Daniel Negreanu talks about finishing second at London’s WSOPE main event in this exclusive interview
Poker can be a cruel game and events of the last few months have surely tested even Daniel Negreanu’s natural ebullience. Disappointment at the WSOP in the summer, with prop bets gone awry, was followed by another epic run in the WSOPE only for Kid Poker to again come agonisingly short. The defeat was made all the more crushing as it contained in Negreanu’s words, ‘two key hands [that] will make you hate poker’, including a two-outer for the title. In this exclusive interview, he tells us how he overcame his WSOPE heartache, his views on some of Britain’s best young pros and why he’s a stats geek.
Congratulations and commiserations on your WSOPE result. Have you got over the disappointment yet?
Daniel Negreanu Historically, I’ve had a good track record of not finishing second, and more recently at the World Series I’ve got four wins and four seconds. Usually in those spots I close, and right now I feel I should have six or seven bracelets but only have four. I feel like I’m behind the stats that I would be happy with.
How did you take it at the time?
DN I didn’t really have much time to think about it because right after the final table I had to get in the car at 6am, go back to the hotel, pack my bags and shoot some commercials for PokerStars. So I spent the day on set and from there went straight to Los Angeles to shoot a new show. So, basically, I didn’t have a lot of time to let it all soak in.
Two years, two WSOPE main event final tables – you must feel like you can do it every year?
DN No, I don’t know about that! I know playing against high-level players brings out the best in me because it forces me to choose a gear that I don’t normally use against bad players. Playing sophisticated poker isn’t something you should really do against novices or bad players, but against really good players there’s no sense in leaving anything out of your repertoire. When I do that, I really feel like my brain gets in tune with what’s happening.
A month on from the WSOPE, do you still stand by what you said – that it’s the hardest tournament of the year?
DN Yeah, I said it before the event started, I said it after last year. It is the toughest annual field of the year. You don’t have a lot of online satellites, the Americans who come over are spending a lot of money to do that. So they are genuinely really good. The first table I played at was what really struck me. I looked around and thought, ‘All nine of these players are winning players’. [Daniel’s first table included Chris Ferguson, Barry Greenstein and Annette Obrestad] I hadn’t played a lot with one of the online kids but I knew he was a winning player.
How did it compare to last year?
DN It’s hard to compare because both were difficult. For me, last year, just the way the cards played out was a lot tougher because I never really got into good situations. This year, there were a lot more situations where I got a little bit of luck and was able to get some chips. I would say that last year’s was tougher but only by a small percentage.
Does that mean that whenever there was an amateur or unknown player at the table, everyone would just hone in on them?
DN Not everyone. It depends on where they’re sitting. If they’re sitting directly on your right then you’re going to look to exploit them. If you’re at the other end of the table, it’s really difficult to manipulate them.
You mentioned that you were limping a lot more during the event – why did you decide that was necessary?
DN Really, what it did was help me get more in tune with the psychology of the game and starting to mess with people’s heads and mixing it up. It changed the game dynamic to one that’s better for me. Sometimes when you limp and make the pot smaller, it throws people off a little bit. It’s something I’ve always done in the past, but in the last couple of years I’ve moved away from it and was just min-raising. I decided to start throwing in some limps and mixing it up, confusing people and trying to become more unpredictable.
What are the conditions that need to exist for you to limp?
DN I think it would be a mistake for me to tell people exactly what hands I’m limping with, and in what situations, because then they’ll be able to exploit it. I will say this, I do limp with a wide variety of hands, sometimes it might be Aces, 7c-8c or pocket sixes – anything.
You started the final table as the short-stack – is that why you were involved in so many pots?
DN Not really. I wasn’t trying to play a lot of pots but I started to get a few hands here and there. I went from 400k to 650k just chopping away. Then I got in a fortunate situation against Jason Mercier where I flopped a set and he turned a set. That was my big moment because after the first level I already went from the short-stack to second place in chips.I knew that I would have to take more risks. The one mistake I made last year was waiting too long before I made any plays or took any risks. I thought I could out wait the game which didn’t work because they weren’t making mistakes and I wasn’t catching any hands. So, this year, I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t go out with a whimper.
Was it hard to force errors in general?
DN It’s always hard when you have good players, but I thought I was able to really zone in. I found some players that I could exploit their tendencies and their perceptions of me.
Who did you most exploit?
DN Yep… can’t answer that one!
You had two November Niners on your table – what did you think of them?
DN Antoine [Saout] plays more of a conservative style, waiting for situations and getting it all-in before the flop. Akenhead seems like he’s got more experience playing high-level poker against top competition. He really gets involved, really mixes it up. He’s got a lot of guts and takes a lot of chances.
Is it just down to variance that they’ve been able to make two WSOP main event final tables?
DN Not at all. A lot of it has to do with confidence. These guys have made one major final table and go into each tournament knowing they can get there. It’s just riding the wave of confidence – it’s amazing how much better people play when they’re confident.
Did playing them change your opinion about how Phil Ivey would do in the main event?
DN No, I actually still think that if you ran the WSOP final table 100 times, Ivey would come first more than any other person. I figured his odds were 3.8/1 and I bet a lot of money on it. I had a must-win bet against Darvin Moon because I don’t see him being able to compete once play gets short-handed.
When play reached short-handed in the WSOPE all the chip stacks were fairly even – so was it a question of just sitting back and watching two players go at each other?
