The poker world said goodbye to a true legend when JJ Furlong aka Noel Furlong passed away over the weekend at his family home in Ireland. Furlong was born on Christmas which is how he picked up the Noel moniker, but he lived his life like every single day was like Christmas.
Furlong turned his flooring business in a multi-billion Euro fortune, but he was also a well-respected horse trainer and greyhound racing enthusiast. He adored gambling and never missed an opportunity to fling chips around at the poker table, while sharing a few laughs.
Furlong first popped up on the poker radar when he final tabled the 1989 WSOP Main Event. That year is special because it's when Phil Hellmuth won the Main Event as a 23-year old cocky kid who defeated the alpha dog at the time -- Johnny Chan. Noel Furlong outlasted a field of 178 runners and secured a seat at the 1989 Main Event final table along with Hellmuth, Chan, Lyle Berman, Steve Lott, and Don Zewin. The Irishman got under Hellmuth's thin skin, which made him an instant favorite for locals, pros, fans, dealers, cocktail waitresses, and every other Hellmuth hater out there. Furlong busted in sixth place in 1989, but that would not be his last time at a WSOP Main Event final table.
Flash forward to a decade later in May 1999. Furlong is in Las Vegas along with a couple of other Irish players who went deep in the 1999 WSOP Main Event, which attracted a record-setting field of 393 players, A total of three Irish players were among the final seven players including Furlong, Padraig Parkinson, and George McKeever.
McKeever bubbled the final table in seventh place. The televised final table was only six players back then. Parkinson, Furlong, Chris Bigler, Erik Seidel, Huck Seed, and Alan Goehring were among those who were the last six remaining. Seidel was seeking his first-ever WSOP Main Event victory after becoming the runner-up against Chan in 1988 during the infamous hand that we all saw played out over and over again on Rounders. Huck Seed won the Main Event in 1996 and was seeking his second Main Event bracelet in four years.
Furlong and Seed were involved in a hand that people are still talking about 22 years later. It's a controversial hand and you've either think it's a brilliant play or just dumb-ass luck. No matter where you fall on the wide spectrum of opinions on the Furlong/Seed hand, it's one of the craziest hands in WSOP history.
Furlong held the big stack and Seed was second in chips. He was considered strongest player among the final six at the time, but slightly outchipped by Furlong. The Irishman's big stack and deep pockets come into play.
"At that time, (Huck) might have been the best poker player in the world," tweeted Jesse May. "Huck had played rings around the big boys like Doyle and Chip, The Owl and Johnny Chan. He'd beaten them for millions in California in the 90's while still nearly a teen."
Seed limped UTG, everyone folded, Furlong raised, Seed shoved all-in, and Furlong could not call fast enough. He tabled and Seed sheepishly turned over . Guts. Sometimes poker just comes down to who has the better intestinal fortitude to make a call that you know in your heart is the right play.
"Calling in that spot with the ace-three of hearts is just not something that was done, tweeted Jesse May. "It's hard to imagine how different poker was back then and probably it's not done even now, but it sure as hell wasn't done back then."
Furlong was way ahead of Seed and his Ace-trey held up. Seed headed to the rail, and Furlong went on to win the Main Event by defeating Goehring heads-up to win the bracelet and $1 million in cash. Furlong made history as the first and only player from Ireland to win the prestigious WSOP Main Event.
"Some people might go so far as to say it was one of the worst calls in poker," continued Jesse May. "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."
Check out Jesse May's compelling story about Furlong/Seed via his Twitter thread here.