Just a few minutes before the sun rose on August 6, Eoghan O’Dea was heads-up for a World Series of Poker bracelet against Nital Jethalal in Event #51 ($400 Pot Limit Omaha). The two battled for 10 minutes before O’Dea vanquished Jethalal and relegated him to the runner-up club to lay claim to his first WSOP bracelet.
And then he texted his dad.
“We’re one all.”
In 1998, Donnacha O’Dea, Eoghan’s father, won a WSOP bracelet by beating Johnny Chan heads up in a $1,500 Pot Limit Omaha tournament. Eoghan just wanted to let his dad know that he had evened the score. At the moment the text message hit Donnacha’s phone, he was asleep in the hospital. He woke up to see the text from Eoghan and was somewhat confused. He didn’t even know his son had been playing in the tournament.
“He was pretty chuffed. He actually had been in hospital with an infection in his knee at the time,” Eoghan said. “And I think the tournament finished at 5:30 in the morning or something like that. And he gets up early in the hospital, like six or something, so I just sent him a message.”
The patriarch of the family is out of the hospital now and doing fine according to Eoghan. The pair now have time to compare notes on the bracelet wins and the joy and stress that came from having the unique opportunity to play heads up for one.
“I think when there’s a bracelet on the line, it seems like it means a lot more. So heads up, even if we weren’t even playing for that much more money – I think it was like $80K to $100K, and then there’s the WSOP Europe package – I think just having the bracelet on the line, I just felt a lot more stress to it. As in another tournament, I wouldn’t have felt that big a deal kind of thing. I was like, ‘Please, don’t come second’.”
The bracelets, of course, aren’t the only thing that the O’Dea’s each have on their poker resume. Both have also made the final table of the WSOP Main Event. Donnacha came sixth in the 1983 Main Event and 28 years later, Eoghan posted an identical sixth place result. For the younger O’Dea, the hardware that comes from winning a WSOP event makes this recent win the highlight of his career to date.
“That’s one thing that you always want to win in the World Series, the bracelets. So that’s the biggest thing,” Eoghan said.
Everything about 2020 makes the WSOP different. The events are online for one, but there’s also no boisterous rail drinking and cheering throughout the night. Even as O’Dea was working his way through the final table, he did so from the quiet of his home in Dublin. The boys had all gone to sleep.
“I’d actually put in a message in our WhatsApp group with the Irish guys. I don’t think anyone was even up,” O’Dea said. “One of my good friends, he railed me until there was two tables left. He normally goes to bed quite early. It was like 4:30 in the morning and he was just like, ‘I’ve got to go to sleep. Good luck’.”
The days that followed were far more subdued than what they would have been had the bracelet been won in Las Vegas. Tradition dictated some sort of celebration and good intentions went by the wayside as a few more of his friends joined in.
“I went for a few drinks just locally with my friends, a couple of guys – wasn’t really planning to,” O’Dea said. “I hadn’t been to bed all day. I thought I’d have one or two, and then I ended up having… It ended up being a late enough night. There was a couple of us, and then we went out again on Saturday. So I had a couple of heavy days.”
His Main Event final table was nine years ago and O’Dea says he’s matured quite a bit since then. He still looks back at that November Nine experience and admits to playing it back in his head trying to figure out if there’s something he could have changed.
“In poker, it’s kind of annoying because you have to win the tournament to be fully happy,” O’Dea said, even admitting his Main Event finish left him wanting more. “I had a lot of chips going in and then maybe I didn’t really play that well or something. Or you’re in your head, you’re thinking that anyway. So yeah, just winning the tournament always means a lot more.”