WSOP November Nine finalist Eoghan O'Dea

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01 November 2011

“I’ll be really disappointed if I come ninth, especially since I’m bringing 50 or 60 people with me – that would be an anti-climax. We’ve been given ninth-place money, so it would be like getting nothing.”

All in all it was a lousy WSOP for the Irish this year; that is, until Eoghan O’Dea, son of the great Donnacha, rampaged to the final table, where he sits this month second in chips. Not since 1999, when Noel Furlong, a carpet salesmen from Dublin, became an unlikely World Champion have the Irish had such a big whiff of the title. Can he do it? Let’s find out…

How does it feel doing all these interviews, Eoghan? We guess your life has suddenly been turned upside down?

Yeah, I did a lot of interviews when I came back. In August I tried to ignore and avoid them for a while, but I was still doing a few little Skype things. I’ve been doing a lot more this month; I kind of needed an excuse to do them. Before I didn’t like doing stuff like that, but than once you do a few it’s OK.

Does the idea of “poker celebrity” appeal?

Not really, but I guess I don’t mind it as much now. Once you get used to it it’s OK. It’s a bit of fun, the whole build up to the November Nine.

How has the build up been? How have you been using your time?

I haven’t done very much studying. I didn’t really play any poker – maybe a couple of times. I didn’t go on any forums or read anything about it; I just wanted to blank it out. When I arrived over here everyone was asking about it.

Are you going to study the TV footage and analyse hands?

Well, I’ve been playing a lot this week – playing a lot of Hold’em cash. It’s been good, I won a little but it’s been fun playing hold’em cash against some really good players. I was going to play next week in Cannes, that’s coming up in the next while. It’s two weeks before the Main Event when I get back to Ireland so hopefully I’ll look at the tapes and think about it more when I get back to Ireland.

Do you like the idea of the break at the WSOP? Does it help? Or would you rather have carried on with your ‘roll’?

I think it would have suited me to finish it right there. I think the other players were more tired than I was. I think I felt that if I could play on it would be better. I was pretty fit and stuff, that helped; it’s a long tournament. I probably was under less pressure than the other guys. It’s good fun, the buzz, but it would have suited me more to finish it there than have three months off.

Have you already got an idea of any of the players in the November Nine?

Half the players at the table I didn’t really play with. Phil Collins and Ben Lamb I played a fair bit at the end. Maybe Martin Stazko the chip leader. I’ve played Matt Giannetti in Omaha before, never really played him at Hold’em. Ben seemed to not be able to do anything wrong. He was just picking up pot after pot after pot for a while when there were three tables left. He had a huge confidence boost. It was such a great WSOP for him.

Tell us the story of your Main Event.

It was pretty funny. The other tournaments I’ve gone deep in – you always hit the odd two-outer or win a lot of coin-flips, but with this I was all-in just four times across eight days in the tournament. Two were 50/50s and once I was a huge favourite. I never got my money in bad once. The structure just allows you to really hang in there. Obviously I was lucky not to get in any difficult situations – I guess I was just getting bad cards for a while. For the first two days I had a lot of amateurs, so I was always going to run pretty smooth. When there were 150 to 100 left it got really tough and it seemed that everywhere I looked were good players. Everybody was saying to everybody else, “Jeez, my table is really tough.” When there were about ten to 15 tables left there were all these young guys left, really good players. You needed to run well.

You have to get lucky to go so far, but did you also feel you played well?

Yeah, I was really focused. When we got down to a hundred, I didn’t feel like I was in any danger for the whole tournament. I got in on a flip on Day 3 and that was about it. With 100 left there were so many good players and you have to run well for quite a while. I picked up kings in two big pots.

Is there a lot added pressure when the money gets big?

I don’t think so. If in November I come ninth, I’ll be really disappointed, especially since I’m bringing 50 or 60 people with me – that would be an anti-climax. And you don’t get any extra money. We’ve been given ninth-place money, so it would be like getting nothing. The real pressure is heads-up; there’s a day off and you go back and play heads-up. But second and first is a hugely different. First is huge, it’s the world champion and if you finish second in the Main Event, you always get forgotten about.

So… money versus bracelet?

If I got heads-up I’d want to be the world champion more than thinking about the money. You’re guaranteed $5m, or whatever, but to win the world championship... it’d be hard to sleep the night before.

How has your dad been about this? He must be very proud?

Yeah, he is. We haven’t really talked too much about it. He said he’ll talk to me about it whenever I want but there’s only so much I can really ask him.

Did your dad teach you how to play?

No, he didn’t teach me. I started playing Omaha games – small €1-€2 games in Dublin and the next day I might ask him about a few hands. That was it, I suppose. I’d ask him about hands early on. Not a huge amount; he wouldn’t coach me or anything. He’d just answer when I asked him something.

Did he try to discourage you?

No, he just didn’t really say anything. He let me make the decision. He didn’t want or not want me to play. I’m not sure. My ma wasn’t too keen; she understands more than the average mum, though.

