THEY have only been going out for a month, but newly crowned Irish poker champion Niall Smyth is clearly holding all the aces with his girlfriend.
Niall (26), from Ballyea, Ennis, Co Clare, is €650,000 better off after his girlfriend, Kim Madigan, convinced him to place a bet on the Grand National at Aintree earlier this month.
With the €200 he won on his €10 each way bet on race winner Ballabriggs, Niall transferred his online earnings into a Paddy Power poker account and qualified for the Irish Open event at the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, over the weekend.
With Kim and friends anxiously looking on, Niall survived a mammoth four-day session to capture a total prize of €650,000 in the early hours of yesterday morning after he defeated former World Poker Tour champion Surinder Sunar.
The celebrations were continuing yesterday for the young man, who works as a multi-task attendant at St Joseph's Hospital in Ennis.
"It is absolutely amazing -- the phone has been hopping all day. People are ringing to congratulate from everywhere," Niall said.
"My girlfriend, Kim, and her brother had a big part in it. A few weeks ago, they told me they do a bet each year for the English Grand National. I didn't even know it was on and wasn't going to bother with it, but I did all the bets online and mine came in -- I can't even remember his name (Ballabriggs) now," he recalled.
Niall and Kim -- also from Ennis -- had only been going out for less than a fortnight before his success at the horse-racing.
He has been playing poker on and off for eight years and came 11th at the Irish Open two years ago. After getting through the qualifier rounds, Niall overcame the challenge of 615 poker players to capture the lucrative cash prize.
"I'll definitely have to get Kim something and my parents also -- Stan and Goretti. They have been very good to me," he said.
A keen Manchester United fan, Niall was remaining level headed as he waited to watch the English team in last night's Champions League semi-final match on TV.
"I'll buy something with the winnings. I'll have to get a house. I live with friends in the town -- we rent a house. There'll be a few late nights there after this but I'll have to get a house at some stage," he said.
"I live and work in Ennis so it'll be somewhere around there. The money is great -- €650,000 is a hell of a lot. I won't have to worry about a mortgage, but I won't be retiring either. I'll keep on working and playing a bit more poker this year," he said.
"I'm very lucky and I realise that. So many of my friends have emigrated or left because they can't get work here or can't make a living. There are people in America, Australia and Canada.
"It was absolutely great -- once in a lifetime. I'll have to place another bet or two on that horse from the Grand National also," Niall admitted.