Liam Flood: 1943 – 2014

Liam Flood: 1943 – 2014

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Dara O'Kearney on an Irish legend.

It was the early winter of 2008. My wife drove me over icy roads to Day 2 of the Cavan Open in the Irish midlands, all the while muttering under her breath. Her mood was in no way improved by the fact that I managed to bust on the very first hand, before she had even parked the car. Not relishing a night of putting up with her continued mutterings, I bailed and told her to drop me at the Sporting Emporium, one of Dublin's big card clubs at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom.

The Emporium was having its monthly tournament that night. At my starting table, I found myself wedged between a young Danny Maxwell (this was before he had become the blogger and poker photographer extraordinaire he is now) and Liam Flood. I knew Danny, whereas I only had a vague idea of who Liam was at the time, so Danny was my preferred conversation partner. But Liam listened in and occasionally chimed in.

A few hours later, I found myself at the same table as Liam again – the final one. I hadn't accumulated much more than starting stack, whereas Liam had half the chips in play already. Chirpy chips they were too, as he announced right at the start, "Don't bother asking me for a deal – I never do deals." He explained that the only reason he was here was that he had a Poker Million semi-final to play in a few days. Having believed it was going to be six-handed, he had spent much of the previous month sharpening his 6-max skills online, only to be told late in the day that online sponsors Ladbrokes were parachuting two online qualifiers straight into the semi. So Liam was here to brush up his eight-handed play.

He proceeded to mow through the final table and eliminate everyone. By the time he got heads up with me, he had a 15 to 1 chip lead. He repeated his "no deals" position, so I never asked for one. Early skirmishes went very well for me and I tripled up gradually. One hero call with King-high seemed to genuinely flabbergast Liam, and I suspected Liam was looking to deal. He'd already asked how much we were playing for a few times, and then asked for a cigarette break. I didn't really feel it was my place to offer a deal; he still out-chipped me 4:1, and I was actually enjoying the heads up battle. When he came back from the break however, notwithstanding his earlier comments about never offering deals, he offered me more than ICM would give me, so I was happy enough to accept. My friend Rob Taylor asked me why I agreed when (his words, not mine) I was destroying him heads up (I wasn't really. I was mainly just running well). Although the heads up was going well for me, I figured that if it continued to do so then Liam would just start shipping a lot pre-flop as the blinds rose, and then I'd have little or no edge. That was very much Liam's game: in an era when TV tournaments were essentially 20 bigs or less crapshoots from the get go, the "pros" of the day (Liam was always adamant that he saw himself as an amateur enthusiast rather than a pro) played them terribly, limp folding, raise folding and three-bet folding way too much, leaving themselves open to exploitation by Liam, who started re-shoving super wide. Watching them back now, one can only laugh at how much Liam got away with. His strategy was always the same: play tight pre-antes when blinds were small, then cash in on the image by going mental. Or in other words, perfect STT strategy, years before the rest of us had figured it out.

I was also aware that the last thing Liam wanted was to go into his semi having had a 15 to 1 chip lead overturned heads up by an unknown, so I figured it was plus-EV long term to accept the deal and let him go off as the nominal winner in a confident mood. Liam bossed his semi and made the final, which he ended up chopping four ways with three other Irishmen (Marty Smyth, Eoghan O'Dea and Ciaran O'Leary). For a man who professed amateurism, Liam was decades ahead of the curve in his understanding of short stack strategy. While his contemporaries tut-tutted at his unsubtle no showdown all-in or fold approach as an inability to play post-flop, Liam just kept sticking it in their eye, and getting the fold. Somehow this amateur who never bothered much with the WSOP or EPTs accumulated live winnings well in excess of $1 million, and a considerable amount online (I was one of the few he confided his online name to, and can confirm he won a WCOOP). He satellited into most tournaments he played online, and is one of only four players to have won the Irish Open twice. Even as his health failed, he remained competitive. After that four way chop in the Poker Million, he went deep twice in the Irish Open (most recently last year), two UKIPTs, and won an EPT side event in Monte Carlo.

I never had cause to regret my decision to chop that night in the Emporium with him. Au contraire: our friendship gradually grew over the years. If he liked you, Liam was generous with his time, advice and even his money. He insisted on calling me "O'Kearney", like a stern headmaster (maybe he just didn't know my first name). On one occasion we flew over to Nottingham for a tournament. On the plane and in the cab in, he asked me how things were going. He was a better listener than most poker players and seemed genuinely interested, so I levelled with him: I was struggling. My first major online downswing had done for most of my bankroll, and my entire life roll had disappeared into the black hole that was Anglo Irish Bank. Aware of my family situation (namely that I had one to feed, unlike most poker players), Liam asked, "Would ten grand tide you over?" Unsure of whether this was an actual offer and slightly embarrassed if it was, I said things hadn't reached that dire state yet, and I was confident of grinding my way out. I subsequently learned from other players that Liam had helped out at least a dozen players down the years, in many cases to clear even bigger debts. This was a side of Liam most people probably didn't see; behind his sly mischievous sense of humour lurked a man who was always willing to help out, but never sought credit for it.

In 2010 I spent some time with Liam at EPT Vilamoura, one of my first EPTs. Suitably depressed after getting knocked out a bit before the bubble by eventual winner Toby Lewis, I decided to spend the rest of the trip sulking in my room clicking buttons. Liam lured me out by telling me he had swapped 10% with Teddy Sheringham (the footballer), and while he was happy that Teddy had made Day 3, he was worried that Teddy might play a bit too tight in the latter stages. He asked me if I could have breakfast with them and give Teddy some pointers. Shortly after I got there, Liam made his excuses and left us to it. I felt the notion of me dispensing advice to Teddy was slightly ridiculous, so I didn't bother. Instead I enjoyed a very pleasant breakfast talking about football, golf, sport and life in general.

Teddy ended up coming fifth. When I ran into Liam at the airport, he had that mischievous glint in his eye as he said "Your advice obviously worked, O'Kearney." I came clean and admitted that no such advice was ever given.

"I see. But you enjoyed your breakfast with Teddy, O'Kearney?"
"Of course, Liam. It cheered me right up."
"Good. That was the whole point, O'Kearney."

Liam, for all his accomplishments, was a man who was easy to underestimate, as a player (this 'amateur' ranks number 9 on the all time Ireland money list), as a tournament organiser (he took over the running of the Irish Open after his old boss Terry Rogers died, and oversaw its growth from its Eccentrics Club origins to Europe's largest tournament), and as a man. As news of his death filtered out, tributes poured in on the social media, not just from Ireland but from abroad. None of these were more perfect than Jamie Burland's tweet: "RIP the Gentleman Liam Flood. Games just got a little tougher and far more organised in Heaven."

Tags: Dara O'Kearney, Liam Flood