Padraig Parkinson is an Irish poker legend. The Team partypoker Ambassador has racked up over $1.8M in live tournament earnings in an impressive career, but more importantly he has become the face of the game on the Emerald Isle. He’s also been instrumental in promoting the Irish partypoker LIVE Grand Prix events, that have proved so wildly popular amongst the Irish poker grassroots. We spoke to him about the upcoming Grand Prix events in Dublin and Galway, why he thinks the Grand Prix events have been such a success, and his recent win at the Fitzwilliam Poker Masters after he chopped the tournament with fellow Irish legend Andy Black.
How did the Grand Prix events in Ireland start?
“The whole Irish Grand Prix thing started in a conversation between me and Scavvy at a bar at the Irish Open, because then it was common knowledge that the Irish Open was going to be up for grabs. It kind of graduated into me having a long conversation over months with Rob about bringing the Grand Prix tour to Ireland, and somehow or other I managed to convince Rob that if we guaranteed a quarter of a million in Killarney for a €100 buy-in that we could do it!
"I only promised him we could do that because I didn’t think they were going to go for it, and then when he said yes I was in a little bit of trouble. We had to get two and a half thousand people to a €100 tournament in Killarney, which has a population of about 15,000 and only about 15 of them are poker players! But the Irish loved it and really invested in it, and they bought into the whole partypoker thing, and they turned up in Killarney and we made the guarantee, which was amazing. The Grand Prix tours have been going on since then, and what we’re doing now is regional minis. We have a relationship with the Macau club in Cork, the Eglinton in Galway and Ireland’s biggest casino the Fitzwilliam.”
Why have they been such a success?
“I think we kind of hit on the right number with the buy-in of €120 for these Grand Prix’s, that’s what the Irish market and the grassroots players go for. There was a period of six or seven years where the little guy got forgotten about, and the Irish Open buy-in went up to €4,000 or something like that. The grassroots guys in Ireland who play two or three times a week in their local casino or their local pub, these guys are the proper backbone of Irish poker. I mean, they're what makes Irish poker so fascinating and so much fun, but they kind of got left behind. But the Grand Prix tour has changed all of that.
"I was sent on a mission to travel round Ireland to bring the news to the guys. You know Ireland’s a strange kind of place; you can forget about your internet marketing; that’s never going to work. Forget about anything except word of mouth. I was sent around the country- it wasn’t too hard to talk me into it- most of the pubs were serving drink! I was sent around Ireland to bring the message to the grassroots that poker was going to be all about them from now on, and partypoker was going to be the site that looked after the grassroots and took care of them, and the Irish bought into it big time. I wanted to call the first Grand Prix in Killarney the Peoples Championship but they wouldn’t let me.”
What events are coming up?
"We now have a proper Grand Prix tour; we’ve got a Grand Prix coming up in the first week next month. The west of Ireland is a proper hotbed of poker, and Galway is the main focal point, and I’m delighted to be going there with the tour. This is the first time we’re gone to Galway, and we’re guaranteeing €50,000 from a €120 buy-in. There’s been an awful lot of tournaments in Ireland over the last few months, but we should be alright.
"And next week we’re having a Grand Prix in the Green Isle Hotel in Dublin. Ireland’s a little bit strange- I don’t know how many conversations I’ve started using that line! But in Northern Ireland poker is illegal and any place that opens up gets shut down. It’s absolutely crazy, in that poker is one of the things that brings together the community in Northern Ireland, and if you wanted to get the two sides in Northern Ireland together, well, the poker table is a very good spot to start! Basically, you can’t have tournaments in Northern Ireland, so we have two Grand Prix tournaments in Dublin just to cater for the Northern Ireland guys, and they come in their droves.”
What makes the Green Isle Hotel such a good venue for a Grand Prix?
“The Green Isle Hotel is a fantastic venue because first of all the hotel is very, very poker friendly, they want the business. And they go out of their way to making sure that everything’s cool. For some reason, hotel prices in Dublin have gone absolutely mad. You couldn’t give away a hotel six or seven years ago and now you can’t get one. The Green Isle keeps the room rate very low, probably the best rate in Dublin. I think the last time I stayed there I got a room with a couple of guys and it was like €90 for the night, which was fantastic and is a huge draw. You know if you’re asking guys to play a €120 tournament you can’t be charging them €180 for a room, it doesn’t make any sense!
"This venue certainly caters for the market that we’re going after here. We have had tournaments there, we had a Grand Prix mini there at the start of January and we got 1,721 runners, which was absolutely amazing. It broke all sort of records. It was the second biggest tournament after that first one in Killarney. The first one in Killarney had a lot of regional Day 1’s, so for actual people that turned up on the spot the January tournament was the biggest tournament numbers-wise there’s ever been in Ireland.”
Why is the Irish poker scene thriving at the minute?
"partypoker has captured the imagination of the Irish in a big way. They’re doing a lot of things right, from the community point of view. Poker players always want to be loved. They love coming to the tournaments, right now in Ireland with the way the figures are going, it’s pretty obvious that the Irish have bought into partypoker’s mission big time. You know partypoker have gotten the customer service right. We’ve got people like Colette, Charlie, Tom- there’s a whole bunch of people at partypoker, but the Irish guys know them, they’ve met them, they’ve talked to them, they know where to go when they have a problem.
"They believe that it is all about the players, not about the site, and the players come first. They absolutely love it, so we’re hoping to get a good turnout next week. I can only guarantee that’s it going to be great fun, and there’ll be a player’s party, the usual stuff that goes on in Irish tournaments. Half of Northern Ireland will be there! The cash games should be excellent as well!
