Few countries follow their poker players with as much relish as the Irish, whose discussion boards are usually alight whenever a major tournament is in progress. That goes double, of course, whenever an Irish player goes deep and reaches fever pitch if a countryman looks like heading to the final table.
There was a decent contingent of Irish players here in Prague this week, some of whom remain in the mix as we race hastily towards the money. Many of them are well known both at home and on the international circuit, but some are only just beginning to make a splash either in or out of the Emerald Isle.
Let's start a quick round-up of the Irish players with one of the latter group.
Michael McNelis, 46, was born in Dublin but moved to London in 2001 to work as a city trader (he has also worked on Wall Street in New York). Although he has played three EPT main events, he still considers poker to be a hobby and treats these events as a combination between learning experience and holiday for the family.
He qualified for each of his EPT excursions via the PokerStars Steps satellites and invested the grand total of €2 to win his package here, going through a series of hour-long sit and goes, usually in the hours after his duties as a father have ended for the day.
"I haven't got time to play a tournament that lasts 14 hours," McNelis said. "I usually play when my kids have gone to bed."
We first encountered McNelis at Prague airport on the eve of Day 1A, where he was shepherding a trolley of luggage and children through the terminal. McNelis's son Kieran, who is 4 years old, was sitting atop the suitcases, while his daughter Keiva, 2, was asleep in a push-chair. McNelis's partner is also in town and the family has spent the past couple of days sightseeing, buying wooden toys or puppets and building snowmen - while McNelis has not been required at the poker tables, at least.
During Day 1A, McNelis got a little fortunate twice, beating kings with ace queen and then cracking aces with pocket queens, hitting the third queen on the river. That brought him back for day two with a stack of 76,100, which he managed to keep hold of through the first four levels of the day today.
"I've learned so much playing these EPTs," McNelis said. "My game has improved so much. The problem I have is that as it goes up, I tend to be the guy who raises, gets re-raised and I shove. Or if there's been two raises, I shove. It's not very sophisticated.
"I've watch a lot of videos and I understand strategy, it's just that I don't like playing marginal hands, especially out of position against guys who are just better than me."
This strategy ended up accounting for him in the fifth level of the day, freeing him up to re-join the family. The majority of McNelis's stack went when he lost with A♥J♦ to Nikolaus Teichert's A♣Q♣. He was out soon after.
It almost certainly didn't smart so much for McNelis as it would have done for other players. He still treats poker as a hobby and is very well aware, from his former life as a city trader, that you have to "smash it in" every now and then. He owns a couple of businesses in West London now and, as "CraftyAsAFox" on PokerStars has mastered the art of qualifying for major poker tournaments for cheap. It's a very good life if you can get it.
Irish hopes are now pinned on Mick Graydon, Cornelius Foley and Trevor Dineen after Robbie Renehean, Jason Tomkins, Eoghan O'Dea and Ronan Gilligan all joined McNelis on the rail today.
Graydon, who made the final table in Deauville at the beginning of the year, has about 33,000 as we approach the end of Day 2 here. Meanwhile the online phenom Foley - currently the top-ranked online player from Ireland - has about 60,000.
Dineen too is battling on. He has about 40,000, quite a lot less than the average stack of around 140,000, but coming back for day three is still an achievable aim for all three of them.
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