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17

The successful pro who quit poker for a full-time job

Tags: full-time job, interview, James Akenhead, London, pub.
Posted on 17 January 2014 by "T".

James Akenhead, 30, was living the poker dream back in 2009. He finished 9th in the WSOP Main Event for $1.2 million, then he followed that up by winning Full Tilt Poker Million VIII for another $500k to end the year just under $2m plus. He was the hottest name in UK poker at that time, and many predicted that he would have a long and successfull poker career.

However, to everyone's surprise, just four years after he was out of poker and now works full-time as a part-owner of a restaurant/bar in London. Akenhead spoke about his decision to quit poker in a recent interview with PokerPlayer UK. Below is the full interview (some good reading, so don't miss out!).

PokerPlayer: What was it like to suddenly be in the poker spotlight in 2009?
James Akenhead: I felt I was on top of the world. Not just financially - even though it is a shock to have that much money - but I was so excited to go back to Vegas for the November Nine and not know what was to happen. Whatever I did I always knew that at the back of my mind I was going back to Vegas to play for a potential $9m. 

Did you feel that your success was deserved at that time?
I'm not sure. I think it's hard for anyone to expect that much success, no matter how good you are. It all came at once, and that's what poker is like. You can have years where you have two or three results and they can be back-to-back-to-back like that or you can have years where you don't get a single result. I've had both and that's one of the reasons why I wanted to get out of poker - to have some stability financially or even emotionally. Those bad years can hurt. But those good years are great.

What was it like making the November Nine with Ivey?
It was an incredible opportunity.  To get a player like Ivey to the final table of an 8,000 runner tournament is incredible. We played together on a couple of days and it was good fun to play with him, and watch him fold a flush by mistake! He's human after all!

Was late 2009 the best period of your life?
When you play professionally for ten years, from 20 years old to 30, poker is your life. So that was the best period of my life - it was an incredible year.

Do you think you'd change much if that run happened now?

Looking back I would change some things financially. You'd find it hard to find a poker player who wouldn't. When you're 26 and you win seven figures you go mental! I'd stop spending that money in that nightclub etc, but at the same time you're having fun, you're young and you learn a lot from those periods in your life. I'm so glad I have put the rest of my money into this place [The Reach Bar]. [Working] has woken me up a lot to the real world. For ten years I was my own boss; you wake up when you want and it sounds great but at the same time it's almost like it's not reality. There are no structure or foundations to your life. You're always gambling, not just with money but what are you going to do every single day.


After 2009 was it really hard to live up to expectations in 2010? 

2010 was a crap year. I barely cashed. It was definitely a losing year. It was very frustrating not to go deeper in tournaments - I felt like I was running really bad but I didn't want to moan about being unlucky ever. It was depressing at the end of the year for myself. To this day I still think I was playing well in 2010, 2011 and 2012 but I got very few results so the numbers suggest that you are not playing your best and not playing well.

Did it worry you?
After 18 months of this dry spell I thought that if this can happen this long how could I go through my 30s, 40s and 50s with this possibly happening? I still couldn't cash to save my life. I was trying things just to make myself cash now. I was playing really tight to try and increase the chance of me cashing - and it still wasn't happening. 

Do you think your barren spell was a blessing in disguise?

You can definitely take positives from any situation. It made me realise that poker wasn't for me full time career-wise. I still love the game and want to go back to Vegas for the rest of my life. But playing out of a suitcase every single day - which I did for seven years - is no more. 

How did you decide to leave poker behind and open up a pub?

I've always loved eating and drinking - not drinking to get pi**ed but to go to new restaurants that are opening. I had this crazy idea about three years ago to open my own place. I was looking at ideas, areas and places. I had just hit 28 and thought, shall we just do it? I shut my eyes and jumped. 

How did you settle on The Reach Bar?
I originally wanted to open a Japanese upper-class style restaurant in Blackheath [where Akenhead is from]. It has nice restaurants and a lot of money there but not much Asian cuisine. I think that would do really well there but it didn't work out. Then my idea was to do a healthy fast food restaurant, but eventually someone said to come and have a look at this place down on the docks! I spoke to the guy who owned the building and he said that he didn't want to make much money out of it - but just wanted somewhere nice that he could take his clients to for lunch. That was a bonus.

