One of the classiest poker players I know is Kenna James. I am always impressed with his temperament and attitude at the table. I played with Kenna in a satellite once and all his chips went in on the flop against another player. The dealer burned and turned the next two cards and awarded Kenna the pot. The dealer started dealing the next hand and Kenna realized the dealer made a mistake. He was not supposed to win the pot because the other player ended up making a better hand. He spoke up, gave his chips to his opponent and left the table. I did not realize the mistake either until Kenna pointed it out. I was pleasantly surprised with the integrity he had and wondered how many other players would do the same thing. I dont think many would.
I brought this up with Kenna and asked him if he believes all players should carry themselves with the same kind of integrity to make the game better or if it is it just part of his personality to do the right thing. He told me, "I think in life, as well as poker, you reap what you sow . Some people believe you can get ahead by taking shots or pulling angles. It was something our profession unfortunately used to be famous for. The eventual long term success of poker will be dependent on the integrity of the game and its players. I only hope to set an example that will make a difference."
He is happy to see that television has brought the game out of the dark room and made it more socially acceptable. Now, people don't have to be ashamed to share the joy of their poker experiences with their families. I asked what players he tries to learn from. He said, "I try to learn and grow everyday. I think the game itself will teach you so much if you will open your eyes and heart and take responsibility for your actions instead of reducing and excusing them to a factor of luck. I like to learn from the older players and their experiences. I have a lot of respect for some of my peers and enjoy talking strategy with them as well."
Kenna often stopped in at the commentator booth at Live at the Bike and does some guest commentating. He is a favorite amongst the viewers and is one of my favorites too. He offers great insights into the game and he is hilarious when he does it. One comment that I remember most is, "I have played with Grace before and she can't even fold a napkin." Grace is nicknamed, "Action Grace" and the comment was so right on target. Shortly after he started guest commentating for Live at the Bike, he was offered a full-time position with GSN's Poker Royale. Poker Royale is a tournament series where Game Show Network invites a certain amount of players where some advance to the Grand Finale. They play down to one player and they are crowned the champion of that series.
Kenna has had a lot of success over the past couple of years especially in No Limit Holdem tournaments. His accomplishments include sixteen final table appearances in 2003 (eight of them were wins). He placed first in the No Limit Holdem event at the Bellagio, first in the No Limit Holdem event at The Grand Slam of Poker, first at the Four Queens Poker Classic No Limit Hold'em event and fourth at the California State Poker Championship No Limit Holdem event. He also finished 38th in the main event at the 2003 World Series of Poker (you might remember him hiding underneath his zipped up jacket to avoid Howard Lederer's stare). In 2004, he won the No Limit Holdem Shootout at the California State Poker Championship, and finished second at the season four Legends of Poker WPT event.
A poker friend told me, "Kenna is probably the only player I would ever back (put money up for a percentage of the win) in a tournament. He is a great player and a great guy." I couldnt agree more.