How much would you be willing to bet on your ability to lose weight? For most of us, maybe a couple-hundred bucks would be motivation enough. For professional poker player Bryn Kenney, that’s less than small potatoes—it’s pocket change. When you’re currently ranked number one on the all-time money list ($55.5 million in winnings), it probably takes a few more zeros to get you fired up. So in September he wagered that he could drop from 230 to 190 pounds by January 15, 2020. The stakes? $100,000.
Poker provided him the kind of money needed to make a bet like that, but it also helped him gain the weight in the first place. As anyone who’s watched The World Series of Poker can attest, it’s a game with a lot of sitting. Kenney’s been playing it since he was a teenager, when he graduated from playing Magic: The Gathering to grinding long hours of online poker at age 18. He’d finish late at night, 3 AM, when his only restaurant options were fast food. Think “french fries with mozzarella cheese, bacon and sour cream and Russian dressing on a hero,” he says.
That lifestyle had him weighing around 250 pounds. It was draining, and he knew it was unhealthy. So to slim down, in 2014 he turned to what he knew: betting. He wagered he could get to 15 percent body fat in a year. “I’m a very competitive person and hate losing so making a bet was a big motivator,” he says. For him, though, the stakes weren’t that high: $10,000 or the cost of one tournament buy-in.
He lost. “I had a year to do it but I procrastinated and waited until the last minute to start,” he says. He hit 17 or 18 percent, but couldn’t pull it off. Still, it sparked him to really focus on reaching a healthier weight. So in 2017, right before his 30th birthday, he tried again; this time, $70,000 to lose 65 pounds in four months. With the big 3-0 looming and long-term health on his mind, he took it more seriously—and he won.
Keeping off the weight as a poker pro isn’t easy, though. Besides the hours of sitting, all day, every day, there’s the travel. Constantly adjusting to new time zones can make it hard to stay motivated, provided you can even find healthy food and a nearby gym. In the last four months, Kenney’s hit Las Vegas, London, Barcelona, Tokyo, and Bali. Whenever he travels, he hits up the best restaurants, too, which is a challenge for staying healthy. “Being a huge foodie definitely makes it tougher, especially because the way I like to eat the most is family style and order the whole menu so I can try everything,” he says.
So he’s traveling with little or no routine (which disrupts his sleep, too), sitting for most of his days, and eating at the world’s best restaurants. “That’s why for most of my poker career I have been at my largest weight because it’s easy to just give in and be lazy,” says Kenney. That left him weighing 230 pounds in September 2019.
With $100,000 at stake, how does he plan to drop the weight? “I don’t think it’s reasonable to go from 0-100 so I think it’s very important to steadily keep getting better and doing more,” he says. He gradually improves his diet and starts cardio at the gym. Last time, he stuck to a strict diet of chicken, eggs and white fish with no sauce. He won the bet, but slid back into his old ways; he’s hoping this time he can find a strategy he can stick to and keep off the weight.
So this time he’s focusing on proteins and green vegetables, and cutting out alcohol. When he really buckles down, he might hit the gym for three hours a day, then spend time in the sauna. He’s doing it on his own so far, but later he’ll get a trainer. “The word ‘routine’ for me means that you’re stuck to something and I never want to be stuck to anything,” he says. “I always want to be open and free to do what I feel is right.”
Ultimately, he says, it’s not about the money, but about his competitive drive and proving to himself that he can do it. Winning that $100,000 would be nice, sure. (It would be nice for any of us.) “What is my real motivation for losing the weight is feeling my best, looking my best, being healthy and just trying to be my best person in everything I do,” he says. “I’m my own harshest critic.”
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