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Bryn Kenney: An Old School Pro In The Modern Poker World

30-Year-Old Poker Pro Grinds His Way To The Top Of The Rankings

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Sep 27, 2017

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Bryn KenneyTake a good, long look at poker pro Bryn Kenney and his results, and about a dozen adjectives spring to mind. Talented? Yes. Consistent? Absolutely. Flashy? Sure. Fearless? Just ask his opponents. And if you knew his history staking poker players, you might even call him a little too generous.

But the most significant quality of the 30-year-old, Long Beach, New York-native is his independence, his refusal to go along with the crowd, and the unique way he goes about his day-to-day grind.

While the rest of the high-stakes wizards have found success by making their poker game as mathematically sound as possible, Kenney utilizes an old-school approach that has allowed him to break away from the pack. Sure, he knows the math. But while the competition is worrying about whether their turn bet sizing is game-theory optimal, Kenney is putting in a river check-raise because he knows you don’t have the balls to call.

It’s a strategy that has worked more often than not, and has been nearly unstoppable in the last few years. As a result, Kenney now has more than $18.1 million in live tournament earnings, which is currently good enough for no. 14 on the all-time rankings, and is the current leader in the Card Player Player of the Year standings.

Getting Started In Poker

Kenney’s independent spirit was on full display even early on in life. His parents like to brag that their oldest of five children would make solo trips around the corner for morning bagels before he could even see over the counter.

They also discovered that Bryn had a photographic memory when he started memorizing baseball cards as a toddler. That skill came in handy well before poker, as he reached the no. 1 worldwide ranking for players 15 and under in the game Magic: The Gathering.
He was just 12 when he started flying with some friends to regional Magic events, and it wasn’t long before he was earning his own money, even paying his own cell phone bill while in high school.

Although his growing interest in girls forced him out of the Magic community, it wasn’t long before he was introduced to and subsequently hooked on poker, playing sit-n-gos with his friends before moving his game online at the age of 17.

“I would wake up, immediately go to the computer, play all day and night, eat horrendous garbage for food and then do it all again the next day. I did that for about a year straight. I got pretty good at poker, but it obviously wasn’t the healthiest lifestyle.”

After discovering that college wasn’t for him, Kenney turned his full attention to poker. By the time he could legally play in a casino, he was already playing in the biggest games they offered.

“When I was 20, I went down to the Bahamas and met this guy who went by Monkey101 (Zack Stewart,) who I was playing in a lot heads-up $5,000 sit-n-gos online,” Kenney said. “We hung out for a while and after the trip, I lost all of my money online. He ended up inviting me out to Los Angeles to play at the Commerce and offered me a stake. In the first three days, I made something like $40,000. As soon as I had a little bit to play on my own, I started really gambling. I took my share of the profit and started playing $20-$40 no-limit hold’em. I was about even after three more days, then for the next 30 to 40 days, I didn’t have a single losing day. By the end of that run, I was playing the biggest game in the casino.”

Finding Live Tournament Success and the Parasites That Come With It

Kenney’s first recorded live tournament cash came in a $10,000 buy-in World Poker Tour event, and he hasn’t stopped playing big since. In 2010, he went deep in the World Series of Poker main event, finishing 28th for $255,242. In 2011, he finished third and took home $643,000 in the $100,000 buy-in Super High Roller at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, a tournament that might as well be named after him given his success in it over the last six years.

Kenney continued to put up consistent results for the next few years, winning preliminary events all over Europe while maintaining a go-big-or-go-home mentality in the high roller tournaments. He won his first WSOP bracelet in 2014, taking down a $1,500 10-game tournament, and in 2015, he again finished third in the PCA $100,000 event, this time for $873,880.

But while the results kept pouring in, Kenney’s bankroll wavered between stagnant and shrinking, thanks to what he would later admit was bad judgement, questionable staking decisions and the “parasites” of the poker world looking to take advantage of a player at the top.

“I’m my own worst enemy by far,” Kenney admitted. “Especially because I never really lose in poker. For my whole poker career, which has been about 13 years, I’ve never really had big downswings.”

“That’s how it usually happens,” he continued. “Where I stake some people, and something scummy happens. It’s a matter of people stealing from me and being dishonest. It was hard to take at first, that you could be so good to somebody, and in different times they can steal from you and take advantage. It probably tripped me up like five or six times. I mean, the first guy that I got into poker with wound up scamming me for half a million… and it didn’t get better from there. A lot of it was a learning experience. When you are 20 years old and you win a million dollars, and nobody in your family has any money to tell you [what to do], it’s kind of you against the world.”

Despite a then-career high of $2.1 million won in 2015, and $5.2 million won in 2016, Kenney found himself searching for answers one morning in October.

