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Daniel Negreanu Gets The Monkey Off His Back

Negreanu Now Tied For 12th All-Time With Five WSOP Bracelets

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: May 29, 2013


Between December of 2008 and March of 2013, Daniel Negreanu cashed 43 times, made 20 final tables and earned just over $5 million.

Almost any other poker player would be ecstatic about a resume like that, especially given how difficult it has become to perform consistently on the tournament circuit over the last few years. Negreanu, however, wasn’t pleased.

Though he was putting up solid numbers, he was being completely shut out of the winner’s circle and hadn’t claimed a major tournament title in over four years. The number of close calls started to add up and even Negreanu admitted that it was hard to keep the doubt from creeping in.

This April, the man known as “Kid Poker” finally broke through at the 2013 World Series of Poker Asia Pacific main event, topping a field of 405, winning his fifth bracelet and a first-place prize of AUD $1,038,825 ($1,087,160).

Now surging with confidence, the 38-year-old Canadian pro is ready to reclaim the title of the best tournament player in the world, as he did back in 2004.

Card Player caught up with Negreanu in between tournament stops to discuss his recent win, his newfound momentum and the mark he hopes to leave behind on the poker world.

Julio Rodriguez: You are now 38 years old. At what age do we stop calling you “Kid Poker?”

Daniel Negreanu: Listen, Kid Rock is what? 50? There you go, it’s not about my age, it’s about my aura. I’m a young-minded gentleman and I always will be [Editor’s note: Kid Rock is 42 years old].

JR: Congratulations on winning your fifth WSOP bracelet. Is it fair to say you were more relieved to win than happy?

DN: I would definitely use the word relieved. There have been so many close calls over the last few years, most notably when I lost heads-up to Barry Shulman in the 2009 WSOP Europe main event. I’ve done well overall, cashing for over a million dollars the last couple years, but it’s been the elusive win that has been the monkey on my back. It was just so nice to get that out of the way. With the win, I now have all of this extra confidence going into the WSOP this summer. I feel like now I know it’s not this impossible task and it will happen again.

JR: Let’s talk about 2009, where you came so close to two bracelets. What kind of an effect did those two tournaments have on you and your motivation to play more tournaments?

DN: My motivation to play tournaments was never affected. I love playing tournaments. It was just a frustrating stretch that kind of started to wear on my mind. When I first started playing tournament poker back in the late 90s, the first twelve times that I made it to the final five players, I wound up on top. Anytime I got deep in a tournament, I won. There were no seconds, no thirds. I was twelve for twelve. When you do that, you get used to it and comfortable with it. However, when you haven’t won in a while, you get into a tough spot and you start to worry and then the doubt creeps in. It’s nice to put some of that doubt to rest.

JR: What would you say has been tougher for you the last few years, closing out the win or getting deep in the first place?

DN: Probably closing out the win. What we’ve seen the past few years is that the opposition is much stronger. When I was younger and just starting out, the other players weren’t very good when the tournament got shorthanded. Nowadays, you get five-handed and it’s no longer a cakewalk. You just can’t bully these guys into giving you the tournament like you used to.

JR: In 2004, you won both the WSOP Player of the Year and Card Player Player of the Year titles. You won four tournaments outright, made eleven final tables and earned over $4.4 million. It’s safe to say you were the best tournament player in the world at that time. Do you think the 2013 version of Daniel Negreanu could beat the 2004 version?

DN: Here’s the thing. I look at the 2004 version of Daniel Negreanu and I feel like I would crush him. The difference is that back then, the gap between me and the rest of the world was very large. Now, the gap is not as wide, because there are so many good players around. So while I am a much better player today than I was back then, my edge is not as big.

JR: What about your small ball playing style today? Would that have worked in 2004?

DN: Well, it did. My small ball approach isn’t something that I just came up with recently. I’ve been doing it for years. I was one of the few people that were utilizing that approach and as a result, poker was easy. Not only were other players not using a small ball style, but they really didn’t know how to defend against it either.
JR: In 2009, you talked about how important it was for you to take over the top spot on the all-time tournament earnings list, which you did. Now you are in sixth place. Given the number of high rollers and super-high rollers running today, is this list still as important to you?

DN: Well, if you look at some other lists, you’ll see that I’m number one. There are lists out there, like on, which show earnings for tournaments with buy-ins of less than $50,000, or open tournaments. The all-time money list is no longer something that is as important to me. Not that there is anything really wrong with the list, but I feel that looking to it for any sort of validation has been distorted by the number of high rollers that take place every year. Antonio [Esfandiari] won the Big One For One Drop ($1 million buy-in tournament) and of course, that was impressive, but that tournament and others like it made the all-time tournament earnings list more about good timing than a lifetime of accomplishments. What’s to stop 10 billionaires from sitting down to a $5 million buy-in, winner-take-all sit-and-go? Technically, whoever wins that is now all of a sudden the all-time tournament earnings leader.

JR: If you asked the average poker fan to identify Daniel Negreanu’s best skill at the poker table, they would say your hand reading ability. Is that accurate, or do you find another skill more valuable?

DN: I would agree that my hand reading ability, especially postflop, is the biggest strength of my game. I think the biggest weakness that people try to point out in my game is my preflop play. I tend do a lot of things preflop that put me in awkward situations that would really put the average player in a difficult spot, but I’m comfortable with that. I’m really comfortable with being fundamentally different than the average player. I can play a hand like 6Diamond Suit 5Diamond Suit on a Q-9-5 flop. I know what I’m doing there. I know how to represent certain hands based on the next card off the board and I know how to get max value when I hit my hand. It makes others uncomfortable to play that way, but I’m confident enough in my hand reading ability to go with it.

JR: Each year you set lofty goals for yourself. Now that you’ve already secured a bracelet, what would you consider a satisfactory summer performance?

DN: Now that I’ve got the lead in the WSOP Player of the Year race, that has become a new goal of mine heading into the summer. But really, outside of a couple of deep main event runs, my last few summers have been pretty brutal. Now that I have that win under my belt and some more confidence, I’d really like to win two more bracelets this summer and get my total to seven. I guess you could say that I’d be satisfied with one bracelet, but I’m gunning for two.

JR: Five WSOP bracelets puts you into a tie for 12th all time. Is it important for you that you finish your career on top of that list or have you conceded the bracelet race to Phil Hellmuth?

DN: I wouldn’t concede the bracelet race to Hellmuth. If anything, I would concede it to Phil Ivey. Last year, looking at my four bracelets, it wasn’t a total that I was happy with. I really felt like I should’ve been at six or seven already. By the end of my career, I feel like 20 is a reasonable goal. Hellmuth has been great the last few years. Believe me, he has shocked me more than anybody, but the guy that I’ll be chasing a decade from now will be Ivey. He is so far and away better than the rest of the field in the smaller, mixed-game events, that picking up a bracelet per year doesn’t seem unreasonable.

JR: Do you ever find it exhausting to constantly be expected to be an ambassador for the game? Is there ever a time where you just want to go back to being a grinder, show up at the casino, take the money and go home?

DN: There have definitely been times in my life where all I want to do is play poker. It’s kind of that old school mentality of grinding out a living, playing nightly at Bellagio, never having to travel and just living a normal life. But I think I have done a good job over the years of balancing out being an ambassador for the game, working on improving my game and also having a social life. I feel that it’s important that I’m always conscious about being a good ambassador for the game, especially now after Black Friday. The industry took a big hit in terms of its public image and I’ve been someone who has historically been on the right side of every scandal. I think I’ve always done a good job of leading the poker world down the right path and it’s important that I continue to do that.

JR: At the end of your career, would you rather be remembered for your poker skills or for your efforts to popularize the game?

DN: I never want to be the player who is good for the game but who also sucks. After I’m done playing, I hope people recognize me for my poker accomplishments as well as my efforts to popularize the game. But if there’s only room for one poker mention on my gravestone, I’d say I’d rather be remembered as a good guy who helped to grow poker into something huge. ♠

Daniel Negreanu’s Close Calls 2009-2012

Year Tournament Finish Prize
2012 EPT Monte Carlo €25,000 High Roller 2nd $791,649
2012 EPT Monte Carlo €100,000 Super High Roller 6th $409,727
2012 EPT $100,000 PCA Super High Roller 5th $250,900
2011 Five-Star World Poker Classic $100,000 High Roller 3rd $448,320
2011 EPT $100,000 PCA Super High Roller 2nd $1,000,000
2010 EPT Vienna €5,000 Main Event 4th $244,178
2009 WSOP Europe £10,000 Main Event 2nd $783,061
2009 WSOP $10,000 Omaha Hi/Lo 4th $130,401
2009 WSOP $2,500 Limit Hold’em 2nd $138,280