Triton Million London: Railing Bryn Kenney with his mum


Lee Davy shares his experience of railing Bryn Kenney with Bryn’s Mum during the Triton Million London.

triton-million-london-railing-bryn-kenney-with-his-mum“I’m not sure about that one,” says my son as the whorls of an oily finger murk Bryn Kenney’s head as it sits amongst the other noise on my desktop.

“He’s a top boy, you’ll love him if you got to know him,” I tell him.

“He comes across as arrogant.”

A gossamer line separates confidence and arrogance, and the people sitting beneath the stars, champagne flute in one hand, missing a care in the world in the other, tread that fine line – people like Bryn Kenney.

It’s the final table of Triton Million London. Eight players remain with £19m up top, and I’m sitting in the stands, quill in hand, waiting for my hairs to salute.

Next to me is a middle-aged woman dressed from head to toe in beige. A hair tie keeps her long brown hair in check. A pair of glasses with a double shade of brown dancing along the rim sits on her petite nose. A dark tint hides her soul. She exudes warmth, and I lean in, soaking it up.

“Who are you watching?” I ask.

“My son, Bryn.”

I never had a stick figure of Bryn Kenney’s Mum in mind. Had I drawn one; it wouldn’t look like Carol. She bleeds demureness and assuredness. I expected more flamboyance.

We begin talking about Bryn, and along the way, I ask her what he was like as a child.

“We thought he was a savant from as early as one and a half,” Carol tells me. “He would play with a deck of baseball cards, and would memorise the first name, last name and positions.”

The first thing Kenney did when he made the final table was to book his Mum a flight to London.

She is the only Mum on the rail.

Despite our conversation, she never takes her eyes off the screens, eager, as any parent would, for her son to do well. When Bryn plays in a significant pot, she rises expectantly to her feet. At one point, after Bryn wins a big hand, she claps, and releases a subdued “Woo-Hoo!” I sense she’s waiting for permission to release all of that pent up nervousness in a primal scream.

Kenney is the eldest of five children, and throughout his life, family has been a primary value.

“Family means everything to him,” she tells me beaming with pride. “He’s putting his sister through law school, takes care of his grandmother’s rent, and thanks to him; I have travelled all over the world.”

Like so many brilliant people, the world of Academia felt like a prison to Kenney. He loved the competitiveness and complexity of gaming. Magic The Gathering came first, then online poker.

“I thought I was a terrible mother, allowing him to play {online poker} for so long, but when you have five kids, it’s tough to give everyone individual attention”, Carol tells me as Bill Perkins doubles through Vivek Rajkumar for the third time.

As Kenney’s interest in online poker trundled along like an Nr.1 Leopard 2A7 battle tank, Carol’s friends began intimating that Bryn may have a problem.

Concerned and unfamiliar with the nuance of the game, and not wanting to confront Bryn, Carol attended a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

A week after that experience, Bryn invited his parents to the European Poker Tour (EPT) in Barcelona. Carol never attended another meeting after that.

“We arrived in Barcelona, and Bryn gave us a tour of the poker room, and I instantly knew that this was something else. Bryn didn’t have a problem. He wasn’t gambling.”

Back to the pursuit of £19m, and there are four players left. Kenney sits at the far end of the table, eyes carving out a tunnel straight to the heart of his Mum – Aaron Zang, Dan Smith and Stephen Chidwick stare right back at him. The table dynamics make it look like it’s Bryn Kenney versus the world, just as the Lone Wolf likes it.

“He has always been different, and he’s always been ok with that,” Carol tells me. “Even at school, he would dress differently from everyone else. When he made friends, they were few but tight.”

Kenney is a dream to interview because he understands the importance of his role in promoting the game to a broader audience. Preferring the nomadic lifestyle, keeping a few close friends and family in his inner circle, he’s equally adept at being poker’s megaphone.

“Poker needs a face like mine,” Kenney told us during one of our many interviews this week. “Poker players are boring. They don’t understand the bigger picture, focusing only on the short-term pain of having an interview. We need more and more people playing the game, so we can continue doing what we do. I see that, and that’s why I do my thing.”

For every person who casts Kenney in the role of hero, there’s someone who thinks he’ the villain. Kenney’s ok with that, but it’s not only Kenney who is affected by it.

“As his mother, I would be lying if I told you the haters didn’t bother me. Of course, it bothers me,” says Carol. “There was this one time when he had his own website when things got bad. I created an anonymous account to defend him.”

“Did you tell Bryn?”

“Yeah, he thought it was hilarious,” says Carol laughing.

A former stand up comedian, Carol is a comfortable natterer, and we move our conversation onto the matter of vulnerability. Carol pulls out a copy of Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’, a book I have on my bedside table in the hotel – vulnerability it is then.

“People don’t like people who are ‘different’,” says Carol. “I think it frightens people, and that’s why people sometimes hate on Bryn.”

People see Kenney’s actions as brash, but I see vulnerability. You need courage and bravery to say what’s on your mind and share how you feel.

When we met in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker (WSOP), he talked with so much passion for his desire to lead the All-Time Money List. It’s a goal that for him underlines the decades of graft that he has put into this game.

“Nobody has worked harder or played more hours than me.” Says Kenney.

When we arrived in London, and we continued interviewing him, the message was consistent. “I am going to win this thing, and top the All-Time Money List”. Some will call that overconfidence, especially in a game where luck plays such a significant role.

But he did it.

You won’t find Kenney’s name as the winner of the Triton Million, but he banked the lion share of the money (£16.9m) and took his place at the top of the All-Time Money List ($55.5) with presence and composure.

During the final table, to help capture the emotions, Kenney instructed us to set up an interview post right next to the table so that he could talk to us mid-hands.

Kenney can be brash.

Kenney can be confident.

Kenney is certainly different.

We shouldn’t bash him for these things.

We should draw inspiration. It’s not entirely accurate to say that personality in poker is dying, but it’s a diminishing aspect of the game.

Bryn Kenney doesn’t have to talk to the media. Many choose not to, preferring to pour their entire focus into their game. If I’ve learned one thing during my time with Bryn, and his mother Carol, it’s this – Bryn doesn’t turn up and perform in front of the microphone every time we ask him to, because he is brash and cocky. He does it because at the core of who he is, showing up for other people is a primary value of his, one he learned from his mother.