Poker Coverage: Poker Tournaments Casino News Sports Betting Poker Strategy

Daniel Negreanu Breaks 7-Year Title Drought To Win The Inaugural PokerGO Cup

Hall Of Famer Says His Poker Game Is Better Than Ever

by Erik Fast |  Published: Aug 25, 2021

Print-icon
 

Daniel Negreanu has one of the very best tournament poker résumés in the history of the game. The Canadian’s long list of accomplishments, combined with his signature table talk, and willingness to make time for fans, has made him one of the most recognizable names in poker.

The 47-year-old is a first-ballot Poker Hall of Famer, with more than $42 million in career tournament earnings to his name, placing him third on poker’s all-time money list. Negreanu has accumulated six World Series of Poker bracelets, two World Poker Tour titles, and two Card Player Player of the Year awards.

Despite those accolades, Negreanu has not been immune to the variance inherent in tournament poker. Coming into the summer of 2021, he had been stuck in a title drought that extended all the way back to October of 2013, when he took down that year’s WSOP Europe high roller event for more than $1 million.

It would be his last time in the winner’s circle for more than seven years.

But that’s not to say that it wasn’t a profitable stretch anyway. Negreanu cashed 144 times since that victory, adding more than $22 million to his lifetime earnings along the way, but he was unable to come away with a title despite making it down to heads-up in nine events.

The tenth heads-up showdown for a title proved to be the charm for Negreanu, as he finally broke the streak to win the $50,000 buy-in high roller event at the inaugural PokerGO Cup along with the $700,000 first-place prize. Negreanu went a remarkable 2,819 days between titles.

“I would describe it exactly as getting a monkey off my back, because it did create some anxiety and stress just like, ‘How long can this go on?’” Negreanu told Card Player. “Coupling that with the heads-up matches that I played, having lost those as well. It’ll weigh on you. Everybody’s human, with emotions. It’s really nice to finally break through.”

While any serious tournament player might be frustrated with an extended period without a first-place finish, Negreanu faced the added scrutiny that comes with being one of the most high-profile players in the game.

“I’ve become accustomed to understanding that everything I do, everything I say, and [my] results, are amplified. Because it makes the news,” admitted Negreanu. “If a random guy loses 10 heads ups in a row, it’s just whatever. But for me, it becomes the source of content for videos, discussions for news stories and all that. I’m very comfortable in that spotlight, luckily. Because if I wasn’t, I don’t think that I’d be able to play tournaments at a high level… if I was always feeling that scrutiny was damaging to me.”

Thanks in large part to his victory, Negreanu was able to come away as the overall champion of the PokerGO Cup, earning the titular trophy and $50,000 in added prize money as the player with the most rankings points earned throughout the eight-event high roller series that ran from July 6-14.

Negreanu: ‘I’m A Better No-Limit Hold’em Player Today Than I’ve Ever Been’

About a year prior to his win at the PokerGO Cup, Negreanu publicly agreed to a heads-up no-limit hold’em cash game showdown with Doug Polk, a three-time bracelet winner who had specialized in the format for years. The two popular poker personalities had clashed in a series of escalating social media spats in the past, with plenty of needling and arguing over a variety of issues.

Their public feud had poker fans asking Polk and Negreanu to hash out their differences via a ‘grudge match.’ That request was ultimately granted, with the two agreeing to play 25,000 hands of $200-$400 heads-up no-limit hold’em, with the vast majority taking place on Polk’s home turf online.

The two competed over three months, finally finishing the allotted amount of hands for the challenge in early February of this year. When the dust settled, Polk had profited more than $1.2 million to win the match and quite a bit more in side bets with third parties.

While Polk lived up to his status as the pre-match betting favorite to win, even he admitted that he was impressed with Negreanu’s play, saying, “He did a really impressive job with a lot of the stuff he did. I did not think he would play this well at all. By the end, he was doing so many sharp things. If you’re not a heads-up pro, he’s going to beat you.”

