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WSOP November Nine Profile -- James Akenhead

Young British Pro Discusses His Chances at World Series of Poker Final Table


James Akenhead is the WSOP November Nine's short stack.No one has more ground to cover than James Akenhead at this year’s World Series of Poker main-event final table. Entering play ninth in chips, the young Brit has his work cut out for him. But with an impressive number of recent results in his relatively short career, Akenhead might prove to be up for the task.

Akenhead has final-tabled three major tournaments since August – the WSOP main event, the World Series of Poker Europe, and most recently the Full Tilt Poker Million. He may not have been terribly well known in the poker community before becoming a member of the November Nine, but his recent results cast him as anything but a fluke.

Although he doesn’t have the name recognition that Phil Ivey or Jeff Shulman have, Akenhead has been in the ESPN spotlight before. In his first serious attempt for a bracelet, he played a masterful final table on ESPN to eventually get heads up with Grant Hinkle in a $1,500 event in 2008 — which was, at the time, the largest live tournament besides the main event with 3,929 players. Despite entering heads up at a huge disadvantage, he worked himself back to even after two hours of what he described as “perfect play.”

Frustrated, Hinkle began to get uber-aggressive, starting to shove all in preflop on a more regular basis.

“He finally cracked. My plan worked perfectly,” said Akenhead. “I just had to wait for a hand.”

That hand came soon enough as he was dealt A-K. When Hinkle pushed all in with 10-4, Akenhead snap-called and was on the verge of winning his first bracelet. But it wasn’t meant to be. Hinkle’s measly 10-4 flopped an unlikely full house and turned quads to leave Akenhead drawing dead.

Despite sporting a somber smile, the young British pro was devastated.

“When the flop was dealt, it was a massive blow. On TV, I was smiling and laughing, but I didn’t know what to do. I was shocked,” said Akenhead. “But that has made me so much hungrier to win a bracelet.”

James Akenhead poses with the other members of the WSOP November Nine.Akenhead, 26, turned pro three years ago — an impromptu decision he made after he earned more money playing online poker in a single night than he did in an entire year’s salary at his job as a train driver in England.

Akenhead’s train-driving career began soon after he dropped out of school, a decision he still regrets.

“I was just lazy,” he said. “But I guess it worked out.”

The son of two teachers, his parents weren’t happy when Akenhead couldn’t cut it in school. But he says that they were proud of him when he worked hard to get his train-driving job — at the time, he was the youngest train driver in England — and are proud of him now that he is successful in his poker career.

Akenhead had discovered poker a few years before while he was pursuing his other love — pool.

James Akenhead is a member of the 2009 WSOP November Nine“Whenever I get into something, I just want to be the best. I literally spent 10 hours a day practicing pool,” said Akenhead, who at one point was ranked No. 15 in the UK in nine-ball. “I wanted to be the best, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t have enough natural ability.”

So, as he began to accept his limitations as a pool player, he started to play the game that many of his fellow competitors also enjoyed — poker.

Employing his intense work ethic, Akenhead has quickly established himself as a talented young pro. With his poker background and his hunger, he likes his chances — even as a short stack.

“The payout structure is quite flat in the beginning (of the final nine payouts),” said Akenhead, hinting that he might not hold back just to try to inch up a spot or two in the money. “Hopefully, it goes well.”

Watch Akenhead on Card Player TV: