One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is finding new poker rooms. I collect a poker chip from each cardroom I visit (I haven’t counted recently, but I’ve got about 125 in my collection).  Poker is a game that unites people from all corners of the globe, and serves as a universal language of camaraderie and competition. I just got back from two weeks in Ireland, and poker is no different there.

The first thing that surprised me there is that I assumed everyone spoke English. The country has two official languages, English and Irish Gaelic, simply known as “Irish” over there. All road signs are in both languages, and I met one person at the airport who only spoke Irish. We had to use google translate to communicate. 

Travelling to Europe makes one laugh at the things we call “old” in America. I live about an hour away from St. Augustine, Florida, which was founded in 1565. That’s ANCIENT by our standards. In Ireland, I saw ruins and tombs dating back to 3200 B.C.

Poker in Ireland

But forgive me from getting sidetracked. You don’t care about the ruins anyway, you just want to know about the poker. When my wife first told me she wanted to go to Ireland this summer, I told her that sounded lovely. Thirty seconds later I was googling “Can I play poker in Ireland?”  (Do not act smug and tell me you’ve never done that before!)

Unfortunately, in most of the smaller Irish towns that we visited, the cardrooms had closed down. They were listed on google maps as “permanently closed”. I can only guess that they were victims of the pandemic.

But in Dublin there were still plenty of members-only casinos. At first, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get in to these, but a little bit of paperwork allowed me to become a member on the spot. It’s amazing how casinos want to help you gamble as efficiently as possible!

The D1 Casino was walking distance from my hotel in Dublin, and it did have a classy members-only feel to it. The casino offered free drinks, waitresses walking around with plates of free hors d’oeuvres, and no crowds. There was only a single $1/$2 game going on when I got there, but the locals were sociable and enjoyed having a newcomer in their game.

This report wouldn’t be complete without at least one hand history. I had 5-4 on the button and flopped a flush draw.  There were about 5 players left in the hand (typical), and I bet the flop and turn. Nonetheless, there were still three of us in the hand on the river when I made my flush on an unpaired board.  The first player to act thinks for a whole minute and then shoves for about 2x pot. That’s got to be 100% the nuts, right?  Nope. I laid it down and he showed the bluff.  Don’t discount those pesky Irish!

Other types of gambling in Ireland

Horse racing holds a special place in Irish culture, with a history spanning centuries. There was a racetrack in almost every town we visited. I was told that for the bigger races (such as the Irish Derby), people travel the entire country to partake in the action. The tracks that I saw were all grass (turf) and I even saw some hurdles set up. I guess there must be hurdle races as well as the flat races that we’d be more accustomed to here. I asked one of the locals, “Do a lot of people bet on the races?” and I’ve never seen an Irishman laugh so hard. I’ll take that for a yes. 

Irish Hurling

Forget the horse racing though, there is one event in Ireland that tops all other gambling opportunities, and that is the All-Ireland Hurling Championship. As it turned out, this event was going on in Dublin during the time I was there. 

Irish Hurling is the ultimate manly man’s game. Hurling’s origins can be traced back over 3,000 years to ancient Ireland, making it one of the world’s oldest field games. How do I even describe this game? It’s a continuous, full-contact sport like rugby. But picture 30 guys on a rugby field with big wooden hockey sticks, hitting a baseball around at up to 100 MPH. These days, the participants reluctantly wear helmets, but no other protective gear. 

The All-Ireland Hurling Championship, which this year featured Limerick vs Kilkenny, is the Irish Super Bowl. Over 80,000 fans from all over the country pack the stadium. I wasn’t able to obtain a ticket, but a friend of mine (a local) went because he had a ticket from his employer. He said it was worth thousands of euros. I had to watch it on Irish TV.

Just like the American Super Bowl, you can bet on EVERYTHING in the hurling championship. The outright winner, winner with a point spread, the over/under, first team to score, first team to get a penalty, number of broken arms before halftime. Ok maybe not that last one, but you might as well be able to bet on that. I have so much respect for the skill level and toughness of these hurling warriors. I now have a new bucket list item:  attend a hurling match! (and, who knows…maybe make a wager or two).