior O’Dea, Eoghan, and Jude Ainsworth seem to be carrying on the legacy created by Terry Rogers.

Irish All-Time Money Winners

Courtesy of

  • 1st     Andy Black  $ 4,380,253
  • 2nd     Marty Smyth  $ 3,876,139
  • 3rd     Eoghan O’Dea  $ 2,513,592
  • 4th     Padraig Parkinson  $ 1,623,023
  • 5th     Fintan Gavin  $ 1,397,235
  • 6th     John Magill  $ 1,207,856
  • 7th     Dermot Blain  $ 1,175,673
  • 8th     Noel Furlong  $ 1,145,807
  • 9th     Liam Flood  $ 1,142,446
  • 10th     Donnacha O’Dea  $ 1,137,412
  • 11th     Ciaran O’Leary  $ 954,952
  • 12th     George McKeever  $ 954,385
  • 13th     Niall Smyth  $ 939,035
  • 14th     Mickey Finn  $ 910,669
  • 15th     Roy Brindley  $ 885,387
  • 16th     Mike Magee  $ 866,845
  • 17th     John O’Shea  $ 832,526
  • 18th     Conor Tate  $ 780,377
  • 19th     Donal Norton  $ 704,467
  • 20th     Alan Betson  $ 618,509

Irish Poker Open Winners through the years:

  • 2011 –Niall Smyth
  • 2010 –James Mitchell
  • 2009 –Christer Johansson
  • 2008 –Neil Channing
  • 2007 –Marty Smyth
  • 2006 –Vincent Melinn
  • 2005 –John Falconer
  • 2004 –Ivan Donaghy
  • 2003 –Joe Beevers
  • 2002 –Nick Bernie
  • 2001 –Jenny Hegarty
  • 2000 –Alan Betson
  • 1999 –Liam Barker
  • 1998 –Mickey Finn
  • 1996 –Liam Flood
  • 1994 –Mickey Finn
  • 1993 –Christie Smith
  • 1991 –Colette Doherty
  • 1990 –Liam Flood
  • 1989 –Noel Furlong
  • 1988 –Jimmy Langan
  • 1987 –Noel Furlong
  • 1986 –Bryan McCarthy
  • 1985 –Irene Tier
  • 1984 –Tony Byrne
  • 1983 –Jimmy Langan
  • 1982 –Frank Conway
  • 1981 –Sean Kelly
  • 1980 –Colette Doherty

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