"That’s why Irish poker is thriving, the brilliant customer service and the huge guarantees. partypoker have led the field, everybody had given up on Ireland until partypoker came along and did Killarney and now everybody wants to get back into it! The customer service with partypoker is the real selling point, and the people behind the whole thing turning up at events talking to people certainly helps big time. People feel they’re not just another number, they feel that they belong to this community."
Is there the same level of enthusiasm for online poker in Ireland?
"You know, there’ll be a bunch of Irish people on partypoker every morning, banging away in centrolls and all that, and I think everybody knows who everybody is. It gets a bit like a home game, with everybody abusing each other. Good for the craic! All the big guarantees- they help as well, it’s all about value for money."
What happened at Grand Prix Athlone?
"We guaranteed €50,000 in Athlone in February, which is right in the middle of Ireland. There hadn’t been a big poker tournament in Athlone for years, so when all the fliers came out with this €50,000 guarantee, we got numerous calls from people thinking there had been a typo because the normal fund in that neck of the woods would be like a €3,500 guarantee. So they thought it was supposed to be €5,000 and not €50,000!
"And again, all the Irish players from the games from the casinos all around the place turned up, so it not only made the guarantee but the prize fund was €80,000. Nobody could believe it! But it just goes to show that if you become the poker site of the people, the Irish will be incredibly loyal, and will follow you to the ends of the Earth. As long as they think that they’re getting a fair deal, and they’re pretty sure that’s what they’re getting from partypoker, I mean, you can see it in the figures, they’re voting with their feet. partypoker is punching way above its weight in Ireland, and that’s because of the excellent work that the people have done. They’re visible, and the Irish love that."
You recently won the Fitzwilliam Poker Masters for €13,000 after chopping with Andy Black. How did that feel?
"Winning at the Fitz is kind of special because I’ve been in Paris for 20 years, but now I’m home, the Fitz is my home club, so winning there was special. I was delighted that partypoker have a sponsorship deal with the Fitzwilliam, where they sponsor the tournaments and cash leagues and all of that. partypoker was sponsoring it, so it was certainly a nice one to win. It was my brother telling me yesterday that he had looked at a friend of mine who has got a Facebook page for Athlone poker, he had put up a picture that said 'Padraig wins!' with a picture of me and then down below he had put ‘At last!’"
What was the event like?
"It was quite a few players; it was a funny kind of set up in that most of the players were the club players in it but there were three guys in the tournament who’ve made the final table at the World Series Main Event. There was Andy Black, me and Scott Gray. We almost ended up with the three guys at the final table, but Scott Gray got coolered in a hand and went out in tenth, but it would have been pretty cool from the tournament point of view, to have three WSOP Main Event final tablists at the final.
"The event was great, the structure was fantastic - I mean, every time anybody wins a tournament they always say the structure was great - if they don’t win it they say it’s a crapshoot! But it genuinely was very fair, there was a lot of play in it over three days. I’d been in big trouble a couple of tables out, I took a couple of beats and didn’t have an awful lot of chips but things worked out just when they needed to. I made the final table, I was lying seventh in chips or something, then got the draw from hell, Andy was on my left. I had 600,000 in chips and Andy had 2,000,000 or something like that, which wasn’t an ideal situation."
What was it like playing with Andy Black?
"Andy can make your life a nightmare. I mean I know Andy’s well known, but he’s probably underrated in that Andy would be more famous for blow-ups than for wins. Going way back, you’d always see Andy get knocked out with jack-five or jack-four or something. So the perception of Andy that people have is that he cracks up, but I can tell you that he is way, way better than a lot of the experts think. I mean, sure Andy gets knocked out with pieces of garbage that other people wouldn’t play, but that’s how he gets into great positions in the first place.
"I mean you can look at one hand on its own and wonder what the hell happened there, but every hand is part of a sequence of hands. Andy’s famous for getting knocked out with pieces of crap, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a top, top player. He was one of the first guys to adapt when the game started to change, you know I’ve known Andy for, I don’t know, 32, 33 years and obviously the game is an awful lot different now than from the first day that Andy walked into the casino, but Andy always had a good aggressive tournament game. In the 2000’s when the game changed dramatically, Andy was one of the guys who was able to adapt.
"For the guys who had been successful up until that point it was sink or swim, as the whole game had changed. People were getting much bigger chip stacks, levels were longer, and every street there was a play on it. Back in the old days, somebody would raise all-in, and that was the end of it, on their backs, because the chip stacks dictated that’s what was going to happen. Andy was one of the guys who saw what was happening and adapted quickly. He was smart enough, he was talking to a lot of the Americans at the time, and picked up bits and pieces and changed his game around. It was still very aggressive, but the fact that the game changed was actually beneficial to Andy, because Andy was quite capable of playing small ball. He’s just an absolute nuisance to have at the same table. You know that kind of a guy that you’re just hoping someone else knocks out. But no-one did!"
Was there a good atmosphere at the final table?
"It was funny, we actually had great craic at the final table. You wouldn’t have thought so as it was a big tournament by club standards. You’d have expected that people might tense up a little bit, but it was actually quite the opposite. The craic at the final table was pretty good, I mean all the guys were up for a laugh- and they got one!
"There were seven Irish guys and an Eastern European guy at the final table, so I kept suggesting we knock the foreigner out and then just chop it! The whole day everyone was joking let’s knock the fella out- obviously we were only having a laugh, but strangely enough that’s what did happen, we knocked him out, then Andy and I chopped it! We did play for the trophy, but it only lasted one hand. We were genuinely playing for the trophy, we weren’t messing about. I had king-ten suited and he had ace-six or ace-seven, I was quite annoyed I chopped it because if I hadn’t I would have won two hands later! I’m only joking, I’m happy to have chopped."
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