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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – J. J. “Noel” Furlong

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Some people toil in poker mediocrity for years before they ever come remotely close to “hitting it big.”  They make money, go broke, make money, go broke, and they continue this trend for as long as it takes.  There are people who have played in hundreds of tournaments hoping to strike it rich, only to be disappointed time and time again.  These players dedicate their entire lives to getting better at poker, going over hand histories for hours, listening to the proven players give their secrets, and buying book after book in an attempt to turn it around.  Then you have players like J.J. “Noel” Furlong who did none of the above.

J.J. “Noel” Furlong was born on Christmas day in 1937, hence the nickname “Noel.”  His relationship with poker at an early age is really unknown, unlike the many romantic-like stories we hear of players that fall in love with the game around the same time they can walk.  In fact, the first mention of Furlong playing poker isn’t until 1984, when he was already 47 years old.  

His first 47 years of life weren’t exactly a waste, however.  In that time he started a carpet distribution company in his native Ireland.  That business is one of the most successful ones in all of Ireland, generating over 100 million dollars a year in sales.  As a business man he was already well known, and because of his popularity, a local bookkeeper named Terry “Red Menace” Rodgers, had an idea that would make poker more popular in Ireland, and put money in his own pocket in the process.  

Rodgers was a regular at the WSOP, and would make bets with other players during the course of the events.  His most famous winning bet involved 1980 WSOP Main Event Champion Stu Ungar.  While Vegas made Ungar a 100 to 1 underdog to win the event, Rodgers took 20 to 1 odds.  In the end it is unknown how much he made from this winning bet, but it’s believed to have entered the six figures.  

Back in Ireland, Rodgers had started a poker club called “The Eccentrics Club,” which featured well known businessmen and local poker players around Ireland.  Rodgers first talked Furlong into joining the club, and after noticing that he potentially had some real talent, after winning the national Ireland No Limit’ Hold’em tournament in 1987 and 1989, talked him into joining him at the WSOP.

In Furlong’s very first WSOP Main Event he finished in 6th in 1989.  Not bad for a player who had only played a handful of tournaments in his entire life, and none even coming close to approaching the talent he faced in the Main Event.  Despite his immediate success in poker, it was another decade before his name was seen again in the poker world, but when it was, it was for the “big one.”

Furlong is despised by some of the poker purist in the world for reasons already mentioned.  He didn’t even “try” to become successful in poker.  It’s also been suggested that he made such odd plays that people who have watched him play were wondering if he knew what he was doing.  Another theory is that when you are already a successful person in the “real world,” you are more prone to take more chances in poker, because, and this will make poker purists cringe, the money doesn’t really matter.  The reason Furlong was playing poker was as a gift to his friend Rodgers, in his attempt to make poker more popular in Ireland.  He succeeded.

Furlong won the one million dollar prize in the 1999 WSOP when he defeated Alan Goehring heads up for the title.  Poker purists even like to bash on the way Furlong won his title, critiquing the final hand of the tournament.  Furlong was dealt pocket fives, and just limped in.  Goehring called, with pocket sixes.  The flop came two queens and a five, giving Furlong a dominating full house.  Once again Furlong checked, and a harmless two came on the turn.  Goehring bet, Furlong raised, Goehring re-raised, and Furlong moved all-in.  Goehring called, being totally pot committed, and when neither a queen nor a six came on the river, Furlong had won the championship.

Furlong was then the most successful poker player in the history of Ireland (Andy Bloch has since taken this title), and seemingly could care less.  It’s been said that Furlong has never played a game of cash game poker, and it is widely believed that he couldn’t even begin to tell you about the odds and ends of pot odds and the other intricacies of poker.  

Since his victory he has played in only a dozen or so tournaments, while every now and then making an appearance at the WSOP.  His carpet business has continued to thrive, and it seems Furlong is perfectly content with his spot in poker history.

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