2009 in Review: The Rise and Rise of James Akenhead
Two WSOP final tables and a win in TV’s most prestigious tournament The Poker Million; to say that 2009 had been a good year for James Akenhead would be an understatement. The young player’s achievements over the last 12 months have been nothing short of phenomenal and, not only that, but a testament to his drive and determination.
After narrowly losing out on winning a bracelet in 2008 to Grant Hinkle, James bounced back in spectacular fashion this summer by making the much coveted November Nine. As if outlasting thousands of players and booking a place alongside the great Phil Ivey in the biggest poker tournament wasn’t enough, he used the three month break to make another final table at the WSOPE. At both final tables James was up against it from the start and despite looking as though he would defy his chip deficit and take down the title, luck played its part and saw to it that he was yet again a whisker away from victory.
There are, however, only so many times that you can knock on the door before fate finally lets you in and James finally clinched a much deserved victory in The Poker Million. On a final table that included sit-n-go sensation Dag Martin Mikkelsen, Taylor “GreenPlastic” Caby and Luke “FullFlush” Schwartz his path to victory was fraught with danger. The deadly trio soon fell though and with only Juha Helppi left standing in his way James set about demolishing the Finn and after both players got the money in pre-flop Akenhead’s tens ran out a comfortable winner against the pocket sixes of Helppi.
James has come a long way since driving trains and playing the £5 rebuy tournaments at the Gutshot but what does the future have in store for the UK’s hottest talent? His recent sponsorship with Full Tilt will give him a massive boost and will certainly allow him to play in more tournaments across the world. In terms of the influence James’ success will have on the UK poker scene at large the effects will be profound. The success of a British player on the world stage will certainly provide a platform for more young players from the UK to break into the spotlight. Indeed, the recent signing by Chris Moorman to Doyle’s Room along with J.P. Kelly’s association with Pokerstars are just the first signs that the UK poker scene is on the rise. Of course if James could have won the WSOP Main Event there would have undoubtedly been a second poker explosion in the UK, however, the notoriety he has garnered over the past three months will certainly be enough to encourage more interest in the game.
Already James has appeared on the increasingly popular Poker After Dark with some of the most famous names in the game and with more TV exposure predicted in the next 12 months it seems as though Mr Akenhead will likely become an ambassador for UK. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a complete changing of the guard as many of the more established UK pros such as the Devilfish and the Hendon Mob are recognised the world over. However, whereas these pros may have helped bring about the first poker boom, their influence is beginning to wane and the time seems right for players such as James to use their success to pick up where these players left off and help promote the game across the world. Maybe this is a cross many young players won’t want to bare but it is safe to assume that someone with such maturity, like James, is bound to relish such a challenge.