poker world isn't always an easy place for the
“good guy”. They don't make for good
television, and are usually passed-over for the
big promotions. More interested in doing what's
right for the game, as opposed to the constant
self-promotion that seems to permeate this industry,
these pros are too often left to quietly succeed
in the shadows of the big egos. Kenna James bucks
that trend. A successful tournament pro (sixteen
final tables in 2003, eight of which were wins,
a 38th place finish in that year's WSOP Main Event,
and first, second, and third place finishes in
2004), Kenna could easily head home with his winnings
and call it a day. (After raking in approximately
$240,000 at this year's World Series of Poker,
Kenna is approaching $1 million in tournament
winnings.) But that's not what he's about. This
is a guy who's never content with his game (always
looking to learn more), has respect for everyone
at the table, and aspires to build something positive
out of his poker success.
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PokerLizard: OK, we're here with Kenna James at
inside the Rio, the day before he starts his
quest for the WSOP Main Event bracelet. So tell
us about the World
Series so far?
Kenna: The World Series is an animal in and of
itself. I got here on the 1st of June, so I've
been over a month – 5 weeks of grueling
competition. I actually split a tournament across
the street at the Palms, so that helped. I had
a couple cashes here, but all in all, it's been
a hard road. So I'm looking to turn it around
tomorrow in the Main Event.
PokerLizard: That makes for a brutal month and
a half. How is the poker away from the Rio?
Kenna: Oh The Palms is really nice, great room.
I like going over there…it's like the driving
range for pro golfers, warming up before a big
PokerLizard: So you begin your Main Event tomorrow.
As a player, are you given your table assignment
ahead of time, so you can get an idea of who you're
Kenna: No, actually we don't. Last year, I was
able to do some behind-the-scenes work with a
few inside contacts and look up some of the players
I had at my table that first day – check
out their backgrounds, careers, etc., and just
try to figure out their personality types. But
this year, I'm going in blind.
Last year, I finished the first day with $46K,
so if I can do that again, I'll be in good shape.
PokerLizard: So what's your strategy on the first
Kenna: You won't post this ahead of time?
PokerLizard: Oh there's no way…don't worry.
Kenna: Alright, well, the strategy is determined
a lot on your table selection. If I don't know
anybody, I'll ambush them early and try to create
some footholds that separate me from the rest
of the table. Even a difference of a couple thousand
in chip stacks is huge. Let's say I'm at 12K chips
and my opponent is at 8K...not a massive difference
on the surface, but if I make a 4K bet, that's
half their stack. Whereas if I lose the 4K, I'm
back in line with them. That little advantage
at the beginning is huge.
There is a lot of opportunity for this that first
hour. I've seen a lot of puddles on the floor
during those early, stressful rounds. After they
get past that, they loosen up and start slinging
chips like cookies. So my plan is to go in and
chip up, so that when they open up, I'm in good
position to sit back and coast.
I did have to go to the doctor today with a pretty
good fever, so I'm hoping I can just duplicate
what Layne Flack did on his first day. He came
in sick, only played about half the day, and finished
around 60K in chips.
PokerLizard: Is there anyone you'd rather NOT
see at your first table tomorrow?
Kenna: Well, as a general rule, I'd rather not
see anyone I know. I'm on the tournament trail
and know a lot of people, who in turn know my
But when you're talking about a field of 2,200
tomorrow, there are going to be a lot of unknowns.
They won their seats online, maxed out their credit
cards, or convinced their wives to take out a
second mortgage on their home for the buy-in.
Hopefully I'll have a lot of those people at my
PokerLizard: Walking around the floor, it sure
seems like the big name pros are well spread out.
Kenna: That's very true. Five years ago, I knew
everyone. Now, more people know me than the other
way around. It's scary, really. I miss the intimacy
of the old tournaments where you went to dinner
with your competitors, told stories together.
Now it's all about making a buck. And yes, we're
all trying to make money, but I miss the feeling
of the old days.
PokerLizard: So has this event just become something
you feel you have to play?
Kenna: It's definitely lost some of its luster,
but it's still a great time to be a poker player,
as far as the living and making money off of the
PokerLizard: I see the GamingClub logo on your
Kenna: I'm on a team called Four Aces, working
out a contract with GamingClub right now. They're
part of the monster Prima network, and are backing
me for the Main Event.
PokerLizard: So tell us about your professional
poker career. When did it start? Any regrets?
Kenna: I've been playing for a little more than
10 years, but full-time professionally, for about
the last six. Regrets? I wish I had saved more
money [laughs]. I live an expensive lifestyle
and travel all over the world, but I have no regrets
about that. That's what life is about to me –
traveling and experiencing new things, cultures.
