Back in the early days of the European Poker Tour, there used to be a running bet between the writers of PokerStars Blog and two reporters from an Irish online poker site. Essentially it was a last-longer centred on the main event field: we would take PokerStars qualifiers, they would take Irish players and whoever had a player left when all others had busted won a few beers in the bar that night.
During seasons one through three, this was usually a close-run thing. David O’Callaghan, Rory Liffey, George McKeever and Jamie Drummond all made final tables during season one, and the Irish were a force to be reckoned with at any event. Then all of a sudden, Irish players became remarkably scarce. Fintan Gavin finished second in Barcelona a few years ago, and Mick Graydon was eighth in Deauville last season. But this event in Sanremo, for instance, featured only six Irish players in a field of 797.
Lucky, then, that one of them is Jason Topkins. With only 41 players left, the man from Kildare is still riding high. At time of writing, Tompkins is closing in on a million chips*, only two or three places below the chip leader. He is also carrying the hopes of one of poker’s proudest nations with him.
“I can’t do it without your support,” Tompkins said at the last break, addressing the numerous Irish poker fans who are tweeting us at @pokerstarsblog looking for information on how Tompkins is faring. “I’m pretty happy, especially being the last Irish person left. It’s great when everybody’s rooting for you. Pretty happy with that.”
The Emerald Isle really couldn’t have a better representative over here. Tompkins has been prospering all tournament, despite sitting at exceptionally tough tables at pretty much every stage. He had Sam Trickett on day two, was next to his good friend Dermot Blain on day three, and is now sitting with some other familiar and fearsome faces.
“I’ve got Isaac Haxton to my immediate left and I’ve got Yevgeniy (Timoshenko) to my right, so I’m stuck in the middle,” Tompkins said. (Inge Forsmo is also on the table.) “But I don’t think it’s going to get any better because we’re so deep now.”
It shouldn’t necessarily bother him. Tompkins, who is 27, knocked out David Vamplew earlier today, who was the last remaining former EPT champion in the field. Tompkins is also no stranger to deep runs in the big live events. After a string of final tables at festivals in Ireland, including a fifth-place finish at a UKIPT stop in Dublin, he picked up the biggest live score of his career in Las Vegas this summer, earning $85,981 for sixth place in a $1,000 NLHE event at the World Series. That tournament had 3,221 entrants, but even so, the final table only served to whet the appetite.
“I much prefer playing live,” Tompkins said. “I think I have a better game live than I do online, so I put more effort into my live game than I do online, which should be the other way around really. I’m still waiting to get the big score live, though. I’ve had a few big ones online.”
Tompkins travelled to Sanremo with Blain and Nick Abou Risk, and they frequently talk strategy and about honing their games in both online and live environments. Tompkins admits that he has struggled recently to find motivation while playing online, but is one of a new breed of Irish players intent on making the country a force again on the international scene.
“Even the festivals now in Ireland are full of young players everywhere,” Tompkins said. “The old guard don’t really play as high any more. I think most of them understand the game passed them by; it’s a totally different era of the game now.”
This is the era of handing over a brick of €5,000 in banknotes, just to get a seat in the game. It’s a moment that still fills Tompkins with some degree of excitement-tinged apprehension. “You feel great handing it over, but at the same time you think, ‘It’s still five grand, like, and you could be out within an hour.’ Especially when you travel all these places and play every stop of the season, it amounts to a lot of money.”
Not quite as much money as the amount he could be set to win, if this fine run of form carries him through the rest of today and tomorrow. Although any final table finish would replace that Vegas score as his biggest, Tompkins has his eyes fixed firmly on the €800,000 first prize.
“I’ve already made a big final table, so I want to win,” he said. “If I end up busting ninth or sixth, that’s going to hurt. But I’m always going to go for it.”
Rumour has it, the bars of Sanremo are stocking up on the black stuff just in case.
*Since time of writing, Tompkins has moved up to 1.5m, tweeting the following: “Hello Bluffer. Hello pot. Hello 1.5mil. #EptSanRemo”.
Keep an eye on the live tournament reporting from EPT Sanremo for all the news from the tournament floor.