Noel Furlong won the 1999 World Series Main Event and was the last winner to receive "only" $1 million.
However, it is known for sure that Furlong did not win his first million, but earned it. He founded Furlong Flooring in 1980 and was already a multi-millionaire at the time of his poker triumph. The company remains today one of the largest flooring manufacturers in Europe with an annual turnover of about $100 million.
Furlong met poker by accident. Legend has it that this happened thanks to an evening walk with the dogs in the fall of 1984. At the entrance to a 5-star hotel, he met his good friend – the famous Irish bookmaker and gambler Terry Rogers, who devoted his whole life to popularizing poker in Ireland. In the 1980s, he founded the Irish Poker Open series and opened Ireland's first poker room, the Eccentric Club. Terry boasted to a friend that he had managed to gather all the major poker stars in Dublin and that there would be an expensive game in the evening, in which everyone could take.
Quite famous personalities rarely came to Ireland – Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson, Chip Reese, and Stu Ungar. At that time, only numerous versions of Hold’em or stud games were played. Furlong did not even know the rules of these games, but the event itself interested him. He took the dogs home, returned to the club and a couple of hours later he was playing heads-up with Puggy Pearson and even won $6,000 from him. From that day on, Furlong became a regular at the Eccentric Club. Played both cash games and tournaments and won the Irish Poker Open Main Event twice in the late 80s. But despite his achievements, he always emphasized that in poker his main motivation is not money and titles, but the atmosphere.
In the 80s, Irish players began to travel en masse to Las Vegas for the World Series. This also happened thanks to Terry Rogers – he offered backing to some of them, paid for flights and accommodation, and they just liked spending time with him. For each series, he brought in 10-15 people, which at that time was approximately 10% of all participants. Furlong, despite his friendship with Terry, made it to the WSOP only in 1989 and immediately took 6th place in the main event. Then the young Phil Hellmuth won, who remembered Noel's game very well:
– He played completely fearless and bluffed me in a huge pot. This hand was even featured on the front page of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. I still have the clipping. On the board he check-raised with and I threw away .
Ten years later, three players from Ireland appeared on the final table of the main tournament at once – George McKeever (7th), Padraig Parkinson (3rd), and Noel Furlong, who became the champion.
At this final table, Hellmuth also carefully watched, but from the sidelines:
– In those years, we were very close friends with Huck Seed, who was one of the finalists. When there were 6 people left, Huck complained to me that he was already fed up with the pesky Irishman who was raising and reraising every hand. At some point, Hack could not stand it, and in order to put the insolent man in his place, he made a 4-bet push with (Ed. – according to other sources, Huck limped into UTG, Noel immediately reraised him, and Huck announced a huge all-in overbet). Noel immediately called with and knocked out the most formidable opponent in 6th place. I couldn't believe my eyes. Play for all the chips with this hand? Incredible!
We mentioned some details of the crazy hands in that tournament in the memoirs of Padraig Parkinson:
“The main show started on the second day, when four of the most aggressive players in the entire tournament—Eric Seidel, Huck Seed, Noel Furlong, and myself—were at the same table. It was a real mess. Huck Seed called every time I raised, and then Furlong squeezed. Of course, he did not know the word "squeeze", but he knew perfectly well when and why it was used. By the end of the day, when the smoke had cleared, Furlong was the big chip leader, I was down about a quarter of my stack and poor Seed was down half. As for Seidel, he was destroyed by Alan Goering, who went over all of Eric's raises, constantly caught some middle pair, and played it check-call to the river. To be honest, I thought Alan was a terrible player, but history has definitely proven me wrong.
The career of Alan Goering, who eventually finished second in that tournament, deserves special mention. He was never considered a strong player, even by the standards of the 2000s. At the same time, in 2003, he won the first ever WPT championship with a $25,000 buy-in, at the final table he was opposed by Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, and Ted Forrest, and in heads-up, he defeated Kirill Gerasimov, who qualified through a satellite. In 2006, Alan won the WPT LA Poker Classic for $2.4 million, at the time the highest prize in a WPT tournament. Goering continues to play poker to this day and has recently focused on online.
Three Irish representatives on the final table and the victory of one of them in the main tournament created a buzz in his homeland, but Furlong still did not give a single interview.
“He had a complicated relationship with the press a few years earlier,” said Padraig Parkinson. I don't know the details, I never asked. Noel always got very angry at any mention of journalists. He really ignored absolutely all requests for an interview. Maybe he just didn't see the point in them. His fortune at that moment already exceeded $100 million. He was hardly interested in sponsorship contracts for a sticker on a T-shirt.
Noel made an exception only once – after the death of Terry Rogers, when he was asked to say a few words in memory of a friend for a newspaper obituary.
“In 1989, I wasn’t going to Vegas at all,” Furlong recalled. “But Terry, whom I considered my poker mentor all my life, called me two days before the start and said: “I have two first-class tickets to Las Vegas. Get ready."
Despite his fabulous fortune, Furlong always approached poker spending with caution. In the main event, which became a triumph for him, he qualified through a satellite for $1,000. After this success, Furlong's interest in poker waned markedly. Many were surprised that in 2000 he did not come to Vegas at all to defend his title. But Furlong never favored the capital of excitement and traveled there irregularly. Even in 1999, he ended up there by accident – a month before the start of the series, he went to California on business and decided to stay to play poker.
Furlong continued to play in the 2000s, but much less frequently and exclusively in tournaments held in Ireland or England. The first place in the main remained his last cash away from home. And the most recent documented cash of his career was a 32nd-place finish in the main event at the much-loved 2011 Irish Poker Open.
In June 2021, Noel Furlong died. He was 83 years old and his family said he passed away "in peace and quiet at home." To three daughters and five granddaughters, he left a legacy worth €56,343,755. Two daughters – Karen and Kristin – received 23.34% each in Furlong Investments Limited (the company that owns Furlong Flooring). The third sister Tara received 3.32% and the family mansion. The remaining 50% he divided equally between his granddaughters. Tara's three daughters received 10% each, with the two youngest not yet 18 years old, they will inherit when they reach adulthood. Also, 10% received two daughters Christine.