The poker pro, who is playing in Cyprus, has revealed that she turned down the opportunity to play in the tournament. I just don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t need anyone to be with me. She said that she needed to be alone. “I was like, okay, this is going to happen, and I’m going to do my best,” Kenney said.
This is the second part of our exclusive interview with poker pro Ebony Kenney. The Triton Super High Roller Series in Cyprus, which starts on Saturday, September 10, will feature Kenney playing the $200K coin rivet invitational. She netted $240,500 from the $25K buy-in in the first tournament of the series, and warmed up by recording her biggest score.
What is the process of making it to the $200K coin rivet tournament? Right from the first call, how did that happen?
I had just left Las Vegas after two and a half months for the World Series of Poker and I was going to Joshua Tree to be alone for three days and not use my phone. I just don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t need anyone to be with me. Phil Nagy, the CEO of Winning Poker Network, called me about 30 minutes after I got in my car, and he said, “Oh, there’s this, you know, the Triton and there’s this tournament.” And I said, “Oh, sick.” You are on your way? He said, “Yeah, you are as well.” I was wondering, “What!?!” It still feels like the world’s worst practical joke, even though he isn’t joking because Phil wouldn’t do that. I was like, “All right, what the fuck?” He was like, “Yeah, you’re playing.”
It went from me hitting my steering wheel to being scared. I wanted to know if I should take this. I don’t know if I deserve it. There were a lot of things for me to think about. There are many people who are better poker players than me that Phil could have chosen. I was the number four because he tried to invite three. I might call him back and say, “Oh, I shouldn’t do this,” because there was a part of me that was saying that. I got out of that way of thinking and I was going to do my best and this was going to happen.
Why did you consider rejecting the offer?
When I step so far away from who I am, I get more concerned about what other people have to say. That was exactly what it was. I was thinking about all of the people who were going to say, “Oh, she doesn’t deserve it or she’s something else.” I don’t know who cares, right? But honestly, that was what it was. I was taking on implied doubts from other people. It was not anything that had happened in that moment. I was imagining things that people would say. I was not interested in dealing with this. I have been playing poker for 20 years and I have felt like I have moved in and out of being myself. For the first five years, I did that, but then I decided I was going to be myself.
You are the first woman to ever be invited as a professional player to a big buy-in event. How does that make you happy?
It makes me feel really good. It makes me sad because I want more women to be here. It is unfortunate that I am the first, but I am not going to be the last person to play this game. I am the first black woman to play and I am also the first woman pro. These are things that are important to me. I am a woman of color, you know what I mean. I’m not straight. I don’t want to get lost, there are so many things that are important to me, that are part of my identity. I would like to bring everyone with me. I will not allow myself to be gate- kept. I would like to have four women at the final table. It does not mean that it has to always be that way.
It gets boring when you think that he is going to ask you a question about being a woman. Don’t you wish you didn’t have to answer those questions?
I was the exact opposite of how I am now, but it wasn’t that long ago. I want every woman in poker to hear something like this from someone like me. I just played a 25K and it was not about me, but I was the woman who played it. I am telling other women that I love them and support them. I would love to have you here. I don’t need to be the only person. Why can’t we have 500 women and one guy at these events?
Being a woman and a woman in poker is important to me and I will never stop talking about it. I wish I would have heard this when I first started playing, because I think it would have helped me heal faster and maybe see what was possible, because I think it would have saved me from creating a lot of toxic moments. There are some women in the poker community that may be experiencing some sort of jealousy or hate towards one another. There is a path filled with love and support that you hear about.
Are there any solutions to the age old problems of women in poker? How can we get more involved in the game, and why are there so few women in it?
I don’t think it’s possible to answer that question in one interview. I think it starts with empowering the staff and players to speak up on behalf of women and to get out of the idea that this is the good old boys club and just get over it. This isn’t the same as 1950. We are here, you know what I mean? The idea that women just have to deal with these things is ridiculous. If this was your mother, if this was your sister, if this was your daughter, how would you want them to be treated if they walked into the poker room? Let’s consider what kind of environment you are facilitating, if your answer is that you wouldn’t want them to walk in. When you don’t speak up and you’re not protecting humans from bad behavior, not just women, anyone. You are being complicit if you are not speaking up when things are dangerous or toxic. Over the past year, I have built a bridge with a lot of players because I just explained it to them in that way.
