Incredibly, it’s 12 years since Daniel Negreanu got to slip on his first World Series bracelet, a $2,000 pot-limit Hold’em event that marked the emergence of one of the best players ever to grace the baize. He was just 24 years old at the time – a young gun in a game full of old hats – and his early success saw him inherit the nickname still synonymous with the PokerStars pro today, ‘Kid Poker’.
In the modern poker world, of course, you’re practically over the hill at 24, but despite now being the wrong side of 30, Negreanu is still holding his own against the best in the world, both live and online. The Team PokerStars Pro is second only to Phil Ivey on the all-time tournament money leaderboard with $12.7m in earnings, and has four WSOP bracelets, two WPT titles, and a clutch of other six-figure tournament wins to his name. And last September he was unfortunate to finish second to Barry Shulman in the WSOPE Europe Main Event, when a win looked so likely and would have made for his greatest achievement in the game.
Since then, Kid Poker’s results have been threadbare to say the least, with a fourth place finish in the PartyPoker Premier League representing his only notable cash. His sixth appearance on cash game TV show High Stakes Poker also proved frustrating with bad beats, coolers and some missteps costing him dear.
Not one to be put off, Negreanu has gone back to the drawing board, enlisted the help of some cutting edge online pros to hone his no-limit game, and changed his lifestyle to accommodate the physical demands of the World Series. The only question now is: has the hard work paid off?
So, Daniel, what’s been going on?
I’ve just been grinding the World Series – it’s the first time I’ve gone the entire tournament without having one sip of alcohol. And I’ve been doing the P90X workout every day.
It’s a training programme where you combine weight training, yoga, tempo and jumping exercises – you end up doing something different every day. There’s also a nutritional programme I now stick to. I’m trying to get stronger and it’s worked; I’ve lost my love handles, and although I couldn’t do one chin-up when I started, now I can do three.
So it was a conscious effort on your part not to drink at this year’s WSOP?
In previous years I’ve always gone to party and had drinks during the tournament, but this year I decided not to. I just want to play and have the perfect WSOP.
I don’t look at results as a barometer [of success] but I like what I did this year. I did really well in the no-limit events and that’s good news for the Main Event [after the interview Negreanu was unfortunate to go out on Day 3 ]. I did surprisingly bad at the limit events, which are usually my bread and butter, but I just didn’t have the luck. Historically, I’ve been a streaky player where I go on runs. If you look at the first half of this WSOP it was empty on results, but in the second half I picked things up with four cashes and [a sixth place finish] in the Tournament of Champions.
The big story this year has been the amount of bracelet bets that have been going on. What bets have you made?
I always have a standing bracelet bet with Phil Ivey, and I also laid 2-to-1 against durrrr. If we both win a bracelet it’s a wash, if he wins one he gets 2-to-1, and if I win one I just get the one. He’s given me a scare a couple of times, but he hasn’t won one so obviously that’s a wash now.
How much was that bet worth?
I don’t talk about the numbers, but it’s a lot.
Howard Lederer’s bet with Phil Ivey is reported to be $5m – do you think players need to make these bets to give them an incentive to play?
I don’t need to make these bets to give me an incentive to play, but I know guys like Phil Ivey and durrrr play at a lot higher stakes on a regular basis. It’s really stupid for them to play these tournaments for three days to win $200,000 or $250,000, because they can win that in a hand in the big games. It’s good for poker and poker history that the best players are playing, because without these side bets Ivey wouldn’t even play. But with the side bets he will, and he’ll pass the all-time leader for bracelets at the WSOP – it’s just a matter of time.
How do you think the current all-time WSOP bracelet leader, Phil Hellmuth, feels about that?
Oblivious. Actually there are a lot of bets talking about how long Ivey will take to tie him, and they are setting the over/under on seven and a half years.
Do you think Phil Hellmuth will win any more bracelets?
Probably not. The problem with Hellmuth is that the game he’s best at is the game most players are best at. The young guys are just flat out better now and the fields are so huge. Hellmuth is never going to win a Stud event because he doesn’t understand the games yet. In the limit portions he’s just so far behind in terms of knowledge.
Talking of things that are stuck in a time warp, the Tournament of Champions felt like 2004 all over again – why do you think that is?
