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Before the Game: Bryn Kenney the Magic Player (Part One)

Bryn Kenney got his start in poker after playing Magic: The Gathering.
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  • Bryn Kenney looks back on his formative years, learning Magic and then finding poker.

Over the last few years, many poker players have risen up the ranks to dominate the headlines and prompt comparisons with poker's all-time greats. Bryn Kenney is one such grinder, the Long Beach legend considered one of the best in the modern game.

But where did his instincts come from? From his masterful memory to his love of cards, it can all be traced back to the boy Kenney was... Before the Game.

Magic and Memories

The first tool Kenney knows he developed, which would one day help build him into an elite poker player, was his memory.

“When I was just one and half years old, my parents kept showing me baseball cards,” Kenney said. “Before I could read, my parents say that I knew 75 different baseball card names by picture.

"I feel like that helped me to develop this crazy memory that I’ve always had. I can remember everything, even if I think about a meal three years ago, I can taste the food in my mind.”

"I can remember everything, even if I think about a meal three years ago, I can taste the food in my mind.”

Kenney put his amazing memory to work. He was the eldest of five siblings and loved to play games as a child, from Risk to Stratego to card games with his grandma.

At 12, he discovered a new game: Magic: The Gathering.

“I was at a family picnic and one of my cousins, who had a card store, was selling these starter decks," Kenney said. "I got hooked on it and I would play it all the time. It’s a very good strategy game.”

Kenney was good at Magic and climbed the rankings. Just like his eventual career in poker, it was simple to track his success. Magic sports what Kenney called a "GPI-type" ranking system for players to keep tabs on their standings in each of two game types: one where a player brings his or her own deck and one where decks are chosen out of random packs.

Bryn Kenney
Kenney took to cards at an early age.

By 14, Kenney was No. 1 in the world at Magic: The Gathering for ages 15 and under.

But, he was growing and changing. What he wanted out of life was changing, too. Even as he was one of the world's best, Magic faded as an interest for Kenney when he hit his high school years.

“Once I got out of that age group, I told myself that Magic wasn’t really cool to be doing on Fridays or Saturdays," he said. "In high school, after I played Magic, I was in good shape. I wore tight clothes and had a gold medallion and slicked-back hair. I was dating the prettiest girl and I was the most hated guy in high school.”

Following the Path

Magic: The Gathering has been a popular path to success for poker players. Bertrand "Elky" Grospellier is a well-known Magic player, but it was David Williams' breakthrough to 2004 WSOP Main Event runner-up that grabbed Kenney’s attention along with many of his former competitors.

“When David Williams got second in the Main Event, everyone in Magic was like, ‘Shit! If he can win $3.5 million, then I’m sure I can too,’" Kenney said. "There’s not really any money in Magic, so that was when I thought, ‘I’ve got to play poker.'"

Kenney knew of Williams from his Magic background and knew of him as a good player. Kenney thought about making the switch from Magic to poker. As it happened, a tragic twist of fate would push him deeper into the world of poker.

"I didn’t want to be a real estate salesman and go and work for a company."

Upon graduation from high school, Kenney had planned to obtain a real estate license, with his grandma set to get him started as a broker from the office she owned.

A week before Kenney's exam, though, his grandma died.

“There was no reason for me to continue doing real estate," he said. "The only reason I was doing it was because I had someone to write off for me to take over. I didn’t want to be a real estate salesman and go and work for a company."

Bryn Kenney
Bryn Kenney's original plan out of high school? Real estate sales.

Kenney never took the test.

Instead, he moved out of a crowded house with five kids and four bedrooms and into his grandfather's house, planning to keep him company and give his siblings some space.

"I think Magic to poker was an easy translation. It was just a different deck of cards.”

"That’s when I started playing poker online, gambling all day, every day," Kenney said. "I was hooked instantly.”

Bryn Kenney was a successful Magic: The Gathering player. But could he transfer his skills in one strategy game to the other?

“Cards translates to cards, I think Magic to poker was an easy translation. It was just a different deck of cards.”

What he would do with the new deck would amaze many around him. Bryn Kenney’s world was about to change in a big, big way. Find out how in the second part of Bryn Kenney: Before the Game.

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