“I let myself get into a bad situation,” he explained. “I don’t want to get into it too much, but when it happened, it hurt. For instance, let’s say you go to bed one night a millionaire, and you wake up the next morning and you are a negative millionaire. I was in London when I found out it all went to shit. I was paying £500 a night for a three-bedroom apartment. For a week I didn’t leave the apartment, didn’t see the sun. But being there for the week, getting through it, it allowed me to move past it and focus on what I needed to do to get back to where I am today.”

An Incredible Run

Kenney’s comeback began in November of 2015, when he took third in an APPT high roller event for $472,550. Then in January, he went back to his favorite tournament in the Bahamas, this time winning it all for a whopping $1,687,800.

He followed that up with several more final tables and wins, many of which came at the Aria Casino in Las Vegas in the monthly high roller series. In November, he traveled to Manila, where he finished runner-up in the Triton Super High Roller for $1,413,191. His three wins and 15 final tables in 2016 made him the no. 13 tournament player in the world, according to the Card Player Player of the Year race, but Kenney would not be satisfied with anything less than the top spot.

What Kenney has done to follow up last year’s run has been incredible. There are still three months left in the calendar year, and he has already banked $6.18 million by winning four titles at 16 final-table appearances.

Kenney started his 2017 campaign in the Bahamas, of course. Although he could only manage a seventh-place finish in The Bryn Kenney Open for $275,060, he still left the island with a couple wins, taking down the $25,000 event for $392,876 and the $50,000 event for $969,075. In total, he made six final tables during the festival.

He then final tabled seven $25,000 tournaments between February and March before he won the €100,000 high roller in Monte Carlo for his biggest score to date, $1,944,302. After entertaining his parents with a month-long trip around the globe, he came back with another $1 million in cashes for August, making final tables in Florida and Barcelona. It’s no surprise that Kenney currently sports a massive lead in this year’s Player of the Year race and is ranked no. 1 in the world.

The Recipe For Success

Of course, Kenney isn’t just winning. He’s winning big, against the best players on earth. While his cynics wait for variance to rear its ugly head, he believes his run has little to do with luck.

“What can I say about that?” he questioned. “Maybe I am just guessing right? You can say I’m just winning my all-ins [at the final table], but I’m still getting there. At the end of a tournament, you’re going to have to win the all-ins no matter what. But if you are putting yourself in position to make the final two tables every time, then you know you are just slaying everybody.”

So just how does he do it? How has Kenney managed to be a consistent winner, week in and week out against the best players in the world? How has he risen to the top against geniuses who meticulously balance their ranges to the point of being essentially un-exploitable?

“I understand their whole thought process and the way they play,” he explained. “I play with these robots every day. I have a good feel for their ranges, who will fold, and who will make a loose call. When you play a feel-style game, you have to have reads on people and how they think all the time. It’s a constant leveling war against other smart people. And I’ve just been killing these guys in that leveling war, and [as a result] they want to play less and less pots against me. It’s all clicking.”

Picking His Spots

It also helps that Kenney doesn’t let the swings that come with these six-figure buy-ins affect his play.

“If I’m ready to put a [big] amount in a tournament, it’s already gone and I don’t think about it. I accept losing it before the game even starts. What most people don’t know is that people can have crazy low percentages of themselves in these tournaments. Just to play, they’ll sell all of themselves at markup and then basically freeroll five percent of the buy-in. I could never do that. I would never play a tournament for five percent. At the worst, most dire times, maybe 20 percent in the bigger six-figure buy-in tournaments. But I won’t play for less than that, and especially not now.”

There was a time when Kenney played everything. In his quest to be no. 1, Kenney took $1,500 events just as seriously as the $25,000 high rollers he excels in. But as his bankroll grew, he began to focus more exclusively on the bigger buy-in tournaments.

“The problem with grinding, grinding, grinding is that you have nothing to fall back on,” Kenney explained. “Your life is just 100 percent poker, so when poker is going bad, your life is going bad. On the one hand, without playing all of those hours, I wouldn’t have become the player I am today. But at the same time, it’s a lot of sacrifice, that full commitment. But [I find] going on a vacation one week and then trying to win a tournament the next week is a much better balance.”

That being said, Kenney isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. He once got into a verbal encounter with 14-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth.

“[Hellmuth] doesn’t really talk shit to me anymore. We were playing in some mixed tournament, maybe $10,000 Razz or $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. or something, and I played some completely standard hand against him. And he just starts going off on me at the table about how I’m terrible. I just looked at him and said, ‘Listen Phil, I got $100,000 in my bag right here. We can play whatever game you want on that table over there at the end of the day. You choose the game, I’ll play you for this $100,000. If you got anything else to say, say it at that table. If you don’t have more to say, then shut the f**k up.’ He hasn’t said another negative thing to me since [then], like two years ago.”

Most recently, Kenney won big away from the tables, banking a reported six-figures in a weight-loss prop bet that saw him lose 65 pounds in just four months.

“I don’t really trash talk, but when people trash talk me, it usually goes bad for them. Because whatever they say, I’m right here putting my money where my mouth is.”