DN Traditionally, in tournament poker it was good strategy to wait for others to make mistakes, but when playing really good players, you have to force mistakes. So you have to go for it. My strategy was to play poker, and any opportunity I saw to pick up some chips, I would go for it. I wasn’t reckless at all though.
You and Praz got into quite a few pots together – was it personal?
DN No, I think he’s a really good player. He was really tough to play against. I forsaw that it would be me and him heads-up as Barry was really short. I was really focusing hard on what Praz was doing. I had some good success against him in several pots that we played so I had confidence. He made me guess a lot – which is the sign of a good player. There was one hand after which he wanted to know about a couple of hands and whether I was bluffing him or not. I was bluffing him in both cases! There was one hand that I played, where I laid down a big hand on the turn – he told me he had K-Q which was nothing and I was like, ‘Really?’ He explained to me why he did it and it was very high-level thinking, so I was impressed.
Tell us about the hand where the dealer flashed the card.
DN It’s frustrating you know. People always say that there’s randomness in the way the dealer shuffles, but once the deck is set and the cards are in order the only way those cards are not going to get into your hand is if there’s a dealer error. The dealer dealt the cards and I had Q-2 in the big blind, but the dealer flashed my deuce so it became an Ace.
Barry was really short and went all-in with J-10 and I made the call where normally I wouldn’t have. I ended up losing the pot and doubling Barry up. Obviously getting the A-Q was a favourable situation but it’s just a pet peeve of mine because historically I’ve always been really unlucky in those situations.
At the time, I didn’t really want to make any calls like that. I was in a great position. I had 6 million in chips and we were three-handed, so the last thing I want to do is double anybody up. I want to chop away and get to heads-up with a really big lead. So for that to happen, it was just like, ‘Oh God…’
You had a bit of a chip lead going into heads-up, so were you feeling confident?
DN I felt very comfortable because I had a good feel for what Barry was doing. I felt like I had a good sense of when he was bluffing, when he had it and when he was going to bet.
You both made decisions pretty quickly – someone compared it to playing online. Were you just trying to get things over with?
DN It was somewhat by design from my perspective. I felt that with the quicker pace I played, first of all we’d get more hands in and, secondly, people are more apt to make mistakes when it’s quicker.
There were quite a few times when the title was in your grasp only to be snatched away again. Can you talk us through some of those?
DN I was doing a good job of chopping away and raised with Aces, he re-raised and I didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag. I called and the flop was K-8-6 with two hearts. He put in a bet, I said all-in and he called. I was actually annoyed by the situation because I really wanted to get it all-in, but I was hoping that I’d be a better favourite than that. Obviously, Aces against Ah-5h, most of the time you’re going to hit a flop that he has no chance on. That was my chance to win right there, so it was frustrating that right away he made the heart on the turn card. Now I was back to square one, the short stack.
But you didn’t give up.
DN I clawed my way back several times. There were several river cards that kept hitting which was frustrating. There was one hand where I had Q-7 against his Ace-high. It came 10-7-7 and I can’t lose really. Then it came 10, 10 and we split it. There were a lot of hands like that. Then with the last big hand, the blinds were really big. I had J-Q and the flop came J-8-5 with two diamonds. I check-raised, he went all-in and I was basically committed so I called.
He had Aces so had the best hand, but the turn was a Jack and I thought I was going to win. I just had to fade one more card. The river was an Ace and it was really brutal. It was very dramatic for the hand to come down like that. I’ve talked to some of the producers since and they have said that God couldn’t have beaten him that day.
What was the atmosphere like at the Empire?
DN It reminded me of what poker was like in the late 90s, early 2000 – a little less glitzy but more comfortable. It made me feel a little nostalgic. The energy was incredible but I didn’t pay any attention while I was playing. There were loads of people but I was focused on playing Barry and Barry only.
We notice that you’ve been putting WPT stats together on your blog. What’s that about?
DN I’m a stats geek. I looked at how well I did, my ROI, and then was curious about how I stacked up against other players. I started with the more notable players then decided to compile a full list to see how the numbers ran out – because I love numbers.
Apparently it’s been getting some people’s backs up.
DN A little bit – but I don’t listen to those idiots anyway! Matt Glantz was really annoyed, fake annoyed, that he was in the bottom 10. I put the list up so somebody’s going to be in the bottom 10. A lot of stupid people complained, ‘Oh your numbers are wrong, he’s won this and that.’ I was like, ‘This is the WPT, the WSOP doesn’t count.’ It’s not like this information isn’t already published. I just took what was on the WPT website and arranged it so it was easier to see.
Did the numbers surprise you?
DN Yeah. When you factor in expenses and all that stuff, it’s basically a lot more difficult to travel the tour playing poker unless you are doing very, very well. So a lot of the average players either have to get a lot better or satellite their way in.
Did you already know what your average earn was per tournament?
DN No, I had no idea. It was actually a little better than I thought it would be.
On your blog, you also mentioned how you’re feeling pretty motivated to play at the moment – is that off the back of the WSOPE and the stats you’ve been accumulating?
DN No, not exactly. I’ve been motivated more to play cash games which is very different. Playing at PokerStars, I’ve only had one losing day in a month. I’ve been running really hot and been playing every day in the Bellagio Big Game, and winning every day also. It’s a decent stretch of time for me right now. In November, I have to come to London to do some commentary for the EPT but, overall, my schedule is fairly low-key to what it is normally.
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