Irish Open Champion Niall Smyth

Irish Open Champion Niall Smyth

Monday, 6 June 2011

Local player Niall Smyth pulled a double whammy by not only winning the Irish Open for €550,000 but also being the Sole Survivor and netting an extra €100,000 from the bookies-slash-poker room. We caught up with the champ to find out how he did it.

Congratulations Niall! But tell us, how did you discover this crazy game in the first place?

I started playing home games, 5 card draw mainly, in school and college. Then I moved to Hold’em with the boom, around 2004. I also liked mixed games and Southern Cross wild – still just with friends at home. Then I went to the local casino in Ennis and that’s when I became more serious and focused about my play. I decided to read up more on Hold’em and Omaha. I read the usual books – Harrington, Brunson, Gordon, etc. – and also did a lot of work online through training sites and reading TwoPlusTwo.

Your face looks familiar…

Back in 2009 I won a seat to Main Event through a league freeroll in my local casino. I ended up in finishing 11th. I was disappointed with that. I thought I could have done better. In 2010 I played a few satellites, but had no joy. I din’t qualify.

And tell us about the legendary “spin up” of this year…

Well, I put a €10 each-way bet on a horse at Aintree, Ballybriggs, which came in. That gave me just shy of €200. I then put it onto my account and entered a satellite to the main event. I had internet connection troubles for the first hour or so and so I only played three or four hands. Then I decided to move to the house PC with direct-to-router connection. It worked and I won the seat.

Tell us about the tournament. How did it play down?

I was comfortable starting, but lost a bit when trying to bluff the river on two hands within the first two levels. I ended up losing about half my starting stack, so I spent the next day and a half grinding. Cursing and venting at every break helped to let off steam so I could focus on staying alive.

On Day 2, I found A-A and got a triple up, against A-8 and K-K., which meant I had gone from well below average to being a strong contender. That’s the hand really turned it all around for me.

On the third day, everyone was in the cash, so I found it easy enough to sit back and let the short-stacks battle for survival. My stack didn’t start to move until I ran into Marty Smyth. I won a 400k pot holding A-A, and then my A-Q held against a king-high all-in 3-bet, which added around another 200k. The day ran very smoothly for me and I was always very comfortable.

How about the final table?

I wasn’t too happy with my seat draw. I had the young Finnish guy [Aleski Savela] on my left and he was very tough. Also, Johnny Eames. So I wasn’t happy when I saw the draw, but for the most of the day I didn’t get involved too much I tried not to get involved in too many big pots that I might have played under other circumstances. I really just played normal, tight-aggressive poker for most of the day. A lot of pre-flop stuff – I’d come over the top if I thought someone was at it. Just hands like that really.

The final table was the first time I’d played with Surinder, so I didn’t know too much about his game. When we were heads up I lost a big pot off him quite early on and then he seemed to be winning more small pots than me. I felt I was unravelling at this point, but then the break came and I went away from the table, and a friend said that I was probably talking too much and that I just needed to calm down and go back to playing my game. I thought to myself ‘Look, you’re still there, you’ve still got chips, and you’re already guaranteed a lot of money, so what are you worried about?

So I went back after the break and won the first pot, which helped, and then won a few more small pots, and that was definitely the turning point. I kind of got the momentum going after that and started chipping away at Surinder. After that it was just push-fold poker. Surinder had 1.3m and I pushed with Q-5. I knew he could call me with a whole load of hands, but not too many – but he called with A-9. I missed the flop and the turn, and when the five hit on the river I didn’t see it to begin with. I just wondered why everyone was celebrating. Then when I realised I stood up in shock. I just kind of wandered about in a daze for a bit.

It must have felt good winning it on home soil.

It did. The Irish Open – it’s just the most prestigious tournament and, especially for an Irish person, it’s the one tournament you want to win. The one tournament.

You were also the Sole Survivor. Must be nice…

Yeah, I mean, it’s a great idea. It’s great for people who try to qualify online for big tournaments – people like myself. It’s going to give me the chance to play a lot more big tournaments. The extra €100 grand means I can go to the WSOP and spend €50 grand playing tournaments. And I don’t think I’d be able to justify doing that without the extra hundred. It’s great for any player who’s just starting to take poker seriously. It gives you a real opportunity if you win it. The lad who won it a couple of years ago came and shook my hand and said, “Congratulations! You’re going to have the best year of your life.”

So it gives me the chance to go to Vegas and play some big events, because otherwise I’d have to satellite. And who knows what’s going to happen down the line. If I’m good enough, I’m good enough; if I’m not, I’m not. We’ll see…

Tags: Niall Smyth, Irish Open 2011, interviews