- Gary Wise, ESPN Poker
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For many, following a famous father's career path might be daunting. As a rule, there's pressure and expectations that come from a name -- with the obvious and constant comparisons. Eoghan O'Dea (pronounced "Owen O-D") is the exception.
O'Dea is a member of the November Nine. It's a remarkable achievement made all the more remarkable by his father Donnacha having made the final table of the WSOP main event twice a generation ago. It's the first time in history father and son have accomplished the task, and you'd think that for a guy whose smarts are obvious, there would be reflection and more reflection on the achievement in the face of the world asking about it. When you speak with the younger O'Dea, though, it's obvious that it seemingly slides off his back like everything else. Eoghan O'Dea carries himself as though he hasn't a care in the world and it's what makes him look particularly dangerous heading into the final table.
You'll be able to see a portion of O'Dea's odyssey on ESPN's broadcast of Day 5 of the main event, Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
At age 26, his origins in poker seem not so related to his father, but more from the poker boom in general. "I started playing when I was maybe 16, and then I got hooked on it when I was 17," Eoghan said. "Late Night Poker came out, which was the first show with hole cards. I watched all the episodes and I got hooked."
It seemed as though an afterthought when he connected the two pieces that many would believe go hand in hand.
"People talk more about me being my dad's son," he said. "I don't think of it that way. I think of myself as my own entity. If he didn't do it, it might have been like if you didn't know anyone who'd done it, it might not seem too realistic to play for a living. Seeing him do it made me think there was a chance."
Seeing his father on TV was certainly an inspiration, but he didn't go to that source for his poker education. Eoghan made a few trips to the casinos, sparsely read books by Doyle Brunson and T.J. Cloutier and then invested online. He didn't talk strategy with dad, or anyone for that matter; he just played. By 19, he was playing full-time, with one good run fueling his bankroll and propelling him into 10/20 and 25/50 pound hold 'em and Omaha games. From there, it was on to live tournaments.
"When I started playing live tournaments, I didn't feel like I was having too much luck," he said. "Then I had two big results in the Poker Million [2008, second for $260,000] and WPT Marrakech [2009, second for $388,532]. That was a bit of good luck. Marrakech gave me confidence."
Neither O'Dea seems to feel the familial connection was instrumental in Eoghan's success. "I think from the point of view of tournament play, he's really done it on his own," said Donnacha, who finished sixth in the 1983 main event, ninth in the 1991 main event and has a bracelet of his own. "His style is very different than mine. It would be wrong of me to claim any credit for his tournament play."
Whatever the style, it's working. Eoghan made his way to Vegas for four weeks of tournament and cash play this summer. He booked his flight home for Day 2 of the main event, but obviously it didn't work out that way. After three cashes in the weeks leading up to the Big One, O'Dea's confidence was high.
"I was winning in the cash games as well, so it's always good when you go in winning," Eoghan recalled. "There have been years where I'd been down in Vegas, losing, and it's tough to go in feeling all negative. I cashed in all hold 'em tournaments, so I felt confident going in. I had pretty easy tables early on. There were no pros, which makes it easier. I think I had average chips on the first and second day and felt comfortable at the table. There wasn't anyone too scary. It was the main event and I was able to wait for good spots. I only finished above average once in the first six days."
Despite always looking up at the chip leaders for the first few days, O'Dea was confident about making a run when it mattered most, despite the difficulty of the remaining field.
"When there was like 120 people left, down to 40-50 players, I had really tough tables, so I really just hung in. I looked around and felt like there were much easier tables. Finally, on Day 7, I picked up two really big pots."
The second of them, at the end of Day 7, moved O'Dea all the way to second in chips. That's the same position from which he'll be starting the final table and both O'Dea's believe he'll be ready for anything that comes his way.
"I don't really want to advise him on how he should play," Donnacha admitted. "I think he'll have his own strategy. I'll throw some ideas in the air and see what he wants to do. He's very much his own person, so I don't want to try to influence him in any way. I think he's very calm and I think his temperament is very good for tournaments. I think he's quite laid back about the whole thing. He's been competing in half-triathlons, doing more on his tennis than the poker, which I guess is really good. I think a lot of people would be totally consumed with it."
Donnacha was spot on about something: Eoghan is not consumed with it at all, and that's just the way he wants it.
"I actually have no clue," the Paddy Poker-sponsored O'Dea said of who he'd be sitting next to (Badih Bounahra on his right, Phil Collins on his left). "I actually haven't done anything to prepare. After four or five weeks in Vegas, I needed to take some time off and not play poker. I spent some time in Ireland. In October, I'll play a few tournaments and hopefully just play some live tournament hold 'em. There's obviously a lot of money on the line, but I don't feel like I need to spend three months preparing for it. You don't want the stress overdoing it can bring about."
Dad seems a lot more excited.
"I mean, obviously I had sort of hoped someday he'd win a bracelet," Donnacha said. "It's so difficult just to win one, but to win a bracelet in the main event and maybe an amount of money that's life changing is incredible. I'm really proud of him. Poker wasn't something I wanted him to take up because there are so few people who are successful, but it's something he really loves doing and he's really good at it."
With his spot in the November Nine comes a guaranteed payout of at least $782,115, an amount that surpasses his father's lifetime tournament winnings.
"Back then, to get big winnings in tournaments when only 100-200 people played, it wasn't easy," the younger O'Dea said graciously when reminded of the stat. "It's not the same thing as winning against the bigger fields. Still, I hadn't really thought of it. I might have to bring it up now."
Donnacha was honest about his chances of getting back to par with his son. "I guess I'll have to start playing a few more tournaments," he said with a chuckle. "If he finishes in the top three-or-four, though, there's no point in trying."
Dad wouldn't mind so much if that's the case. Regardless, he knows his son has now forged his own legacy. A main event championship will only add to the story of poker for both the family name and the men whose success have given it so much meaning.