After the Polk showdown, Negreanu went on to play a series of heads-up matches against 15-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth for PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel II. Hellmuth won all three matches, increasing his record to a perfect 6-0 after also defeating Antonio Esfandiari in a clean sweep.

While Negreanu did not receive the results he was surely hoping for in either of his heads-up challenges, he does seem excited about the state of his poker game after the countless hours of working with a team of coaches that featured high-stakes poker pro and coach MJ Gonzales.

“There is no question that I’m a better no-limit hold’em player today than I’ve ever been, by a wide margin. Not even close. I would smash the guy that won everything in 2004. Different era, but [he’d get] absolutely destroyed,” declared Negreanu. “The work that I put in for my heads-up match with Doug, I was able to basically take that information from studying with solvers and extrapolate that into ring-game formats and then incorporate that into my tournament game.”

Negreanu’s time ‘in the lab’ helped him feel a sense of control while playing high-stakes ring-game tournaments at the PokerGO Cup, simply due to the relative simplicity of ring-game play when compared with the strategic rigors of heads-up play.

“Heads-up is more complex [than full ring] in a lot of ways, because ranges are much wider. When you’re trying to figure out a range heads up, you’re including hands like Q-4 offsuit as a possibility. [But in these tournaments] when somebody raises under the gun and someone three-bets, you can limit the ranges significantly. It’s actually a lot less to calculate,” he explained. “You know how baseball players before they hit, they take multiple bats at once and they just take a few practice swings with that, where it’s very heavy? And then the single bat feels really light when they actually go to swing. That’s what it feels like. I trained for something that is very, very complex, and now I’m [using it] in a much easier format.”

Breaking Through To The Winner’s Circle

The first-ever PokerGO Cup featured eight consecutive no-limit hold’em tournaments, with buy-ins ranging from $10,000 all the way up to $100,000. Despite feeling great about his new approach, Negreanu got off to a slower start in the first half of the series, bubbling the first event. His first cash saw him finish eighth in event no. 3, the final $10,000 buy-in tournament on the schedule. Just two days later he notched his second score by pacing sixth from a field of 36 entries in event no. 5, which featured a $25,000 buy-in.

The final two events of the series, which sported the two largest buy-ins on the slate, were where Negreanu truly shined. The penultimate tournament was the $50,000 buy-in, which drew 35 entries to create a $1,750,000 prize pool. Card Player Player of the Year race leader Ali Imsirovic started the final day as the leader among the last five competitors, all of whom had made the money. Imsirovic lost a sizable pot against David Coleman to fall toward the bottom of the leaderboard, however, and then ran pocket tens into the pocket aces of Negreanu to finish fifth.

Negreanu went on to score the next two knockouts as well, eliminating Sergi Reixach and Alex Foxen to set up a heads-up showdown against Coleman, who started with a lead. Negreanu was able to turn the tables and build a 3:1 chip advantage of his own, and finally had the elusive win in his sights.

All of the chips got in the middle in a preflop race, with Negreanu holding AClub Suit JHeart Suit facing pocket threes. Negreanu took the lead on the flop by pairing his jack, but Coleman caught the 3Diamond Suit on the turn to double back into the lead. That’s when the doubt started to set in.

“When we got it in preflop in a flip and I flopped a jack and I was like, ‘Okay, this is it, two cards away, just anything but a three and I win.’ And then a three hit the turn. Every moment, every feeling of anxiety… it’s like that moment when you see the flashback when you’re about to die in the movies and you see all the things that happened in your life. Every bad beat memory came back into my mind in that moment like, ‘Oh my God, it’s just continuing.’”

