Galway Poker legend mistakenly took Ben Affleck for an average punter

Padraig Parkinson got his big break in 1999 with a third-place finish at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas cashing $489,125.

He went on to establish himself as one of the all-time greats. The Galway-born star may not be a household name in Ireland but in poker circles, that’s most certainly not the case.

Parkinson began mastering his craft in the 80s and early 90s in Dublin’s, since closed, Eccentrics Club. The ‘club’ was a couple of apartments converted for use, and he says there couldn’t have been a more fitting name for the once flagship venue in Irish poker.

The Eccentrics Club & 1999 WSOP

“The club it just seduced us, there was an unbelievable number of characters. I mean, the club was very appropriately named when it was called the eccentrics club. The number of characters, I mean every second person was a character.”

“The game was non-existent in Ireland at the time and the craic was unbelievable. Most of the guys came from the back of bookies shops, snooker rooms, and racetracks.”

It turned out a number of those “characters” from the Eccentrics club would be a big part of the WSOP in 1999 and for the years to come. At the 1999 WSOP three Irish men made the top seven, George McKeever and Neil Furlong (who went on to win), were regulars at the Dublin club.

Padraig believes that seeing these Irish people alongside him at the pinnacle of poker, gave him a sense of belonging and took away inner doubts such as “do I deserve to be here?”

“It made us an awful lot more relaxed and especially down to those final few tables. You look around and you see all these guys and you know them from the Eccentrics Club.”

“It was extraordinary, just one small little flat in Dublin and it had three guys in the top poker table in the world! I think it helped all of us because not one of us got the feeling we didn’t belong.”

“I said to myself if I’m not supposed to be here then what the hell are them two other lads doing here?”

Celebrities

Despite not being a household name, playing high-stakes poker with the rich and famous allowed him to meet some who were. Although he may not have recognized them initially.

While playing on the World Poker Tour in 2004, Padraig got invited to a celebrity invitational game in the LA Commerce Club. After talking to people around the room for a while, he turned to his friend and asked: “I thought there were supposed to be celebrities here?”

His Friend burst into laughter and asked, “who do you think you were talking to for the last thirty minutes?”

“I said no, that’s just a very nice fella that I played with a few times at the World Series. We were hanging out during a couple of breaks and having the craic. My friend turns to me, and he says, ‘well that gentleman’s name there is Ben Affleck.’”

“I mean I was wondering why he was sticking so close to me, but he probably figured out he’d found the only guy in the world that didn’t know who he was,” he laughs.

Padraig has played with lots of celebrities over the years, many of which were through charity matches, one particular football player stood out the most.

“It started off as ‘poker for the homeless’ but then pieta house got involved a few years later. We’ve raised over €300,000 in tournaments over the years, and it’s just been an absolute pleasure. There’s been loads of celebrities, Ken [Doherty] has been involved from the start.”

“We had Reggie Corrigan play, Steve Davis, Eamon Dunphy, Rosanna Davidson. Who’s the best? We had Tony Cascarino down, he’s pretty good now, he’s someone who can play.”

Galway Roots

With total career earnings of $1,870,474, Padraig still manages to keep to his Galway roots having only spent a short time there in his youth. His largest victory in the city was a cool €125,000 at the inaugural United Kingdom & Ireland Poker Tour in 2009.

Padraig moved back to Ireland in 2017 having spent 15 years based in Paris. He recalls being asked to set up a poker tournament in Ireland for Party Poker in 2008 and being “selfish,” he chose Galway as the host city.

“I love Galway. Although I wasn’t involved with them at the time Party Poker in 2008 contacted me and asked me to get a foothold in Ireland. They wanted me to put on an Irish tournament and televise it on RTE to get things going.”

“They asked where we should go? And I immediately I told him we’d do it in Galway, and it was pretty selfish (he laughs), but I just wanted a long weekend away here and that’s how it happened.”

The WSOP is a tournament than can go for days on end, Padraig has finished ‘in the money,’ 17 times during his career. After an absence of five years, he hopes to return to Las Vegas next year and compete again in the poker world’s main event.

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