Although the short-stack of this year’s November Nine, James Akenhead should not be taken lightly. Having performed an unbelievable feat by making it to the final table at the 2009 WSOP Europe Main Event, as well as having placed second in a televised $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em tournament at last year’s WSOP, Akenhead is well-suited for the task that lies ahead.
Along with Antoine Saout, the former train operator is one of only two Europeans among the final table.
We caught up with Akenhead to take his temperature heading into the WSOP Final Table November 7-10 in Las Vegas.
WSOP.com: What if any has been the biggest change in your life since making the WSOP Final Table back in July?
Akenhead: For me, I have been playing professionally for 3 years. It’s just my job. It’s definitely a big accomplishment, but life hasn’t changed so much. I really haven’t put too much thought into it.
WSOP.com: Take us through a typical day for you during the break between Main Event play.
Akenhead: I really have no structure in my life. Everyday changes. I will wake up, have breakfast, play maybe four hours online. I go to the gym. I play a lot of tennis. In the evening, I’ll go to the casino and play cash games.
WSOP.com: It was recently revealed that Jeff Shulman has enlisted Phil Hellmuth to help him prepare for the final table. Have you procured the services of a poker coach or training academy?
Akenhead: No, as a member of the Hit Squad, my poker mates and I discuss hands and go over strategy together. We live together so we discuss a lot of poker strategy.
WSOP.com: Do you still play in local games? How do your opponents react to you?
Akenhead: Yeah, but I have been playing in larger cash games a while so there really hasn’t been much difference in how my opponents react
WSOP.com: You were a train operator before becoming a professional poker player. How long were you in the profession?
Akenhead: Two years. I enrolled in a training program for a year and conducted a train for a year.
WSOP.com: Was your transition to becoming a professional poker player gradual or instant? What was this transition like?
Akenhead: One night playing, I won one year’s salary. I quit my conductor job immediately after. I regretted it a bit two months later after going broke, but I really never looked back. It was a bit of a grind and a struggle up until my second place finish in the 2008 WSOP.
WSOP.com: Was there one particular hand during the tournament in July that was instrumental in your becoming a November Niner? Could you describe how it played out?
Akenhead: Several hands stood out. On Day 5, I lost a big pot to Steven Begleiter. I flopped a big hand and Steve sucked out on me. I lost ¾ of my stack on the last day.
When play got down to 28, I was late and sat down to pocket kings. I pushed with them but ran them into Ian Tavelli’s pocket aces.
I never tilted though, I recounted my stack and managed to get it back up to 12.5 million, but found myself in a race situation with Antoine Saout and A-K versus his pocket 8’s. I lost the hand and went from 12 million to 2.5 million.
I thought it was over, but shortly after I got dealt King/Queen in the big blind and shoved but ran them in to Jamie Robbin’s Aces. However, I flopped two pair and doubled up to make it through to the final nine.
WSOP.com: What do you have to say about playing short stack poker in the Main Event?
Akenhead: You have more time than you think you do, especially in the WSOP Main Event. You can wait a bit, but you do have to make a move. A bit of luck helps too.
WSOP.com: Who is the one player at the table you feel you are most familiar with? And least familiar with?
Akenhead: Phil Ivey obviously. I am least familiar with Kevin Schaffel. I did not get to play much at all with him.
WSOP.com: Have you been watching the Tuesday night telecasts on ESPN? What do you think thus far? Anything surprise you?
Akenhead: We don’t get ESPN in the UK. I am waiting to get the DVD set delivered to my home.
WSOP.com: With winning the Main Event of the World Series of Poker comes the title of “Reigning World Champion of Poker.” Would you embrace the role of poker ambassador or is that something you would have a hard time with?
Akenhead: Yes, of course I would. My goal is to win. I would be glad to be an ambassador for poker and play as many tournaments as possible.