I would like to do more with my tournament winnings
and not just be self-absorbed. Maybe developing
a business model for community involvement. I'm
actually playing on a new show on the GameShow
Network called “Lingo” with Chuck
Woolery, which is for charity. I'm also a commentator
for Poker Royale, which you can catch tonight
PokerLizard: How about taking time off?
Kenna: I typically try to take a couple of weeks
off in between tournaments, and have a vacation
planned to visit my family in Michigan. My downtime
during the World Series is relaxing at the pool,
under the waterfall. I'm having a hard time getting
on that treadmill though… [laughs].
PokerLizard: The events this year are such grueling
matches, going 12, 13, even 15 hours at a time.
How do you handle those marathons and keep your
Kenna: You go through so many cycles; it's so
difficult, because if you let your guard for even
one hand, you could be out of the tournament.
Maybe you find yourself on a draw and over-invested
in a pot and you try to bluff your way out, all
because you didn't take that extra 30 seconds
to think it through. The five, six hour tournaments
are pretty manageable, but when you're talking
about 12 hours a day, you can make it through
a day or two. But by days 3 and 4, people start
getting punchy, and they make crazy moves like
going all-in with pocket 3's with over $500K in
chips. People see those hands on TV and think,
“What the hell are they doing?” You
actually get punch-drunk, and subconsciously your
body is looking for a way out.
I think that's why these young players are doing
so well – because of their stamina. They
don't sleep much anyway…they stay up all
night playing online. That's where we older guys
are at a disadvantage.
PokerLizard: Older? I wouldn't put you in that
Kenna: Well, let's just say that in less than
a decade I'll be playing on the Seniors Tour.
But that's what I love about poker. Not only
can you make some money, but you will always meet
PokerLizard: Very true – a real lifetime
“sport”. So the World
Series branched out this year with the new
Circuit Events. Have any luck on those?
Kenna: Well, yes, I qualified for the $2M free-roll
through the circuit this year, and I believe that
will take place in the next two weeks here…not
entirely sure. But that's always nice, earning
a spot in a free-roll. Hopefully in the next few
years, we'll get more corporate sponsorships involved
which will help the Circuit grow and also open
things up for more players, with the financial
burden of entry taken down a bit.
PokerLizard: Congratulations – that IS
a huge bonus to make the free-roll event. Speaking
of corporate sponsorships, there has been a lot
of discussion recently on a “players' union”,
and the extent to which players can market for
other companies. What are your thoughts on the
major poker entities, WPT and WSOP, combining
into one large organization? Something along the
lines of the PGA?
Kenna: It's definitely going to happen…or
at least I hope so. I'd like to see the big corporations
go the extra step for the players. I mean, here
at the Rio, they've definitely done a great job
inside the room – the tables, dealers, atmosphere
– it's all top-notch. But when you step
out into the hallway and pay $2 for a banana,
$4 for one slice of pizza, and add that to the
percentage they're holding back from the prize
pools for tournament staff, it becomes more and
more difficult to keep up with.
And yes, they pretty much dictate how and when
we can advertise [other products]. So it'll be
difficult, but sooner or later, the players will
have to band together and form some type of an
association or union to protect their rights.
PokerLizard: Back to this year's World Series.
Have you performed at the level you were expecting?
Kenna: I cashed in the $3K Hold'em Event, 31
st out of about 350 players…one of the smaller
fields. Other than that, it's been a tough series.
While it's been competitive, I've probably been
my own worst enemy this year. And that's what
I love about poker – it's so much you against
I did have some concern coming into this World
Series because I haven't started this year out
so well. But last year I had a really bad first
half of the year, and closed strong with some
final tables and a couple of wins, so I'm hoping
to turn it around again this year.
You've got to be able to weather the storm. It's
like having a house down in Florida this time
of year – you have to have a good foundation,
as well as a strong support group to help you
through the tough times. Luckily, I'm blessed
with a lot of great friends and supporters, so
I'm very fortunate.
I'm looking forward to the next couple of years
– it's going to be an exciting time!
PokerLizard: It definitely should be! Thanks
for taking the time to fill us in on the poker
world, and good luck in the Main Event.
Final note: Kenna's first day strategy paid off
in a big way, as he took down over $235K with
a 44th place finish in the Main Event. Nice job,
Kenna and best of luck!
To see what Kenna's up to check out KennaJames.com
this and other interviews in the Lizard Lounge
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