Real deal... neighbours are flush with $6m poker success
THEY are known as Hold 'em, Fold 'em and Deal. Three neighbours -- who live in Claregalway, Co Galway -- are among the top-earning poker players in the country.
Jude Ainsworth (32), Derek Murray (31) and Fintan Gavin (43) have amassed more than $6m (€4.2m) in winnings through online and live poker tournaments.
"There must be something in the water in Claregalway. It really is a crazy coincidence," Mr Ainsworth told the Irish Independent.
"I don't think there are many places in the world outside of Las Vegas where you would have three successful poker players living so close to one another."
He is one of the highest earning professional poker player in this country -- with winnings of more than $4m (€2.8m).
The father of three turned his back on a life in a laboratory for glamorous high-stakes poker tournaments and jet-setting around the world.
His success story is part of the explosion in popularity of online gambling and gaming over the past several years.
Irish punters' spending on gambling has more than doubled to $3.4bn (€2.4bn) since 1998, while online gaming has grown at a rate of almost 70pc per year.
Participation at the UKIPT live poker tournaments held in Ireland and the UK grew by 56pc -- from 2,708 in 2010 to 4,217 in the first seven tournaments held in the Ireland and the UK this year.
When he was 24, Jude began watching poker on television.
While studying molecular biology at NUIG, he began to organise some friendly games around his kitchen table in the evenings with five friends.
Among the group of five was Derek Murray, also from Claregalway, who is now one of the top poker players in the country.
Mr Murray was a semi-professional soccer player until injury forced him to give up the game.
The 31-year-old accountant has since gone on to amass in the region of $1.2m (€830,000) from playing online poker.
"Me, Derek and three friends bought some chips and cards and we would play once or twice a week for fun, but then we discovered online poker," Mr Ainsworth said.
"I started to play a fair bit online and won about €60,000. Then I took part in a live tournament in Galway which had a €2,000 buy-in fee. I won the top prize of €160,000," he said.
Soon Mr Ainsworth was living a double life. By day he was writing up his thesis on DNA experiments with cattle, while by night he was fast becoming a crack poker pro.
"I never ended up working in a lab as I won a million dollars online just as I was writing up my thesis," he said.
The Galway man was then signed up to an agent called Pokerstars.com.
"They sponsor me and they pay my buy-in to the tournaments which means I get to keep everything I win," he said.
Earlier this month, another neighbour, Mr Gavin, beat 518 other players to win the Pokerstars UK and Ireland Poker Tour championship in Edinburgh, walking away with €70,000.
Mr Gavin, who also runs a bus-hire business as well as organising poker tournaments around Ireland, has won about $1.6m (€1.1m) since he started playing professionally in 2004.
So what's the secret of success?
"It's your temperament and mathematics ability, but you also have to have a bit of a gambling streak in you," he added.