The two battled for more than an hour afterward. Negreanu kept his composure and clawed back the lead when the final hand arose. Coleman picked up pocket fives and moved all-in from the button. Negreanu made the call with KClub Suit 10Diamond Suit. The small pocket pair held up through the flop and the turn, but the 10Heart Suit on the river secured the pot and the long-awaited title for Negreanu. He earned 420 rankings points for the win, and in doing so surged to the top of the PokerGO Cup leaderboard.

Securing The Cup

After posing for winner photos and collecting his $700,000 payday as the winner of the $50,000 event, Negreanu jumped right into the series-ending $100,000 buy-in event in order to give himself the best chance of securing the Player of the Series title. He managed to survive to the final day of the event, with five players remaining and only four set to cash.

Dan Smith ran pocket tens into the pocket jacks of chip leader Sam Soverel to burst the money bubble. Negreanu could lock up the PokerGO Cup with a finish of third-place or better. That dynamic put extra pressure on him during four-handed play. He was the second shortest stack, with Sean Winter having just more than five big blinds in front of him following Smith’s elimination.

Along the way, Negreanu made a crucial fold with a rivered pair of aces to keep his hopes alive. Cary Katz min-raised as the first to act with A-K offsuit and Negreanu called from the big blind with A-8 offsuit. The 10-6-5 rainbow flop saw Negreanu check and Katz check behind. The 4Club Suit on the turn saw both players check again, and the AClub Suit gave both players top pair. Negreanu checked and Katz bet enough to put Negreanu all-in. After plenty of consideration, Negreanu made the correct laydown.

According to Negreanu, the fold was particularly tough because, “… in that circumstance, with ICM pressure and Cary knowing that I need to come in third, he’s going to push me around a lot there. It’s very, very difficult to play a line where you go check, check, check, hit an ace, and then just check-fold. I don’t think most players would have folded in that spot.”

Negreanu was rewarded for his big fold by picking up pocket aces the very next hand. He managed to get his last ten or so big blinds in against the pocket eights of Soverel. But an eight on the turn shocked Negreanu out of his seat. Soverel’s set held up through the river to eliminate Negreanu in fourth place for $230,000. It was his fourth cash of the series, bringing his total earnings to $996,200. (Coleman and Soverel were also able to cash four times.)

“Going into it I could finish fourth, and as long as Sam didn’t win, then I would still win the cup. All I had to do was come in third or better and I’d have locked it up. Not being able to do that because of the way that it played out was really frustrating and deflating, aside from the money,” admitted Negreanu. “I had just won, and part of me is like, ‘How epic would it be if I win the $50K and the $100K back-to-back?’ Some part of it felt like a great ending to a film if I were able to win there. It was frustrating to lose with the aces. And it’s funny because I had just won the day before and I was still annoyed. You know what I mean? It took a little bit of the pain out of it, but not all of it.”

Negreanu had done everything he could to put himself in the position to be crowned the inaugural PokerGO Cup champion, but after his aces got cracked, all he could do was sweat from the sidelines and root on Katz while he battled Soverel heads-up.

Katz was able to come away with the win, and while Katz was the one who earned the seven-figure payday of $1,058,000, Negreanu was the one who was the most visibly excited, with his cheers heard from the sideline during the broadcast. With Katz’s victory, Negreanu had officially won the points race to become the first-ever PokerGO Cup champion, earning the cup and $50,000 in added prize money.

“I’ve never rooted for a billionaire to win a million dollars more than I did that day. And actually I was really impressed with the way Cary approached heads up,” said Negreanu. “He went out there and he went for it and he actually earned it. I was certainly happy for him because he was down in chips to start it. And it was down 3:1 or so, so for him to come back and win, that was big. It was a nice moment we had, and I was obviously happy for him and he was happy for me as well.”

Negreanu has always had an affinity for tracking results over time.

“I’m a nerd, big time. When I was a kid, I used to take wrestlers and pit them against each other, roll dice, and one wrestler would win. I would keep stats on their tournament results, for the ‘Player of the Year.’ I did that when I was eight, nine years old, so I love this kind of stuff,” offered Negreanu. “I’ve always been a big fan of Player of the Series awards, also. Winning a tournament is great, but having sustained results against the top players in the world and winning the trophy in the end and the $50,000, it’s definitely going to go on my mantle for sure.”