Do you find it frustrating that you have to use such basic terms to explain something?
Yeah, that’s correct. I believe it is a way to keep the human element. I think a lot of people don’t pay attention. Poker is such a selfish game that we tend to forget about the human element. I have to crush your soul in order for me to make money in this game, because it is just a zero sum game. I figured out that I get to crush your soul, but also be very kind about it, you know, and not your entire soul.
The elite, super high roller world has a different environment for women than other tournaments.
It’s absolutely true. Everyone was very kind and nice and just encouraging me. I made a joke about it. I thought they were going to root for me because I am the fish in this group. But it is more than that. Being nice and polite to each other is just the epitome of being competitive. I am pretty sure that not all of these players get along, away from poker. I have noticed that they do not bring that to the table. They are extremely professional and kind. Some of them are machines and they don’t talk. Mean robots are the alternative that I have sometimes experienced.
I think it is important for staff to be able to make decisions and for dealers to be able to set the tone for the environment they are in. You don’t feel welcome when you walk into someone’s home and no one says hello to you. That is what poker is all about for me. This was a tournament that felt like home. You just walk into the building and feel right at home. It is very difficult to move away from that kind of energy.
Can we say that poker is moving in the right direction or not in regards to gender roles?
I think we have grown a lot. We have definitely shifted some things. I think that with the evolution of social media and the different platforms now and the way that we can discover new poker players, I think that has helped a lot in representation matters. It goes in both directions. I think there is still a lot of work to be done.
It is not about saying, okay, men, sit down and shut up, it is about saying, okay, women, come for me for this statement. Working with them is what it is about. Right, right? The 95 to 5% ratio is the fact of the matter. We should not have to deal with the emotional side of the work. I should be able to tell people not to treat them badly. I want people to be where they are, not where I want them to be. We are going to effect change in culture and create more loving and safer environments by doing that.
I will be in Aruba at the end of this month for the World Series of Poker Circuit event, and before the ladies event, I will be hosting a little seminar. A way for women to know that they can support each other and be competitive, without poker coaching. I believe that women have been pitted against each other a lot in poker. There is a belief that there can only be one at the top. We tend to pit women against each other when we talk about them. I know that it starts with me, and that’s why I want to stop that. We have to start it with us. They shouldn’t have to. I used to perpetuate the negative vibes, but I know that I used to be a part of this cycle. In order to affect the environment that I love the most, I have to start.
You are an ambassador for the organization. What do you think is the role of an ambassador in modern poker?
I think that people forget why they started playing poker in the first place. Some people see the money and that is their reason. I think a lot of the old-school players and a lot of the people who have found poker recently started playing it because it was fun. There was a game going on. This was very enjoyable. The downside was that we could not make money. We have the potential to make some money. You should have fun. I think that is my job, for me. My role is that of that one. It is my honor to facilitate fun on the table and to not judge because someone is acting out of turn or they raise the wrong amount or they are shaking or they are taking too long. I used to do those things while I was there. Whenever there was a new player, I used to make little faces with the other more experienced players. I wonder what the fuck I was doing when I looked back. I am just making people feel bad. And for something? The Cool Kids Club is not what this is. We don’t have to pretend that someone isn’t good enough to be at this table. Every expert used to be a beginner. You were at this table for the first time and you didn’t know what was happening. Why do you want to perpetuate that type of negative energy? Some people think that other people should have to go through it as well because they went through it. I want you to be better for me.
Are there any lessons you have learned at the poker table that can help you in your life?
I say yes, my God. My lord, I’m in love with you. I have gotten better at reading people. The little gambly energy that I have has definitely leaked into my dating world, for better or for worse. All of the people I have dated in a room. It would be a very large room, and you would be confused. I am not afraid of trying new things. When I walk into a room full of men every single day to show up for work, I feel like there is a little bit of fear attached to it. It helps me when I put on my confidence pants and grab the bull by the horns and just decide, okay, this is what I am going to do.
The $200K coin rivet invitational can be watched through the official live stream on twitch. There will be action on Saturday, September 10. We will have a comprehensive tournament round-up after the winner is announced.