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Kenna James: Nice Guys Don't Always Finish Last

(A Look at One of Today's Rising Superstars of Poker)

You might recognize Kenna James if you frequent the Los Angeles cardrooms. He plays often at Hollywood Park and the BicycleCasino, just to name a few, as he lives in the L.A. metro area.

You might recognize Kenna James from his numerous television appearances on GSN’s Poker Royale as a commentator, or theWorld Poker Tour final table of the Legends of Poker tournament wherehe played and won second place.

Kenna's outgoing personality can't be missed. He sang songs to the audience during the aforementioned Legends of Poker televised event. He sang and played the piano on the PartyPoker Million Cruise where he also won second place.  And seeing his signature cowboy hat from across acrowded casino always lets people know that this player is in the houseto play some serious poker, all joking aside.

Humble Beginnings for Kenna Grob

Kenna Grob was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His two loving parents raised him to be a generous, fun-loving young man who shouldn't be afraid to follow his dreams. Forrelaxation, he played card games with his family, though at the time, he didn't know that he would eventually make a living with those cards. And at school, he always worked hard and excelled when he was so inspired.

After high school, he obtained ascholarship to the Michigan School of the Arts, which took him away from home but educated him on the finer points of acting. Following his passion for the dramatic, he set out into the world to bean actor, eventually settling in Los Angeles. He spent years at auditions, securing a number of roles in theatrical productions and bit parts in television shows.

"When I was an actor, my last name was mispronounced too often at auditions," Kenna said.Correctly pronounced Grobe, the mistake was obvious. So, he changed his last name at that time. "I used my father's middle name for my last name and finally changed it legally." Thus, Kenna James came into existence.

Hollywood, despite the bright lights and visions of stardom, wasn't all he hoped it would be.  "Iloved acting," Kenna recalled, "but I spent most of my time doing theater and in classes, and that just really didn't pay the bills.Waiting tables got old. So, I decided to make a change and went to workas a dealer at Hollywood Park Casino."

Kenna James Finds His Two Great Loves

The game of poker seemed tobe a great fit for Kenna. He knew the basics of most card games from his youth, and he never shrunk from a challenge. Dealing cards was away to make a living and learn more about the fascinating world of poker. In 1995, he began his love affair with the cards.

By 1997, Kenna was dealing and playing poker. He was transitioning from dealer to tournament director at Hollywood Park, and he was finding that he had a true knack for the game. "I guess I fell 'in love' with poker after my first big tournament cash back in 1997 inLake Elsinore [outside of Los Angeles]."  Little did he know that it would be a long-lasting love affair that would continue to blossom through the years.

During a tournament in 1997, Kenna was playing well at Hollywood Park when he found himself confronted by an Executive Host at the casino. Her name was Marsha."The first time we met, she accused me of colluding with another player in a game," he remembered. After convincing her that he wasn't doing anything of the sort, they truck up a friendship.

Kenna James and Marsha Waggoner maintained that friendship for along time before becoming romantically involved. "I think she was jealous that I made the final table and she didn't," he joked, thinking back on the time that they met. "Kidding, baby!" he added as a note to her when she eventually reads the piece.

The pair seemed to be made for each other. Marsha had been a professional poker player for 25 years when they met, and Kenna was making the transition to the same field. She brought several children and grandchildren to the relationship, and he brought two young sons from a previous marriage. With family as a primary foundation and source ofsupport for each of them, they joined forces and eventually married.

A Roller Coaster Ride

As Kenna became a winning cash game player, he threw tournaments into the mix. He began to playall of the local tournaments in Los Angeles, as well as those which required travel to Las Vegas and other stops across the country.Despite going broke on numerous occasions, he persevered and cashed in a number of events, enough to keep his confidence strong and his career on track.

While Kenna's wife, Marsha, seemed tobe at the top of her game in 2001 and 2002, she began to experience some health problems. The issue turned out to be a brain aneurysm that required major surgery and quite a long recovery period. Though Kenna took some time off to assist in the his wife's healing process, he was even more motivated to get to the tables and win, for both of them.

His poker life was just beginning, and he began to rack up wins in such tournaments as Hollywood Park’s Sport ofKings and Poker Derby, Bellagio's Five Diamond, and the California State Poker Championship. Kenna was on his way to becoming a true winning player.

Finding His Stride

By 2004, Kenna was takingthe years of poker experience to the tables, and he did well. Late inthe year, at the WPT Doyle Brunson North American Championship, he took ninth place, a nice cash prize, and recognition as an up-and-coming player to be watched.

In 2005, he made his mark.He finished second in the televised WPT Legends of Poker main event at the Bicycle Casino, taking home a whopping $588,000. He also placed seventh in the Monte Carlo Millions for $100,000, and took ninth in theAussie Millions for $85,000. He then started off 2006 by winning a tournament at the L.A. Poker Classic for almost $250,000 and placing second on the Party Poker Millions cruise for $700,000.

When asked about the biggest accomplishments in his poker career, Kenna reflected, "[I went] from being a dealer and a$1-$2 player to a full-time traveling professional on the World PokerTour. I finished second at the Legends of Poker!"  And the other tournament wins and cashes are all major sources of pride for this player who always strives to be the best.

Recognition is something that makes Kenna smile from ear to ear. Fans now pick him out of the throngs of poker players at events and askfor his autograph. "I am so lucky to have the fan base that I do," hesaid. "In fact, one of my fans, Dave from Ohio, built my current website and oversees it."

And in today's business of poker, sponsorship is the sincerest form off lattery.  Kenna recently signed a deal with Sun Poker torepresent the online poker company as their spokesperson. He will serveas the captain of "Team Sun Poker" and be their designated player at tournaments around the world. In addition, a percentage of his winnings at these tournaments will be donated to select charities, along with a matching donation from SunPoker. "Kenna is the perfect choice to be our poker ambassador," said Adam Smirnis, Poker Room Manager on the site.

Kenna will also host "Kenna's Korner," a special table on Thursday evenings on Sun Poker where members of the site will be able to play against Kenna and chat with him about strategy and all things poker. "It has always been my desire to find away to give back to the game that has been so good to me," he said."Sun Poker's commitment to teaching the game, as well as providing one of the best places on the Internet to learn, play and win, makes us an ideal team."

The Future's So Bright, He's Gotta Wear a Cowboy Hat

What does the future hold for this cowboy from Chicago turned professional poker player? "Professionally, I have two major goals - towin a bracelet at this year's World Series of Poker and to win the Player of the Year," Kenna said with confidence. "Personally," headded, "I would like to keep in shape and not get the 'poker belly' that haunts so many players my age!"

There are many things going for this rising star - confidence in himself and his poker skills, a wife who understands his passion for the game and a relationship that boasts of support and love for each other, and two children of whom he is immensely proud. Besides those basics, he has a successful poker career under his belt and wins that just keep coming, along with a sponsorship deal that was one of Kenna’s long-term goals realized sooner than hoped.

So, keep your eyes open for that cowboy hat around the casinos or at your table. And keep your ears open for some tunes that he may belt out at any given moment. And keep the Player of the Year spot open... Kenna James is ready to take that honor.

Written by Jennifer Newell.

Printed with permission from American Poker Player Magazine.


Kenna James Bounty League

Professional Poker Champion Kenna James and Sun Poker have announced the start of a brand new poker league, The Kenna James Bounty League. This new league will start by rewarding a total of four Sun Poker members with $10,000 seats at the main event of the L.A. Poker Classic, an additional $2,500 for hotel and airfare, and a personal training session with Kenna James. Click for more information on the Kenna James Bounty League...

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