First, I was shocked at the number of votes it took to get in, and then to see that none of the young guys got in. Most shocking was to see Sam Farha and T.J. Cloutier in there – I love them both but it was like I had gone back in time. To put it simply I was playing poker with guys who are simply not as good as the young guys today.
I went from playing a really tough $25,000 six-max event with young guys like [eventual winner] Dan ‘djk123’ Kelly and Jason Somerville, and then I played in the TOC and I was like ‘this is easy’. The reason I can say that is because I spent a couple of months working really hard on my no-limit game with some of these young online pros. They helped me plug leaks in my game, and there is so much more to the game than old school players realise, in terms of breaking down bet sizes and stuff. I know that I’ve become a much better player by learning what these youngsters are doing, because playing in the TOC I was like, ‘Oh my God, you guys still do this?’
What specific strategies have you adopted then, and how has your game changed in the last 12 months?
Well, my strategy for many years was pretty simple because there are so many bad players. I played a lot of hands, but in big pots I just let people bluff their money off to me or I just trapped them. But that simply doesn’t work any more because most of the young players realise that. So I have to think in ways that I can move, because players are sophisticated enough now that it makes sense to try and bluff them.
In the past you wouldn’t bluff people because they’d call you with a pair. Today it’s got to a point where if a flush card comes [and you bet], a good opponent may throw away Aces. So there are more opportunities to bluff because they are smarter thinkers. You have to as well, because if you play ABC poker you’re going to get exploited before the flop and you’re not going to get paid off on the river when you hit. So the key adjustment is to be more creative with some of the bluffing opportunities.
In the $25k event I check-raised the river on two occasions with complete air. I never used to do that before because there was no reason to. But in this event, when I check-raised the river, it worked immediately.
Another talking point at this year’s World Series was the ladies event where several guys decided to play. What irked you about that?
What irked me is men playing, using tampons as card protectors, and Shaun Deeb wearing a dress. I like Shaun Deeb, though. He’s a good kid – I think he was just misinformed. But then Annie Duke sticks her nose out and says, ‘Good for you, men, standing up for sexual equality.’ What a load of baloney! They are not standing up for sexual equality. Then she made some points in her blog that she thinks this event should be abolished, and I’m thinking, there are 1,000 women who love to play poker with each other, and don’t want to have to deal with guys burping, farting and using tampon card protectors and stuff like that.
What irked me is that this woman has the audacity on her website to call herself ‘the best female poker player in the world’. So on one side of the coin she’s fighting for, ‘Oh, we’re all equal, there shouldn’t be any gender thing,’ but when appropriate she decides to call herself the best female poker player in the world.
So I’m like ‘how offensive are you, you f***ing c***? You want to say you’re speaking for women, yet you claim superiority over all of them.’
What do you think of the overall WSOP experience this year – has it been better than in previous years?
I think we’ve got it pretty good now. When the Players Advisory Council was formed there were a lot of things wrong with the Series and each year we’ve got closer to the optimum level. I think this year the facility was even better – we had more room and we [were able to] fit more tables in. It’s a tough situation because every year at the WSOP you will have people complaining about stuff, but each year the list gets smaller.
I take it you’ll be coming to London for the WSOP Europe to try and go one better this year? [Negreanu finished second in the Main Event in 2009.]
You know, London has been lucky for me – I love the city. I’m a vegan and it’s the best city in the world for me to eat. There’s this place called Vitao Organic where there’s no gluten, no dairy, no sugar – it’s beautiful. I enjoy London. I don’t do a lot when I’m there, though. I go there to work, not get wasted.
I take it you won’t be drinking again then?
No, if you’re going to be a pro poker player, be a pro poker player, not a guy who just parties and goes to work.
And in terms of your personal life, are you a lot more settled now?
Yes, it will be three years at the end of this year [since my divorce]. It was probably the most amicable divorce of anyone in history. Now I’m happy in my personal life and seeing somebody.
Do you want to name that girl?
I think the forums are already doing it! It’s not hard to figure out.
Does it help to have someone around who knows exactly what you’re feeling?
It does. I think when you’re looking for someone it’s important to look for that. When I got married my priorities were a little off. I didn’t know what I really wanted, and what I really want is somebody who is like my best friend, which is why with this girl i think I have it now.
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