Irish poker pro who scooped $165k in Bahamas says he might just change his £400 car

‘I love my Nissan Micra but it’s got no airbags or power steering’

Tom’s all smiles after his big win

Tom Parsons back home in Belfast this week

Sophie hugs Tom after his win

Steven MooreSunday World

A man from east Belfast came up ‘trumps’ last week after scooping $165,000 playing poker in the Bahamas.

Tom Parsons returned home last Monday having spent nine nights in the Caribbean with his partner – and biggest supporter – Sophie, as he skilfully saw off some of the best poker players in the world.

But the clued-up poker-pro has yet to splash out apart from a present for his cat, Wolfie, though at least now he’s thinking of replacing his car which he bought for £400 several years ago.

“I love my Nissan Micra but it’s got no airbags or power steering so I might look to get something that offer me at least a bit of protection if I have an accident,” says Tom.

“I will have to get something for Sophie for all the support she has given me and I’ve already spent £45 on a cat tower for Wolfie.

“The rest I’ll invest in a couple of tax-free ISAs and think about saving to buy a house some day.”

Tom won his way to the Bahamas four years ago when he was a student but when Covid postponed the main event he used his time to study the game of luck and skill – time clearly well spent!

The 25-year-old, originally from Holywood, lasted until day four of the mammoth five-day tournament which saw him finish 16th out of more than 1,000 players.

He started playing poker online seven years ago and played thousands of games for stakes as low as 2p and his biggest single pay-out until now had been about $3,000.

“I’m absolutely delighted to have won, it was a trip of a lifetime – out in the Bahamas doing the thing I love doing the most,” says Tom.

Tom Parsons back home in Belfast this week

“What made it great was my parents and family could see it as it was being livestreamed across the internet. They have always been a bit sceptical of my choice of work and give me stick about getting a proper job.

“I’ve been playing for a few years now and I still love it just as much as when I started. Hopefully now they can see I can make a living from it after this.”

Tom won his way to the massive prize pot on day three last Thursday despite the cards being literally stacked against him.

His experienced poker star rival Kitty Kuo appeared to have him about to throw in his cards when the dealer dealt him a third and almost impossible jack to join the other two he already had.

Tom went on to play on day four, playing seven tables against eight players in each, and says he could have won even more had he not misread a bet made by a rival on his final game.

The Queen’s University graduate, who has been studiously learning his craft after taking up the sport online when he was a student, won his seat at one of world pokers richest tables in the Bahamas through a lucky hand four years ago.

Sophie hugs Tom after his win

Nicknamed ‘The Predator’, Tom was one of the six players that won a ‘flip’ to be entered in the Platinum Pass ‘sit and go’ game.

He then won a quick sit and go that was streamed live to secure a Platinum Pass (worth $25,000 in itself) for the 2020 event.

Before he won the pass he agreed with his five playing rivals that whoever won the seat at the big event would give the others 3% of his winnings and so – true to his word – Tom has coughed up €6,000 each to his poker pals.

That event was due to take place in Barcelona but due to Covid it was postponed and eventually went ahead in the luxurious Baha Mar casino and resort in Nassau last week.

Tom booked him and Sophie into an Airbnb for a few nights before the contest started and he’s glad he did because he says he owes so much thanks to Sophie for her support.

“I couldn’t have done it without Sophie,” he says. “She’s working as a care worker and has a Masters degree in psychological counselling.

“She has almost zero interest in poker but she stood behind the rail for 11-12 hours every day. She was brilliant and she helps me deal with my emotional swings as there’s a lot of highs and lows involved with playing poker.

“I honestly couldn’t have done so well if she hadn’t been there. She could have been off enjoying the resort but she was there for me throughout it all. Luckily I’d booked a few nights before the competition started so we could enjoy a bit of a holiday.”

After spending an hour with Tom I’m more confused about poker than I ever was. He tells me his degree is in International Politics with Conflict Studies but I suspect it’s more likely that it’s actually in how to see the Matrix!

Talk of flips, blinds, and something about a river, which saw him score his miraculous Jack, has my head spinning like a roulette table.

“When people hear I’m a professional poker player they ask me about football bets or the horses and they are always shocked to hear I don’t bet,” says Tom.

“Poker is a game of skill with a luck element. I’m as passionate now about the game as I was when I started and now it’s giving me the opportunity to see the world and make a living.,” says Tom.

Tom says he hopes he’ll still be playing poker when he’s 70 and is just enjoying a bit of financial security following the win.

“It’s illegal to play it in Northern Ireland face-to-face so I was playing for free online. I started winning a few tournaments and eventually I became a Paddy Power sponsored pro and that has taken me all round Ireland and the UK playing poker as well as a couple of tournaments abroad.

“By the time the Bahamas came round I knew I was going into the tournament with confidence in myself. I treated it like any other poker tournament.”

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