It's nearing the big one! The Irish Open once again becomes the focus for every poker player in the country. The tournament quiet simply dwarfs everything else that plays out over the year here.
An idea of the magnitude can be gleaned from the fact that a fifth place finish will guarantee a bigger payday then winning the next biggest tournament in Ireland for the year.
I first played the Open in 2006 when it was a bit a benchmark year, as this is when the game really exploded in Ireland.
I had won a one-seat satellite in Waterford and headed for Dublin full of naive confidence. I had only played a couple of ranking events at this stage and was totally blown away by the whole set up when I arrived at Jury's Inn for the event.
No such thing as a super satellite the previous day back then, we had a €400 re-buy with 2000 chips per buy-in and 4000 for the top up. I thought it better for my pocket to give up after four buy-ins and just hit the bar, having not reached the add-on.
My starting table the next day included Mike Caro, Marty Smyth, Rob Young, Simon Trumper and Steve Jelinek. Caro had been brought over by the sponsors as a "star" player and a hand I was involved with him in level two, is still the weirdest I have ever played.
With the blinds 50/100, three players including Caro on the button limped into my big blind, I checked my option holding Q7. The Q77 flop looked very nice and I checked, as did the next two players.
At this stage I'm thinking to myself, the best way to extract a thousand or two in chips when Mike suddenly announces all-in. It took a few seconds to register what had happened but sure enough he moved his 8,600 stack into the middle to win a pot of 400.
I obviously called and Mike turned up A2 off suit, for no draw no pair. Caro is known as the mad genius of poker and was clearly operating on a different planet to the rest of us mere mortals with this advanced play. It went way over my head anyway.
I remember accumulating a lovely stack for the next few hours, but I was to become unstuck before the end of play. Eventual sixth Paul Daly was moved to my table and we played a monster pot with all the chips going in on the turn, where my set of Jacks looked very healthy until the King on the river matched the two he held.
The beat haunted me for months afterwards, but a lasting addiction with the tournament had been formed.
The 2011 Irish Open will be held in the Burlington Hotel from the 21st to the 24th of April; one time.