1999 WSOP Main Event Champ Noel Furlong Passes Away Aged 831 month ago
The Irish poker community is in mourning this week after 1999 WSOP Main Event champion, Noel Furlong, passed away peacefully at home at the age of 83.
Born in Dublin in 1937 with the initials “JJ” for John James, he was given the nickname “Noel” because of his Christmas Day birth, and would go on to make his fortune by founding Furlong Flooring, manufacturing carpets and other flooring products.
Noel had already made his mark on the poker scene long before his 1999 victory, taking down the Irish Poker Open titles in 1987 and 1989 and running very deep in the 1989 WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas.
That year’s tournament was memorable for Phil Hellmuth’s heads-up victory over Johnny Chan, and Phil recalled the “humble, well-mannered businessman” who finished in 6th place.
“The Irishman Noel Furlong was a world champion of poker, and in our poker world, that means something!” Hellmuth told PokerNews on hearing of Noel Furlong’s passing this week.
“Everyone wants to win the coveted WSOP Main Event. Only one person a year wins it, one, but even fewer have done it as an amateur player!” said Hellmuth, describing Noel as “fearless” and recalling a huge bluff the Irishman pulled off against him.
♣ ♠ ♦ ♥
Hellmuth: K♣ Q♥
Furlong: 9♥ 9♣
Board: Q♣ 7♣ 4♥ 2♣
“I had top pair and a king-high flush draw, he had nines with a nine-high flush draw,” explained Hellmuth, revealing: “I believe he check-raised me, and I folded: well done Noel! I still have the newspaper clipping.”
A decade later and Noel Furlong was at another WSOP final table and this time he would walk off with poker’s biggest prize of all, a Main Event gold bracelet and $1million.
That final table was just as stacked as a decade previously, featuring Huck Seed, Erik Seidel as well as fellow Irishmen Padraig Parkinson and George McKeever. Noel saw them all off and defeated Alan Goehring heads-up for his greatest-ever victory.
Noel was already 62-years old when he took down the tournament and played only sporadically afterwards, concentrating his efforts instead on his business interests.
He described the end of that epic run and what happened next in an interview with the Racing Post. :
"I had two fives in the hole, and the flop came queen, five, queen," he says of the final head-to-head hand. "I played it slow . . . he had a pair of sixes hidden but I had it won anyway, I had most of the chips by then. I don't play poker at all now, and I never played seriously after that. It's not a game you can just turn up and play; you have to play regularly to maintain any standard."
He was also heavily involved in the horse-racing industry, the Racing Post describing his passing with the headline “Cheltenham coup mastermind and poker ace”.
The Cheltenham Festival coup refers to the incredible £1.5million he took from bookmakers Ladbrokes, starting with an unlikely win by his “former crock” The Iliad in Leopardstown that allowed him to pay a £500,000 VAT bill.
The story ended with the “sting” in Cheltenham that could have netted him an extra $5million had the horse not become dehydrated, but his other charge, Destriero, had already won to bag the massive payday.
“We got very drunk afterwards,” Noel revealed, adding: “I can't remember where we were staying, some hotel near Cheltenham. We drank champagne into the small hours of the morning.”
A father of three daughters, Christine, Karen and Tara, Noel Furlong passed away peacefully at his home on Sunday surrounded by family and friends. A private funeral will take place in Dublin Thursday morning.
RIP Noel Furlong.
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