Padraig Parkinson talks to us about his UKIPT win, his Irish supporters and being a TV legend

Irish legend Parkinson talks about his UKIPT Galway win and reveals what it’s really like to be a tournament pro

Padraig Parkinson has long been one of the most loved figures on the UK and Irish poker circuit with his love of the craic, Guinness and his larger than life personality almost overshadowing his talent at the tables in recent years. However, Padraig sent the poker world a sharp reminder of his skills recently with victory in the first ever PokerStars UK & Ireland Poker Tour event, fittingly held in Parkinson’s native Galway. sat down with the Irish legend to discuss his sensational victory among a number of other fascinating topics such as his thoughts on TV poker, his charity Poker For The Homeless and his eye-opening comments on the life of a tournament poker pro.

How did you manage to get a big stack going into the final table?

I won a huge pot near the end of Day 2 when I had A-K against former Irish Poker Championships winner ‘Flipper’ Walsh’s A-Q. I’d been playing pretty fast so to be honest if I was Flipper I would have called me too.

What did you do to prepare for the final table. It was your first one in a while…

I spent a few hours before the tournament drinking tea with an aunt of mine, which turned out to be pretty good preparation. All I knew was that according to Paul Marrow the American lad [Benjamin Lefew] had played very well throughout, so when I arrived at the last minute, I was delighted to find that the two aggressive north Americans were on my right which was great news for me.

How did you manage to make it to heads-up?

I think I won the blinds once in the first two hours because I got dealt a lot of shit and everything that wasn’t nailed down was stolen before it came around to me. I doubled through the American guy twice with J-J against 7-7 and A-7 against A-5. To be honest, I’ve often played a lot better and lost and I think that just about anybody in the room could have won from my spot, including the barman.

You knew your heads-up opponent Paul Marrow well so how was it playing against him?

It was quick! Paul might be English but in Ireland, we treat him as one of our own. Before we played the heads-up, Paul suggested that we take a chunk off the top for the dealers and [my charity] Poker For The Homeless, which was very generous of him but didn’t surprise anybody because the man is a class act.

The whole tournament was decided when we got it all-in in a straight race, which was kind of nice as both of us did what we had to do in the circumstances. As much as Paul would like to have won, he got very emotional at the end and made a speech saying that he was even happier that I won [because the tournament was held in Galway]. From anybody else, this would sound like bullshit but you could tell with this guy that he was talking from the heart.

You always get a ton of support whenever you play in Ireland. Does this help your game or add extra pressure, good or bad?

The support I got both from people at the event and friends from all over the world was unbelievable. It was the same a couple of years ago when I had a good run at the Irish Open. It’s been so long since I won [a tournament] that I felt there were hundreds of people willing me across the line – I think they were beginning to feel sorry for me! It’s not a pressure at all and it certainly helps to keep me focused and not do anything stupid for a change. Irish poker people are the best in the world and I can’t thank them enough for the encouragement they are giving me.

How does your win in Galway compare to some of your other achievements such as coming 3rd in the 1999 WSOP Main Event or winning series five of Late Night Poker?

It’s hard to beat getting a shot at the WSOP Main Event. I suppose when you look back on it I was very, very lucky to have the privilege of making the final table. Some of the great players – players that play way, way better than I ever have – have never been there. And it’s now getting less and less likely that the real players are going to get there [as the field size continues to get bigger]. My timing was just perfect. There were about 396 runners the first time I played the Main Event and I managed to get to the final table. The sheer buzz of that can’t be beaten.

What about your Late Night Poker win?

I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on TV tournaments. You can play those TV events a million times and get a million different results. TV events were definitely easier back then [in 2002]. The Late Night Poker that I won was pre-sit & go on the internet. Nowadays the TV events are far trickier. First of all the fields are much stronger. Some guys who might have been great poker players in 2002 weren’t good sit & go players, but now everybody has some form of sit & go strategy from playing them online.

There’s very little in it. If you sit down with six pros in one of these there’s nothing in it. Some guys is going to look like a genius and some guy is going to look like an idiot but if they played it again the next day the guy who won it could be the first out and the guy who came last could win it! It’s a bit like the sit & gos on the internet. I used to play them a few years ago when there was a lot of loose money around but I gather that it has got an awful lot tougher. The TV events have followed that.

How have you managed to be a consistent winner over your long career?

I’m a poker player I suppose! I’ve been a pro for a long time. I’ve been saying this for years, playing tournament poker is really, really tough. I know Mike Matusow was quoted quite recently as saying that the turn of one or two cards decides if one guy is going to become a household name and a perceived great of the game whereas the guy on the wrong end of the coinflip is going into nowhere land. I thought it was quite good and very honest of him.

Being a pro tournament player – Jesus, it’s tough. I see guys who do it and I don’t envy them. The whole trick of longevity in this game is to be able to do everything, from tournaments to cash to TV tournaments. I know all the glory is in tournaments but if I had the choice of being good at one format and shit at the other I’d take the cash [games] anytime! You find that most of the players who have been around for 20 years in the game, guys like the Devilfish and Scott Gray, what they all have in common is that they can do both.

The fluctuations in tournaments are ridiculous. I played the WPT tour for a couple of years and it’ll do your fucking head in! I was flying over and back to America maybe eight or nine times a year. I’d fly over a few days before the tourney to give myself some time to get over the jetlag and then go straight into the $10k event, which was a big mistake actually. I should have gone less times and played everything, all the smaller side events.

How difficult is it to play the tournament circuit and be a winner nowadays?

Jesse May and I interviewed Erik Seidel for the Poker Show Live recently. Seidel is a player I regard as being one of the top five tournament players in the world and he was saying that if you could double your buy-ins over the year then that would be considered a very good year.

I remember Dan Harrington saying to me a few years ago that some kid had come to him and asked about playing the circuit and how much money you would need. Dan got Steve Zolotow into the conversation and they worked out that just to play the circuit in the States you’d need about $500k a year. They told this to the kid and the next thing they said was, ‘but if you had half a million dollars why would you want to play tournament poker’?

To make it pay as a pro, assuming equal luck, you really have to be playing the bigger tournaments or your expenses will just gobble you up. Even if you’re playing a £500 tournament you have to get a train or a plane, stay a few days in a hotel and before long your expenses are the same as your buy-in. So even if you double your buy-in you’re still only getting your money back! You’ve got to get the results of a top class pro just to get your money back.

These days you are probably as famous for your TV commentary and radio work (on the Poker Show Live) than you are as a poker player. What is your main focus now, playing poker or these other media projects?

My main focus is playing poker, believe it or not! I did get involved in a whole bunch of things over the last few years which is great. When your hobby becomes your job a lot of the fun goes out of it so all this other stuff is great and it keeps me fresh for playing poker.

For the next year or two I am just going to play a lot of live poker and play in a few tournaments here and there. I don’t really want to go on the road playing tournaments all the time. I’ve done that and seen all the hotel rooms. When I go to America I’m not drinking or anything so when I’m not playing poker I am just stuck in my hotel room – there’s only so much Law And Order and fucking CSI one man can watch!

How did your charity Poker For The Homeless come about?

Poker For The Homeless started at the Irish Poker Championships a few years ago, back when used to sponsor it. It was in the Citywest hotel, the usual carry-on. At 5 or 6am in the morning everybody was still up and we were hanging around the bar having great fun.

I happened to mention that since poker became sexy there were all these suits hanging about the place and they’re all like pigs around a trough. They don’t give a shit about poker. So I said, why don’t we put our noses into the trough for somebody who really needs it, like the homeless or something. There was somebody there called Eamonn Connelly there who just wouldn’t let it go. I thought it was just a topic for debate rather than us actually going to do something but this guy Eamonn said we had to do it now. We had another couple of pints and then we decided that not only were we going to do it but we were going to raise a million euros no matter how long it took! We now run an event every year and I think we’ve raised around €175,000 now.

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