In unfortunate news that is coming from Ireland, the 1999 World Series of Poker Championship Event winner Noel Furlong has passed away. The veteran Irish poker pro had been away from the game for the past few years, but he was universally recognized for a rather gruff demeanor that covered for an excellent poker player. Furlong passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family, at the age of 83.
Legacy of Poker Excellence
Born on Christmas Day in 1937 as J. J. Furlong, he picked up the nickname of “Noel” and became a legend in Irish gaming circles. His first forays into poker came at the second oldest poker tournament in the world, the Irish Poker Open, where he won the Main Event on two occasions (1987 and 1989). Buoyed by this success, Furlong would come to the U. S. in 1989 and cash in his very first effort at the WSOP Championship Event, finishing in sixth place.
Surprisingly, it would take another decade before Furlong etched his name in the WSOP record books. Furlong got the ball rolling on his 1999 WSOP by final tabling the $3500 No Limit Hold’em event, earning him enough for the buy-in for the Championship Event. That tournament in 1999 was the then-largest in WSOP history, 393 runners, and the final table featured a “Who’s Who” of the poker world.
The final six players consisted of Furlong, runner-up Alan Goehring, his countryman Padraig Parkinson, (now) eight-time WSOP bracelet winner Erik Seidel, 1996 WSOP Championship Event winner Huck Seed, and Chris Bigler, about as difficult a final table as you could find in that era. Furlong would outlast them all en route to taking down the million-dollar first place prize and the Championship Event bracelet that went along with it.
Furlong did not strictly delve into poker, however. He was also an avid sportsman who invested in the thoroughbred industry, fitting of someone named “Furlong.” Furlong was also an astute businessman, using the winnings from 1999 to start his own flooring company that has been extraordinarily successful. According to the Hendon Mob database, Furlong took down $1,145,806 in career earnings and, until Andy Black finished at the final table in the 2005 WSOP Championship Event, was the all-time money leader for Irish poker players (he currently is in 14th place).
Remembered by Many, Respected by All
The remembrances of Furlong by the poker community were plentiful and highly respectful of the man and his game.
Poker presenter Jesse May remembered Furlong’s hand against Seed at that 1999 final table and how Furlong called a Seed all-in with only an A-3. Furlong had actually caught Seed in a bluff, with Seed only holding a J-8, and the ensuing runout kept Furlong in the lead and pushed him to the championship. “Some people might go so far as to say it was one of the worst calls in poker,” May wrote on Twitter. “But to me it’s always been one of the best, and it’s one of my favorite calls about which I’ve ever known. And Noel Furlong won the World Series of Poker with absolutely no fear at all.”
While he admitted that he was not close with Furlong, former WSOP media maestro Nolan Dalla had some remembrances of his own. “I did have the chance to have a few drinks with Furlong in Dublin once, thanks to his longtime pal Padraig Parkinson, who always seems to be the glue between disparate people and clashes of personalities,” Dalla began on his personal website.
“Between Parkinson and Furlong, with their thick Irish accents, I was lucky to understand every other word that was said,” Dalla continued. “I do remember Furlong behaving like the ultimate curmudgeon. It was stunning — half-hysterical and half-horrifying. After he spewed yet another string of indecipherable F-bombs between pints followed by a barrel echo of a laugh, then another, then another, during a break I finally had to lean over and ask Padraig if this was all an act. It couldn’t possibly be real.” “Oh, it’s no act,” Padraig snapped. “That’s just Noel being Noel.”
Poker News Daily extends our sympathies to the Furlong Family, his friends, and associates. Furlong will be laid to rest on Thursday in Dublin, in a private family funeral.