Negreanu finished with 537 PokerGO Cup points, giving him a 40-point margin of victory over runner-up Ali Imsirovic, who won two titles during the series. Negreanu now sits in 14th place in the PokerGO Tour leaderboard as a result of his strong showing in July. He told CardPlayer that he is looking forward to playing more of the high-stakes events scheduled throughout the rest of 2021 at the PokerGO Studio, which is located at ARIA Resort & Casino.

“There’s no place I’d rather play. It is the perfect venue for poker. It’s very comfortable, everything’s great. Ask anyone who’s played in it, they’ll tell you it’s just the perfect place to play poker. And it’s so awesome that I get to do that at home a lot. And you mentioned the PokerGO Tour. That’s been something I had my eye on, that I’d like to move up the ranks as much as possible. I think I’m inside the top 15 currently. With the WSOP coming up as well, and all events $10,000 or higher counting, that’s an opportunity for me to possibly crack the top 10 and maybe contend with Imsirovic.”

Chasing Bracelet Number Seven

As Negreanu mentioned, the return of the live WSOP this fall will bring with it the largest assortment of high-stakes mixed game events that tournament poker has to offer. With all of his recent focus on heads-up no-limit hold’em, is Negreanu still ready to compete at the highest levels in all of the other games?

“Well, luckily for me, a lot of the guys in Bobby’s Room who play the high limits moved to a private online game. I was able to play with them pretty consistently, playing an 11-game mix. They had tournaments, also, and I was doing quite well. I was getting a paycheck almost every week,” said Negreanu. “Also, I’ve had so much experience through the years playing mixed games, that it isn’t an area where I feel I need much time to work on it. I work mostly on no-limit hold’em now, because that’s the game that’s the most advanced in terms of being solved. But I feel very, very confident in my ability to thrive in eight-game formats. I think that there’s very few players, if any, that are more well-suited for eight-game tournaments than me.”

The WSOP Online series kicked off at the start of July, and in a break from recent tradition, Negreanu did not announce any major side bets on whether or not he could win a bracelet this year.

“I have no bracelet bets. I will do the WSOP fantasy thing again. I run that league and we have done that for quite a while, which is always a lot of fun. I don’t need the bracelet bets for motivation, because I’m motivated enough. I’m probably just going to pass on it. It’s just a distraction, I think.”

While he might not have any action on securing his next piece of WSOP hardware, that doesn’t mean that winning bracelet number seven and beyond isn’t a major focus for Negreanu. (Editor’s Note: He came close in late July, finishing third in a $600 buy-in knockout online event.)

“I want to win multiple bracelets. I want to win a lot of stuff. I want to win the Super High Roller Bowl. I want to see if I can win the Poker Masters. I want to win one here in the WSOP Online domestic series in the next couple of weeks, and then I want to win a bracelet on GGPoker during the international WSOPO, and then I want to win at least one live. I have big goals for winning, like three, four bracelets this year, but we’ll see.”

With the weight of his title-drought now decidedly removed from his shoulders, only time will tell how high Negreanu’s win total can climb.♠

*Photos courtesy of PokerGO

PokerGO Cup Player of the Series Standings

Player Points Wins Cashes Earnings
Daniel Negreanu 537 1 4 $996,200
Ali Imsirovic 497 2 3 $545,500
Cary Katz 475 1 3 $1,161,800
David Coleman 470 0 4 $710,000
Alex Foxen 421 1 3 $533,200
Sam Soverel 361 0 4 $812,200
Jason Koon 316 1 2 $446,000
Dylan Linde 255 1 2 $255,000
Sergi Reixach 244 0 3 $320,700
Jake Schindler 194 1 1 $324,000