We talk exclusively to James Akenhead about his November Nine run & playing with Phil Ivey

The Main Event’s last Brit standing chats about his road to the November Nine – and why he’s going to be the next world champ

How was your WSOP going before the Main Event?

In the first three weeks I was in Vegas this year I didn’t cash once. I used to get really pissed off bubbling event after event but now if I bust out of a tournament I just go home, assess how I’ve played and wake up fresh the next morning. That’s important because you can easily get burnt out in Vegas and go into every single tournament with no confidence whatsoever. When the first hand of the Main Event was dealt, I was full of confidence.

How did the slow structure of the tournament help your game?

I felt in control the whole way through. With two-hour levels and the average stack being around 70 big blinds you can really play pots through three streets without going broke. A lot of the 21-year-old online tournament pros are inexperienced with this structure and make lots of mistakes when they have 70-100 big blind stacks. I’m just learning with experience but the older guys like Doyle Brunson already know how to play these tournaments.

At what point did you think you could make a deep run this year?

In the $1,500 event last year when I sat down alongside 4,000 runners I said to myself, ‘I am winning this tournament’ [Akenhead finished second for $520k]. I had the same confidence for the Main Event. At the end of each day I would tell friends how many chips I was going to finish with at the end of the next day. They were very optimistic, almost unrealistic figures, but I kept making them. I know this belief I have improves my game. I was able to trust my game a lot more in marginal situations and cruised all the way through the Main Event. I don’t think I played one hand badly.

What was the final day like – when you played from 27 players to the final nine?

I had 8.7m chips going into that day but was late getting to the Rio, rushed to my seat and looked down at K-K. I raised to 250k and the guy two to my left reraised to 750k. I had a bad feeling about the hand for some reason but we got it all-in on a Queen-high flop and he had A-A. That hand crippled me but even then I still thought I was going to win the Main Event. That confidence is so great inside of me. Within 30 minutes I was back up to 12m.

Were you nervous when you were approaching the final table bubble?

I never really considered the final table to be one of my number one goals. It just didn’t really occur to me. Now that I’ve made it I realise it should have occurred to me a little bit more! I just want to finish first. I may be the short stack come November but I can tell you for sure I have more confidence than any other player at the table.

As the short stack, would coming ninth be a disaster for you?

The more expectation you put on yourself to win, the more it hurts to come ninth. If you don’t put much thinking into winning it doesn’t hurt you so much. But that’s a pain you have to go through. Players who don’t want to put themselves through that hurt finish fifth and sixth. I have to totally prepare myself for coming first. I expect myself to win. I have one-third of the average stack but I don’t care. If I double up once and get above 20m everyone else should watch out.

What specific preparations will you be doing between now and November?

I play a lot of SNGs online and I’m already quite confident in playing the short stack. I don’t want to talk about strategy too much though, as the others could take advantage.

What are your thoughts on the chip leader Darvin Moon?

He told us straight across the table that he had been running like god all tournament. Every single time he got called he had the nuts. If he had a pair he flopped a set, if he had A-J he’d flop a straight.

Was he a good player or just running hot?

It’s tough to know if someone is playing badly when they are running so good. This break will be very bad for him though. He was in a good streak, on form and had momentum. In three months’ time who knows how he’s going to be playing. He’s got a lot of chips so I expect him to go deep as he’s generally quite a tight player. I never saw him bluff once.

Will the break be an advantage for you?

I think it’s good for the better players who will go back to the final and still be able to play really well, whereas the not-so-good players have got to the final because of the momentum they’ve had so far.

How did you find playing with Phil Ivey?

He’s one of the best in the world, but I treated him just like another player. You could see that some players were really scared to get involved with him. I think that’s wrong. He actually played quite tight over the few days. That made it easier for everyone to play against him. Sometimes you could see he was calling preflop when he shouldn’t be, just to play a pot in position versus someone. Other than that, he played really well.

What would winning the Main Event mean to you?

Last year’s runner-up finish has made me so much more hungry for a bracelet. I want some justice from that and I’ll be looking for it in November.

We interview great players like James in every issue of PokerPlayer magazine. Read it here

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