This week’s Poker After Dark classic features action between a November Niner and a cheeky flat-cap wearing opponent – the artist formerly known as the one to break Phil Ivey’s brain – Brad Booth. If you were told that one player is British and the other is American, then you might assume that the home-grown player once reached the final table of the World Series of Poker. You’d be wrong.
HIT SQUAD HISTORY
A year or so before this classic hand aired for the first time, James Akenhead was at the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event. He finished ninth for over $1.2 million, the latest in a long line of results for a group of British players referred to as ‘The Hit Squad’.
Comprising of Akenhead, Praz Bansi, the Chattha brothers Sunny and Chaz and long-time friend Karl Mahrenholz, the group performed miracles in WSOP events over several years. The key principle of The Hit Squad was a fairly crucial one – a total lack of fear on bubbles. Whenever there was a chance they’d be at risk of bubbling a tournament, they’d go all out. Over time, this, of course, became more common, but at the time, they guaranteed as a group that they’d be showing more aggression as a collective than others as single players.
STEPPING AWAY FROM THE GAME
Following Akenhead’s exploits, and his subsequent run of tournament triumphs, he reached 30 years of age with $3 million in the bank. The former Full Tilt pro needed a break from the game and sunk some of his winnings into a new project that would take him away from the poker felt.
Managing a pub & restaurant in London called The Reach Bar, Akenhead figured he was swapping a poker life of risks and stress for a more stable profession. He was quite wrong. Finding the day-to-day management of people and an eatery in a bustling part of London even harder, the former WSOP final table player put in up to 100 hours a week keeping the project alive.
THE PULL OF POKER
When many players step away from the game, they find it hard to keep away from poker. There isn’t the unpredictability in many regular jobs that poker provides. This can be a good thing of course – most people would struggle to cope with a month where they worked over 200 hours and lost money. But the positives players gain from poker are plentiful and not restricted to money.
Akenhead took more out of poker in his first years at the table than simply $3 million. He learned life lessons, he grew friendships, essentially, he became a better man. When he decided that poker was the right place to be and returned, it all fell back into place. He fell in love, become a father. He found his groove. As Al Pacino once famously spoke on film:
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
SECOND TIME AROUND
Coming back to poker after two years was the easiest decision Akenhead could have made. Selling up and quitting the food and beverage industry was a relief, not a pressure. Akenhead could get back to the felt with a new-found appreciation for the money he was winning on a regular basis before stepping away.
In the last couple of years, Akenhead has returned to poker with a vengeance, cashing five times in a fortnight at last year’s World Series of Poker, including a run to 192nd in the $10,000 buy-in Main Event.
A RETURN TO POKER AFTER DARK?
Akenhead won the episode of Poker After Dark from which this clip comes, taking down the table of superstars for $120,000 in the final. You can watch every episode across all seven seasons of the show at PokerGO, so subscribe today.
You’ll never need to take a break and with new Poker After Dark episodes bring all the fun of one of the game’s most popular formats back, there’s no better time to refresh yourself with the legends of the show’s past. You never know which poker legends will make a return to the purple felt on PokerGO.