Interview: GPI Award nominee Kyna England talks about her “breakout” year

Kyna England started showing up in headlines back in March of last year. This followed her third-place finish at the MSPT Riverside in Iowa. That deep run, coupled with a win in December and a few more double-digit finishes also earned her the 2021 MSPT Player of the Year award.

Along the way, she continued her work with Poker Power, made a WPT TV final table (coming 3rd in the WPT Venetian), and got herself a nomination for a Global Poker Index Award.

I sat down on a Zoom call with England earlier in the month to talk about her career in poker and how the last year’s successes have changed things for her.

She had just received the news that she was one of four finalists in the GPI Award “Breakout Player” category. A fact about which she was very self-deprecating.

“Just for today, I’m letting it go to my head,” she told me. “But, you know, Vanessa [Kade]’s up for it as well, and she totally deserves it too, she had a really stellar year. It’s just really cool just to be nominated and get to wear a dress, take a friend, and be with all those high rollers and heavy hitters.”

The other two players she will have to beat in that category are Christopher Brewer and Johan Guilbert.

The Moneymake effect

I started the interview by asking her about her history with the game. Like many people, it was the 2003 World Series of Poker that triggered her initial interest.

“I went to the University of Colorado and studied mathematics,” England explained. “I had a roommate who taught me poker, and we watched Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker on TV. That was what made me think ‘What a cool game!’ I knew a little about poker from the five-card draw played with my grandma, but my roommate really taught me how to play.

“From there we started to play bar games, home games, we hosted some cash games in our little apartment. Then I went back to Chicago, got a full-time job, went to grad school, just kind of fell off of poker as a game. Then kind of came back into it a few years later.”

The pandemic brought about a serious shift in how she approached poker. It had been a hobby before. Now, with the launch of Poker Power in 2019, she wanted to get serious about the game.

“I put in a lot of work over quarantine,” she said. “I didn’t have a job and hadn’t played much online so I had to adapt. I did a lot of studying, I used LearnWPT for a little bit, just watching a lot of their videos at the gym. I had a study group with my friends on Zoom.

“Before the pandemic, I used to play a lot on feel and instinct, just trying to read people. Then when I came back, I started noticing a lot more strategic stuff. It not only made the game more fun, but it turned it into a very different kind of challenge — to put together all the new things I learned. Seeing different things, different patterns. That was eye-opening.”

MSPT Player of the Year

That study paid off to the tune of $73,782 in the MSPT Riverside event in Iowa. However, for England, the eureka moment came a few weeks before that.

“Right before that event I went to Las Vegas,” she explains. “I played a satellite at the Wynn for my birthday. I won, I got a satellite seat to a $3,500 event. I played all day with these crazy players like Justin Young, Eric Baldwin, and Joey Weisman at one point. I was just sitting by them, playing with them. I tried my best and played really well, I think, and I made it to the end of the day. Making it to the end of Day 1 a $3,500 was a really big thing for me. That felt like the turning point.

“After the $3,500, I got really sick with COVID. When I came out of the two-week quarantine, there was the event in Iowa. I actually had a really rough start of it. I fired four times, cus I just knew I could do this. I almost didn’t try the fourth time… but I did, and it worked.”

Teaching poker

As well as playing poker, England also teaches it as part of her role with Poker Power.

“Poker Power started at the end of 2019 and it was focused more on teaching clubs of girls, like school and college girls who were friends. I was one of the early teachers, and that was a really great job for me during the pandemic and it was a nice source of income from my house.

“I’m an instructor for them now, I do one to three classes a week depending on my poker schedule. But now I’m also working a bit on training the teachers, we have quite a few more instructors now that we’re picking up a little bit. We have more lessons available. We don’t just put people in the teacher roles, we train the new teachers and make sure they know the basic stuff about poker and some of the more advanced stuff.” 

“I really like it, it is very flexible. In fact, I have a class right after this interview!”

What’s next?

After a year like 2021, England has a few possible projects on the go, but is trying not to get too carried away by her sudden rise.

“I’m thinking of some stuff, brainstorming with a girlfriend of mine,” she says. “Maybe put out some content, though I don’t want to commit until I see how it turns out. For now, all the ladies in the poker community, if you want to join the Poker Power community, I do some special events. I’m gonna do a heads-up lesson in May.”

“Coming off a great year like that there’s a lot of pressure,” she explains. “I’ve seen articles — and I so appreciate them — but they’re like ‘Kyna’s gonna have a great 2022!’ I love that and I always send them to my mom, but I’m trying to ease into poker at the moment.

“I am just looking at some travel right now. My main goal is to play in places I’ve not played before, new venues. I’m gonna go to Austin, the series there looks pretty sick. I’m gonna play in San Diego at the Run Good Series because I’ve never played a Run Good event before. I’m not the kind of player to jump into a $5k, even a $3,500 is a lot for me. But we will see where the year takes me.

“I just feel fortunate that I get to try all this again this year.”

Featured image source: Flickr by WPT, used under CC license.

Author: Paula Dunn