Kenna James

With tournament winnings approaching $2m
top pro ‘Cowboy’ Kenna James reveals his hot tips

How do you win? Show your hand – it’s an effective way to combat an aggressor

One of the keys [to being successful] is being very selfcritical and self-analytical about your play; making an honest evaluation of the adjustments that you need to make, and changing those aspects about yourself like patience, discipline, understanding of the game, and feeling what your opponents are feeling. It’s crucial to make the adjustments in your character, and strengthen those traits that go into the make-up of a top-notch tournament player. You really have to understand people. Learning and developing those people skills is one of the differences that has made me a winner this year.

One of the keys to no-limit Hold’em is creating a feeling of fear in your opponents. If you do it with blind aggression alone, you’ll only create respect and fear from people who don’t know how to play the game. Try using blind aggression on people who know how to play the game and you won’t go into the top ranks because somebody will look you up. That’s what’s great about this game, there’s always a bigger game and someone who’ll challenge you.

I respect my opponents. I can’t go out there with blind aggression because they don’t fear me – they’re half my age, so they have no fear. So how do you win? You create respect, which goes before fear, by showing opponents your hand. It’s an effective way to combat an aggressor – you show them the hand.

In tournaments I really don’t have a set strategy when I get to the table – I formulate it as it goes, because the opponents are totally different and complex. You need to take into account their make-up, where they’re sitting, how they play. If you were to take one strategy it would work maybe one time out of 10.

People tend to look out when they’re playing poker, whether it’s at the dealer, the cards, or the other players. They look at outside circumstances, and it takes their power away. To retain your power take responsibility for yourself and your actions, even if it’s a bad beat. In that situation you look and you say, ‘Well, was I supposed to play this hand in the first place? Did I bet the hand effectively? Or did I not raise and draw someone into the pot because I got greedy? It’s things like that that people usually don’t want to look at. That’s the difference, and the key to winning and losing.

Limit Hold’em is a much more mechanical game – the best hand is going to win more often because there are less situations that you can bet your way out of, like you can in no-limit. You play different hands but in no-limit you can get away with playing rags; in limit Hold’em you can’t, so I play fewer and better hands. And because the betting is less, people get conned into thinking they can play more hands, when the opposite is true. In no-limit you play the opponent and the situation more, so your cards are less important.

People think it’s all about acting and bluffing at the poker table, but it’s not – it’s more about who you are and trusting in yourself. I only usually bluff when I need to. My main acting skills (Kenna was an aspiring actor and has a part in the new poker flick Deal) help me understand characters and people – that’s a skill which helps me feel what my opponents are feeling at the table.

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