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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

The Round Table – Ciaran O’Leary – The Rock of Lyons

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The largest non-main event World Series of Poker tournament in history occurred last year and Ciaran O’Leary was the one who brought it to an end. With more than 2900 players ponying up the $1500 buy-in, it was O’Leary who walked away with most of their cash, a $727,000 first place pay out. Now he’s here at the round table to tell us how he got there and just what it was like to experience that kind of a win.

KL: Where were you born?

I was born and raised in a small village in the south east of Ireland in a town called Carrigaline, which is in Cork County. It was a fun and exciting little town with a river flowing right through the middle of it. It had at least ten pubs, four butcher shops, a creamery, a post office, a snooker hall and a couple of small grocery stores. Oh, did I mention a betting office? [Bookie shops] We had two of those.

KL: Tell us a little bit about your background.

Well, I was the youngest of three children and had no choice but to accept the role, as ‘Go-for!’ yep, go for this and go for that! It seemed like I was always working on something, whether it was on a farm, cutting peoples grass or working with the local fish man. We lived in a housing estate with about 120 or so houses, and considering that it was good catholic area; there were always a lot of kids running around the place. This was a time back 25-30 years ago when we didn’t have much but that seemed to be more the norm for that period.

KL: Why Poker, Ciaran? How did you get in to it?

Poker was one of many card games that were played in and around the area in which I grew up. My father, God rest his soul, was a greyhound trainer and much of my time, when not working, was spent accompanying him to either the dog track or to many of the betting offices throughout Cork County. Of course, there was always the odd stop into a pub along the way also.

I suppose it’s fair to say, that my father in his day, was all too passionate about the black stuff! Anyway, it wasn’t uncommon for a Poker game to break out at any of these establishments. There would often be a pile of money stacked up on the table by the end of the night. It was certainly a beautiful sight, staring at all that paper money, tens, twenty’s, fifties and with such a wonderful array of colors. I remember thinking even then how one man’s sorrow was another man’s joy!

Poker in those days was always a form of no-limit; we played for everything that was in one’s pocket. Looking back, cards were so much to do with everything that was Irish and it was during much of this time that I learned a great deal about the game of poker. I might add that every time I play the game, I continue to learn something different as the game keeps evolving.

KL: Tell us about your bracelet win. What did it mean to you and can you describe the win in three words?


To win a WSOP event, to capture a title of that magnitude, (which at the time was a record breaking event) and to receive a WSOP bracelet was absolutely an amazing feeling! It seems that the poker Gods collaborated in early June of last year, and they obviously felt that I had suffered enough and alas, I was the last man sitting!

Binion’s and the WSOP for me, and so many others, have set the standard for every poker tournament for over the past thirty years. Back in the seventies, when the game of poker was searching for a place to call home, Benny Binion was the man whose mind and doors were open to the idea of putting on this great event. Who would have thought that he and some of the games great would help pave the way, eventually making poker the fastest growing game of all time?

My own first strong memory of the WSOP was back in 1989.
I was with a few friends in a pub in Cork, watching a rerun of that year’s main event. It was the year Phil Hellmuth won it. I remember him being a tall scrawny bloke who was clearly very passionate about the game. I remember at the time saying to a couple of the lads “I’ll win one of those someday.”

I came to the states some years after in 1997. By the time I got to Vegas that year the series was over. My first actual trip to the Series was the following year in 1998. Even now, I still get butterflies as I recall it! Binion’s was then, and in my mind will always be, the true home of the WSOP! It was old school, baby, with its glory and its history, with all the pictures of the past champions on the wall. It’s a place that is so much steeped in poker folklore, yet surprisingly Binion’s had always such a very welcoming feel to it. More money had passed through those doors than of most major banks. Harrah’s bought Binion’s and the rights to the WSOP a few years back. We will wait and see as to whether it was good for the game or not!! Anyway, I highly recommend to anyone who considers them self a poker player, that they should at least make the trip once to experience it!

KL: You have a blog on CardPlayer Europe. Do you ever use it to vent, and does it in some way help your game to put your thoughts down on paper?

Hmm, Good question, Poker is such an interesting and somewhat complicated game. I believe anytime you are able bounce some thoughts off other people it can only be a good thing. With poker, and in life, we live and learn, and then we learn some more. Venting is always good. It’s always good to evaluate your game. I often get emails from people who tell me of things that have happened to them. I tell them that we have to respect that poker, and the dust trail that often follows can sometimes be blinding and one should try not getting in too deep. Poker should be fun and when it’s no longer that, then it’s good to take a break! It’s also important not rule out the entertainment value. After that, if all else fails then we just cry together 

KL: Do you think poker is different in Europe versus the US?

There are certainly many different styles and many different characters from both the US and Europe. I think the style of play, let’s say, in Ireland and England is played with more selective aggression, as opposed to the Scandinavians whose style uses a more constant aggression method. I think this is also the case in the US with west coast players being a bit more aggressive with a wider range of starting hands, while the east coast player uses that selective aggression more, therefore showing more patience and picking the right spots. Of course I’m not saying that one style is better than the other, it’s just an observation. And hey, I’ve been wrong before! For the most part, though, I don’t see a huge difference. There are many great players on both sides of the pond.

KL: How many events do you play a year?

Well bankroll has got to do with it, but if I’m able to play in four WPT events and ten WSOP events and throw in a couple events in Europe, then I’d be a man, kinda.

KL: What are your future plans for poker?

Next week I head to Vienna-Austria, I was invited by Party Poker to play for the west in the East vs. West European Challenge. I then play in the Austrian open a couple of days after that. From there, I go to Ireland for the Paddy Powers Irish Open. Then in April I’m off to Wales for the prestigious Party Poker ‘Poker Nation’s Cup’. I was picked for the Irish team and the other countries that are expected to play are United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Holland. Then after all of that, the WSOP is only around the corner, and I can’t wait!!

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