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A Poker Life: Bryn Kenney

Hard-Working New York-Native Among The Game's Best

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Bryn KenneyBryn Kenney isn’t afraid of a little hard work. The 28-year-old has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade now and is showing no signs of slowing down his jet-setting lifestyle that takes him from one destination tournament stop to another.

After crushing the game online, Kenney focused on tournaments after Black Friday and has since cashed 79 times, making 34 final tables, and banking nearly $5.6 million. The New York-native is coming off of a two-cash appearance at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, where he pocketed nearly seven figures.

From Magic To Poker

Kenney grew up in Long Island, New York, the oldest of five children. He displayed a passion for games at a very early age and his photographic memory aided him when it came to card games.

“My mother helped to develop my memory skills really early on. She told me that when I was 18 months old, she would show me baseball cards and that I was able to remember 60 different players way before I could even read. I think that did a lot to shape my brain and is a big reason why my memory is so good today.”

Before long, he was excelling in the growing Magic: The Gathering community, a card game played by over 12 million people worldwide.

“When I was 12, I was really into Magic,” he said. “It was one of those great thinking games that I happened to be really good at. In the 15 and under category, I was the number one player in the world at one point. Once I turned 16, however, I realized that there wasn’t much money to be made with Magic. I was also ready to start chasing girls and I definitely couldn’t do that by playing cards with a bunch of nerds like myself every weekend.”

It was by playing Magic that Kenney met future poker pros such as Justin Bonomo, Tony Gregg, Jose Barbero, David Williams, and many more. Unsurprisingly, it was poker that Kenney soon found himself gravitating towards.

“I started playing six-max sit-n-gos with my friends in my grandfather’s backyard for like $20 apiece,” he recalled. “When I was 17, I started playing online under an account I made with my mom’s name, then when I turned 18, I created the account that I have today. 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.”

Kenney wasn’t quite a winning player, but he wasn’t exactly amped up about furthering his education either.

“My mom gave me a hard time about going to college after I graduated high school. I enrolled, but I think I was there two or three weeks before I realized it wasn’t for me,” he admitted. “It was a terrible move on my part, because I quit school with no real back up plan. I wasn’t really winning much at poker yet. Luckily it all worked out for the best.”

Turning Pro

After making the leap to playing full time, Kenney was able to run his roll up online. Before long, he was playing some of the highest stakes games online and his bankroll was swinging wildly.

“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. 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.”

This was the turning point in Kenney’s career. It was Stewart who not only gave him a chance to earn it all back, but also thrive as a poker player.

“I got a huge poker lesson. He made me realize that my hand didn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is your opponent’s range and being able to manipulate the action based on that information. After realizing that, things really started to click for me.”

Tough Life Lessons

Kenney continued to win online and even started dabbling in live tournaments. But no matter how much he won, he couldn’t hold on to his cash.

“I’ve always been really consistent with my own results and been able to turn a profit at whatever stakes and levels I’ve played, but I haven’t always been good with money,” he admitted. “At one point, I was playing $200-$400 pot-limit Omaha or $500-$1,000 no-limit hold’em with a cap, and turned $50,000 into something like $3.5 million. Within six months, it was all gone. I’ve made some pretty terrible decisions when it came to investments or staking other players.”

When asked whether he dumped any money by gambling on other casino games, Kenney explained that he isn’t drawn to gambling outside of poker.

“I wish it was something as simple as losing it in the pits,” he said. “The truth is that I was taken advantage of. There are a lot of parasites in the poker world who are looking to get a piece once they see you have had some success. Unfortunately, I was too nice when I first started playing and it took a while for me to learn how to say no. It torched me completely and was a really valuable lesson to learn. Now, when I see someone win something big, if I can, I’ll try and give them a warning that the parasites are coming to take something off them.”

Finding Live Tournament Success

In January of 2011, Kenney finished third at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $100,000 buy-in super high roller event, banking $643,000. Months later, when Black Friday hit, Kenney began playing on the live tournament circuit more frequently.

Later that year, he final tabled the Bellagio Cup main event and won a European Poker Tour side event. In 2012, he made another ten final tables, mostly in Europe, before winning another $229,900 at the 2013 PCA. In November, he won a side event at the Master Classics of Poker for $141,055.

Then in 2014, Kenney really began to take the poker tournament world by storm. At the World Series of Poker, he took fourth in the $5,000 six-max event for $160,927 and then fifth in the $1,500 stud event for $25,206. At this third final table of the Series, in the $1,500 10-game mix event, Kenney came out on top, winning $153,220 and his first career gold bracelet.

“Winning the bracelet was much better than winning the money that came with it,” he said. “One reason I love playing tournaments so much is because my family can read or watch the action and follow along. My grandma likes to watch and root for me. My sister, who is graduating from Cornell soon, she came out and was able to watch me win it. It was very special to win that bracelet for myself and my family, who has been very supportive.”

After three more final tables in Europe, Kenney returned to Las Vegas, taking sixth in the $100,000 buy-in WPT Alpha 8 at Bellagio for $323,730 and later the next morning, second in the $50,000 buy-in high roller at Aria for another $343,300. The next month at the PCA, Kenney cashed for $873,880, once again finishing third in the super high roller and $112,980 for 11th place in the high roller. In just four years of heavily grinding the circuit, Kenney has cashed for nearly $5.6 million.

A Fearless Approach

Bryn, whose younger brother Tyler is also a professional poker player, is very proud of the approach both of them have taken to the game.

“When I first started doing well, I tried to get him into the game, but he wasn’t really interested. I eventually convinced him to give it a shot and he wound up getting second in the WCOOP main event to Yevgeniy Timoshenko for a huge score ($1.286 million). After that, he was hooked on poker. One thing I recognize in him from my own game is that he doesn’t get bothered at the table. He has no problem bluffing off his entire stack and if you put him in the tank for five minutes, he’s not going to give you any information.”
It’s a trait that Kenney credits his own success to. In fact, he believes that the only way to be successful is to fearlessly play for the win.

“It’s just a game,” he explained. “The money is great, but it’s not the goal. The goal is to win the game. So when I’m at a big final table, I’m not looking to fold and earn a slightly bigger payday. I’m looking to make the play that gives me the best chance at winning. I’ll light ICM on fire if I have to, and that scares a lot of people.”

Moving Forward

Kenney has been atop the poker world before, but he also knows what it’s like to start all over again is. It’s the reason why he’s put in so much volume over the last few years.

“You’ve got to put in the work. There are guys who get to the high rollers and then that’s all they really play. I try to take the $1,500 tournaments just as seriously as the $100,000 events. You have to put in the time to improve your craft. Yes, there is a lot of luck in poker, but hard work and dedication will always overcome bad luck in the long run.”

“I’m at the top of my game right now and poker has treated me very well. Instead of taking all of this money and blowing it on stupid investments and other players, I’m going to continue to invest in myself. I don’t want to stay in poker forever, but right now, I like how I’m playing and I enjoy the freedom and independence that the game allows me to have.” ♠