WSOP 2011: Kelly sticks to plan in quest for poker success


If there's a show that conjures up the image of the old fashioned romantic poker player, it's Late Night Poker. Broadcast back in the late nineties and early naughties, the show turned a new generation onto poker, played in what seemed the back room of an unspecified destination, with the hushed commentary of Jesse May conveying all the excitement of a game most people watching didn't really understand. But it was cool, and on late, and we liked it.

Part of its appeal was the players. Mostly men, when gaudy gold bracelets, they talked among themselves just out of earshot to the viewer, familiar with each other after years playing the same games (possibly illegal), the same tournaments and united in their yearly trips to something called the World Series of Poker. They paid hard for their poker education, losing money for years in the bear pit of The Vic in London, before intuition and talent took over.

Back then a trip to the World Series wasn't all about winning a bracelet; it was way to earn some serious money in the cash games that took place alongside the tournaments. That's where the real hard workers were, grinding out a living playing cards, rather than chasing a long shot title against the world's very best players.

It was watching these types of players on television that snagged JP Kelly's attention.
After watching the likes of Dave Ulliott, Vicky Coren, Ben Roberts (still in the main event) and The Hendon Mob, Kelly was soon playing poker himself and, following the example set by the stories of those icons on screen, he started small, in British towns like Walsall, Luton, Blackpool and Brighton, places that to the pre-internet British pro were as familiar as Mirage, Binions and Bellagio were to their American counterparts.

JP Kelly

Kelly scored a few wins, then a few more, earning $130,084 in his first year as a pro in 2005, while still travelling to some of the biggest tournaments in Europe to play cash.

But unlike a lot of players like him, Kelly had no delusions of grandeur, and while Joe Hachem became World Champion at the World Series of Poker, Kelly played the games he knew he could beat, learning all the time, like the players on Late Night Poker did.

A year later the hard work continued to pay off. First cash on the EPT was followed by a first trip to the World Series, where he picked up two cashes. There was more success in low buy-in events around the UK but Kelly now had his sights on bigger things. A WSOP final table in 2008 was the natural progression, one that continued into the next year in breakthrough fashion, when Kelly won two bracelet, the first in pot-limit hold'em, the second in limit hold'em, at the WSOP Europe. A year later he nearly made it three, finishing runner-up.

Despite bracelets and a tournament income in excess of $1.3 million, Kelly still comes across as eager to learn. In Vilamoura last year, united by a staff dinner, Kelly found himself sitting next to Daniel Negreanu, out relaxing after what had been his own first EPT cash (albeit in a poker-golf tournament). Kelly asked question after question of Negreanu, never thinking he knew enough, wanting to know everything from a player who was the American equivalent of the players he'd seen in the UK.

That was last year, and now Kelly continues to target greater things, putting together a Main Event performance which is beginning to show signs of being strong.

Kelly began the day just shy of 100,000 chips, which he turned into 160,000 without showing a card. After the break he was up to 245,000, then to 290,000 on what Kelly described as something of a heater. Wary of the new arrival at his table - Sebastian Ruthenberg - the effect has proven minor on Kelly who sat on 301,000 at play continued after the dinner break.

Not only is it a performance that could carry the Team PokerStars Pro flag deep in this event, but it's one fully in line with the Kelly career path, as the Englishmen strives to become one of the game's best British exports.


Only three previous WSOP champions remain in the field - Robert Varkonyi (2002), Phil Hellmuth (1989) and Berry Johnston (1986). Huck Seed is the latest to fall.

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