What is the Docklands area like?
We're very excited about it, and this building is so nice [it's a Grade II listed building]. It's very up and coming. It's a bit of a gamble in that there's not much through traffic but at the same time there are currently 400 flats around this building and in two years there will be 1800. In four years' time there will be a £1bn Chinese business park and then Cross Rail will be through here too. The whole area is moving this way up the dock.

How much work was it to convert The Reach Bar to what it looks like now?
It was a completely empty shell apart from the listed bar in the middle. It was a ridiculous shock to the system converting this place after being a poker player. I went from getting up when I wanted to not only having to get up at 6am but immediately having to respond to emails or making phone calls. If you want something doing you must do it now whereas before you'd put it off for a few days, and just reply when you felt like it, if ever. Now, if your phone provider breaks you must do it immediately. 

Is this a pub/gastropub or restaurant?
We fall in the middle somewhere. I hate to be labelled as such but I guess it is a gastropub where you can drink. We have some really good things on the menu.

Did you play any poker at all in 2013? 

I played a few WCOOP events but barely. I haven't had time to think about poker so I haven't missed it! At the same time I'd love to go back to Vegas for all of the key events. Once this place is settled down and hopefully successful I want to do that and see the boys as well.

Are your days of being a poker pro over?
It's almost definitely never going to be my main source of income again. But ten years is ten years - it's a big chapter of my life and I'll never look back on any of it with any regret. I enjoyed it, met some great friends, and went through a lot of highs and lows. I've driven nice cars and created nice memories and a big learning curve for myself.

source: PokerPlayer UK


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22 comments for "The successful pro who quit poker for a full-time job"

 noonlion17/01/2014 17:05:23 GMT
Interesting - so thats what happens to poker pros who disappear!

seems like a wise choice, I'm sure plenty do what he did, cashing big in a year, then went barren and continued to plough all their energy and strength into poker despite it not working out for them financially. Must be tough to leave it behind to an extent, but then poker is no picnic, way tougher to live that life than a lot of people give credit for.

 bowie198417/01/2014 17:44:59 GMT
Posted by noonlion:
Interesting - so thats what happens to poker pros who disappear!

seems like a wise choice, I'm sure plenty do what he did, cashing big in a year, then went barren and continued to plough all their energy and strength into poker despite it not working out for them financially. Must be tough to leave it behind to an extent, but then poker is no picnic, way tougher to live that life than a lot of people give credit for.


I dont know.
It looks like to me that he didnt quit, rather that put up his last remaining dollars (~ pounds) into something of a hail mary pass to make some honest earnings.
Its not a bad thing owning a bar/pub/restaurant in the UK - altough most businesses has up & downswings just like po.ker. Really hard to find balance, gl to him.
 tanja78017/01/2014 21:21:33 GMT
was it hard to become pro? and how much time did you need?
 Theapple17/01/2014 21:22:56 GMT
i think thats the best thing you can do with your poker earned money, because if you dont invest it it something 'real' most of the time you will give it back so investing it into a business that doesnt depend that much on variance is a good thing, imo Smile
 takingdrugs17/01/2014 22:38:26 GMT
the dream would be to win something big and set myself up for life.
if i won > 1mil i would spend it on a house and bank it, cause my biggest fear would be of gamling it all away
 Theapple17/01/2014 22:45:48 GMT
yea i would most likely do the same thing ... if i could resist.. hey doubling that money would be even better, wouldnt it... and then you could even buy 2 houses and a turtle. or something, 2m > 1m (poker player mentality i suppose, lol).

but yea its easy to talk about it when we arent in his shoes. But the reality is most of us would probably gamble it away, other than pochui i trust pochuis br skills.