Are there any traits you think you’ve inherited from your dad that make you good at poker?

I think I’m pretty patient and disciplined, like him; not really a big gambler in general. He and I are both pretty good at money management, we don’t really ever risk too much. A lot of people play casino games – I’d never do anything like that. Some people play really good and you hear they’re broke and it’s like, “How are they broke?” Just bad habits, you know?

Do you have any such leaks or weaknesses?

Um… I don’t know. In terms of my game, in Hold’em tournaments I feel pretty good. For the past year or so, I didn’t used to play a huge amount of them. I did feel a bit rusty but during the WSOP I didn’t really see too many weaknesses in my play. I spent most of my time in cash games, but I don’t really feel there are many.

Are cash games your bread and butter?

Yeah, I play way more cash than tournaments. I usually play Omaha cash games. I prefer Hold’em, I think, but I mainly play Omaha. Usually it’s my only game, cash-game-wise.

Going back to your dad, he’s known as a very tight player. As one of the younger generation, you’re obviously not so tight. Does he ever come to you for advice?

Not really. Sometimes he’ll mention a hand that some young guy’s played, saying “That’s crazy!” and I’m like, “I don’t think it’s that crazy.” But he doesn’t really play huge amounts like he used to during the WSOP.

The older generation don’t talk much about hands, like the young kids do…

Yeah. I think a lot of young English and American kids are like that, but in Ireland they don’t do it too much. It’s not a good thing. It probably is good to discuss hands with other good players. I don’t know why we don’t do it and I never really talk about hands too much to other people.

So describe your poker education?

Watching Late Night Poker got me into it. I started reading a few books. I think I read TJ Cloutier and Doyle Brunson, then some Omaha books. Then I started playing in the casinos in Dublin when I was 18 for a couple of years, small stakes tournaments and €1-€2. Then I went online for a few years.

Did you go broke a bunch of times?

No. I won the first tournament I played for £1,500. I remember making some horrible mistakes, though – I had an open-ender at one stage and set someone all-in, just pushed it in hoping he wouldn’t call and he snap-called top set. But then I won that tournament. I started well, got lucky in the beginning.

What was your biggest achievement in poker prior to the WSOP?

I came second in the Poker Million, about three years ago. I came second to Marty [Smyth] and was pretty sick about that. I won $250k, or something, but I was gutted. I came second at the WPT Marrakech for more money and I was happy, I guess, because I was never close to winning. Against Marty I was one card away – he needed a nine or a queen. So they were good scores for me, I won the Monthly Million on iPoker too. I was never going to play because I was knackered but there was a massive overlay so I sat down. I fell asleep at one point and woke up to the buzzer so I just pushed all-in and someone had raised. I had a big blind and a half at this point, I ended up coming back and winning. That was pretty sweet. I haven’t played a huge amount of live tournaments but I’ve done pretty well, I guess.

We kind of have to talk about the money because... it’s mental! What would you do with $8.7m?

I’d probably invest a lot of it, I guess.

Why would you need to?

Yeah... I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to put it in euros or sterling because it could go bust. You lose a lot with exchange rate, but have it in dollars and you don’t get much interest.

What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ll do with it?

I’ll definitely get a new car. Apart from that I don’t really see myself doing anything ridiculous. Poker players, you don’t see them do too many crazy things, non-gambling-wise. If an amateur won I could see him going out and spending madly on a ridiculous car and house but poker players are just like, “Oh, cool. Now I can move up to $200/$400.”

So would you move up?

I’d play bigger, yeah. I wouldn’t play the biggest levels, even years ago when I was 21 or 22 I might not have done. Now I’ve been playing for eight years and I’ve seen a lot. If I had made the final table when I was 21 or 22 I could have burned a lot of money or played the biggest games, but I think I’d still have been a bit disciplined, not just playing any game.

You’re sponsored. Is there the still clamour for sponsorships at the final table?

There were a few companies there. I wasn’t interested for a few reasons I’m not going to mention, but was just the natural choice. I already played on the site, so I think I can represent them more genuinely and sincerely. I think they market pretty well and the whole Irish connection works, too.

Do you feel that, while poker is quite individualistic, you’re representing Ireland?

A little bit, yeah. I feel that a little. It’d be nice to have another Irish champion. I’m getting a lot of Facebook messages from people I don’t know. I always wanted to make a WSOP final or win a bracelet but I never thought it would be the Main Event.

Do you rate your chances?

Yeah, I have a pretty good chance. At the bookmakers I’m next to the chip leader; some have him slightly favourite. I think I have a really good chance. Other players at the table are really good. Some people I have position on and that gives me a lot more confidence going in. I’m delighted to get there but I want to win as much as possible. I’m going in as joint favourite so, yes, I like my chances…

Follow Eoghan’s adventures as he bids to become World Champion through our live blogging at Kick off November 5th.