When PokerStars announced in February that the European Poker Tour (EPT) Monte Carlo stop was returning, they also revealed that the ever-popular regional tours would make a comeback after a five-year hiatus.
This was very exciting news indeed.
The beloved UK and Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT) ran for six seasons between 2009 and 2016, offering players a full schedule of affordable buy-ins, as well as destination experiences that felt like lively city-break vacations.
Many of the UK and Ireland’s best young poker talent cut their teeth on the tour, including Scotland’s Niall “Firaldo” Farrell.
Farrell has gone on to become a Triple Crown winner (he’s won EPT, WPT and WSOP titles) with $6.3 million in live cashes and almost $4 million in online earnings under his belt. But take a look at his Hendon Mob profile and you’ll see that his first-ever live cash was in a £50 turbo at UKIPT Edinburgh back in 2010. He won it for £525.
The UKIPT came to an end in 2017 and has been sorely missed ever since.
“The UKIPTs were my first foray into the live poker scene, so it was sad when it went away,” Farrell tells me. “For a lot of the guys, it had been the go-to UK tour. Back then it was televised on Channel 4, so you’d be buzzing to get on the feature table and maybe get on telly.
“UKIPTs were always super well-run, like an EPT. You get the prestige and the feel of playing the premier events, even if it’s at a lower buy-in.”
For Farrell and players of his generation, the UKIPTs were a bridge to go from their local casino tournaments to playing higher stakes at the EPT.
“It helps you get used to playing live and how things are set up,” he says. “Other tours have great events but the PokerStars stops are destinations where you have a full range of side events and great locations. It’s more of a full trip. There’s definitely been a gap for these ‘destination’ festivals.”
So far, the only event that has been confirmed for 2022 is UKIPT London, taking place between 1-10 April. But if the satellite situation for that event is anything to go by, we’re going to see a whole lot of players win their way into UKIPTs throughout the year, often with hotel packages and spending money included in the prize.
“Having your satellites on the biggest poker site is obviously going to provide more ways of getting in, which is great for everyone,” says Farrell. “It’s great for the people who qualify, it’s great for the pros. Satellites are just one of the most important parts of any live poker offering. The more satellite entries you can get the better your tournament will be.”
In the UKIPT’s absence, other regional tours have tried to fill its shoes. But none have quite captured the feel and cachet of the UKIPT.
Farrell was a staple on the tour and has countless fond memories trekking up and down the UK and Ireland with his crew of mates and fellow great poker players.
“UKIPT Galway was always absurd,” he says. “One time we rented a flat between four of us and one of the boys–Paul Febers–made the final table of the Main Event. It was the night before the final table so he couldn’t go out and the last thing he said to us was ‘listen, boys, could you please just be quiet when you come in? I’ve got the final tomorrow, I need rest.’ And we were like, ‘yeah no bother’.
“Obviously, we roll in at 6 am with folk we’ve just met on the street. I remember Paul–to his eternal credit–walking in bleary-eyed wearing just his boxers to a room full of people, and he just sits down and grabs a beer and opens it, saying ‘right, what are we drinking’?”
Febers went on to finish second in the event for €149K.
“Another time a Spanish university netball or volleyball team was on a holiday in Galway and they came back to the poker village with us because it was the only place still serving alcohol after everything else had shut. There was a queue of 25 Spanish girls signing up to PokerStars Live so they could get into the bar for a beer.
“Obviously, we were all a bit younger so it was a bit wilder back then. But I have a lot of fun memories.”
The return of the UKIPT not only means there are fun times ahead, but it’s also an investment in the UK and Ireland’s upcoming poker talent.
“The UKIPT is a really great way for younger players to progress their journies, and we just haven’t had that for a long time,” says Farrell. “I think it can be quite tough for a new generation to come through when you take these tools away, so I think the UKIPT coming back is going to be a really good thing for UK and Ireland poker.”
Farrell considers his to be a golden generation of players–comprised of the likes of Chris Moorman, Toby Lewis, Jake Cody, Craig McCorkell, Matt Frankland and others–many of whom were at the very top of the game at the time.
“Now we’ve got Stephen Chidwick and Sam Grafton as elite guys, but that’s really it,” says Farrell. “We’ve not really had the grassroots progression the way we had it where you can climb through the ranks and get really good, so I think it will be an important thing to have the UKIPT back.”
These days, Farrell has a young son at home and no longer travels as much as he once did for live poker (“I kind of pick my stops based on which cities have the best Celtic pubs,” he tells me.)
But you can bet he’ll be getting back on the UKIPT tour when more stops are announced. He recently attended EPT Prague–his first EPT in around three years–and finished ninth in the €10K High Roller for €55K, booking himself a profitable trip.
“When you haven’t been playing you worry you’re going to be miles behind and whether you can still cut it in tough fields,” he says. “But when I played the €10K I felt really comfortable like I hadn’t been away. You’ll definitely see a lot more of me over the next year.”
Another reason we’ll be seeing more of Farrell? There’s a BBC documentary about him in the works.
A BAFTA-winning documentary maker reached out to Farrell at last year’s WSOP in Las Vegas and has been following him ever since.
“It’s been good, but it’s weird having someone follow you about,” he says. “I tried to explain to him that he could follow me for six months and all I do is lose. But it’s fun, something different. If it gives a good indication of what the poker world is like, it will be nice. There’s no fun in life if you say no to things.
“I’m just fuming it’s come after lockdown because I’ve put on about three stone. I’ll see if they can airbrush me down a wee bit.”