now when i think of it, id buy myself a farm. and grow turtles. so you guys were first to hear it, when i win big, im gonna make a turtle farm and live my happy, stress-free turtlefarmers life.
 doubletop77718/01/2014 12:30:16 GMT
This player looks to have invested his money in something he feels passionate about and it is a good thing to see. He seems to know the value of money unlike some of these new kids coming up nowadays
 bowie198418/01/2014 12:31:56 GMT
Posted by Theapple:
yea i would most likely do the same thing ... if i could resist.. hey doubling that money would be even better, wouldnt it... and then you could even buy 2 houses and a turtle. or something, 2m > 1m (poker player mentality i suppose, lol).

but yea its easy to talk about it when we arent in his shoes. But the reality is most of us would probably gamble it away, other than pochui i trust pochuis br skills.

now when i think of it, id buy myself a farm. and grow turtles. so you guys were first to hear it, when i win big, im gonna make a turtle farm and live my happy, stress-free turtlefarmers life.



I would do something similar.
Hitting jackpot anywhere or winning on lottery and I would pull a Ted Turner.
Buy some washed up ranch with hunderds of acres in Montana, patch things up and go on grew and trade cattle left or right.
Im not much of a cowboy but boy would I be happy living life on simpler terms.
 Theapple18/01/2014 22:26:08 GMT
lol @ cowboy Tongue

but yea basically id do that too. just get something that offers stable income, and less stress than poker. but then again most things offer less stress than poker but they arent half as fun though :/
 Heskor19/01/2014 14:43:39 GMT
Wow nice piece of interview there should be more like that. anyway glad he got this swing in his early years as he had still time to reconvert if that happened later on he might have go broke. Cheers nice read!
 Jibberish19/01/2014 16:22:43 GMT
resaurants are tough work and one of the hardest businesses to keep afloat, but its probably a lot easier to maintain composure rather then some of those poker dry spells =s
 cBpyxDo3a19/01/2014 23:54:22 GMT
The only way to quit poker if you can play nice is death....
 Theapple20/01/2014 09:25:21 GMT
thats not true, many people quit poker because they just find it too stressful or simply get bored of it (:
 pochui20/01/2014 10:34:13 GMT
wise dude- kept some of the moola and invested it in real business...afterall poker is just gambling, it doesn't create any value, just ships money from one dude to another and ships a smaller amount due to the rake. if you happen to get ahead in this process be a wise cunt and invest the cash in business, real estate etc.
 Macubaas20/01/2014 20:57:39 GMT
I saw a lot more similar stories actually, i remember a lot more poker players that open up a restaurant with the money that they won from poker.

As it was already said in one of the posts above to play at the level is very stressful and not all can take it that good.
 popchaves25/01/2014 18:31:04 GMT
probably throws some chips with friends, on some saturday nights in the cellar of the pub, just for fun Blink
 RoninHarper25/01/2014 19:12:44 GMT
G'day mates

Well I must say he has my respect.
Many players just can not think long therm enough to invest their money well.
It is easy come easy go.
It seems these days all you hear about is this or that prove winning a fortune one day and losing it all the next. It makes me sick knowing all the good I could do in this world with the money they jusy piss away without a care in the world about it.
best of luck to all of us.
be cool

Ronin Cool
 mahdrof25/01/2014 22:19:36 GMT
With any sport or occupation like poker player, you have to be the best of the best to make money, and doing that over the course of many years cannot be an easy task. You will see pros come and go as new generations of players rise and then self-destruct, or simply cannot adapt as the game continually changes. I think he was very wise to pull out and do something else.
 RoninHarper26/01/2014 04:32:50 GMT
G'day mate

He is probably a lot more happy too.
I know a few people who own restaurants and they always seem to be happy.
They work hard but they love what they do.
I think to be happy in this world a person needs to be good at what they do and find what makes them happy too.
be cool

Ronin Cool
 Ottika198507/02/2014 10:08:20 GMT
NEM SEMMI GRATULATION
 pokerstar2007/02/2014 23:06:19 GMT
Very interesting story. He must like his job otherwise i can not imagine to quit poker if you are a successful player. Seems like he made a wise decision.
 alexg8916/06/2014 20:47:26 GMT
@pokerstar20,
Well it might be that he really loves hes job too, but poker is a game with a lot of stress and like he said in interview - every day as a poker player is almost like gambling...

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