Daniel Negreanu tells Julian Rogers how he ended his barren WSOP run, and lit the fuse on a sparkling year
Until April of this year, Daniel Negreanu had endured five years of agonising WSOP near misses since scooping his fourth bracelet in a £2,000 limit hold’em event back in 2008. The frustrating wait for that elusive number five was beginning to grind the 39-year-old down. However, bracelets are a bit like buses because in the space of six months Kid Poker has managed to snag not one, but two coveted pieces of lavish wrist wear. The famine has turned into a feast.
Most poker mere mortals would be happy with four WSOP crowns. In fact, they’d be ecstatic. Negreanu, however, is a ‘driven human being’ and another title was firmly in his sights as he jetted out for the inaugural WSOP Asia-Pacific main event in Australia, which would award the first ever bracelet in the Southern Hemisphere.
Making use of his famous small-ball style and speech play skills the Canuck blasted his way past 400 runners to bag $1 million and a fifth bracelet. The long-overdue achievement put him in the same company as John Juanda, Allen Cunningham, Scotty Nguyen and Stu Ungar. That was until he took down his sixth title in the WSOPE High Roller in Paris in October, which also landed him his second WSOP Player of the Year title. Here’s how he overcame his WSOP drought – and why he’s still a match for any of today’s gung-ho young pros…
Marks, set, GO
Daniel Negreanu: I love Australia so as soon as I heard the WSOP was going there I jumped at the chance of chasing a bracelet and starting off the Player of the Year race there. There’s a lot of debate about whether we are diluting the WSOP bracelets, however we are at a place now where we have a spring, summer and a fall. I think it’s important to not stretch further than that. We have five events in Australia and seven in Paris and that’s about as far as you want to go with it. One thing that makes the WSOP special is you get all the best players there. If you keep having events that are outside of one place then that will cease to be true.
Australia is a little bit of a throwback. In the US we are used to a certain calibre of tournament and it’s a little weaker than that, so this was a good value competition. I played the mixed-game tournament and came fourth, which helped build my confidence going into the main event.
I was feeling great at the time – flying high and very confident. I had just finished an emotional intelligence course, which really got me in touch with being perceptive of others. But, of course, I put pressure on myself for every event that I play. I even put pressure on myself when I’m at the gym, learning Spanish or reading a book. I’m a driven human being and I want to excel at everything I do. I wouldn’t play poker if I didn’t think I could be one of the best.
Day 1 is the most mentally tough for me and I just try not to go broke. I don’t believe that you can win the tournament on the first day. Actually, that’s just a fact. However, you can certainly lose it. So I don’t go above and beyond the simplistic, small-ball strategy that I developed. If I feel like a move needs to be made here or there I’ll do so, but if I’m at a decent table I’ll wait for my opponents to make mistakes.
If people want to get into a raising war with me or try to outplay me then I don’t mind being out of position on them because I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Overall, though, I know that the majority are going to hang themselves – I just give them the rope. I’m not one of those young kids who spews his chips. I’m a small-ball player and it doesn’t make sense for me to play stupid. I think a lot of kids suck because they do shit like that. They are just bad.
I started the final table second in chips with 2.4m behind Benny Spindler. I was intent on playing my normal game, although I didn’t like my seat because I had Benny two to my left. He’s very aggressive and he plays position hard against you. If I had anything marginal like Q-6 in mid-position I didn’t think I would get it through against him, so I wasn’t going to raise with that. I planned on tightening up by 10-15%. I managed to get up to 4.4m and I knew one of my biggest edges was that I was super comfortable and none of them were. This was a stage they had never seen before and none of them (except Benny) had any major success previously. I felt the more comfortable I was, the more uncomfortable it made them. I reminded them of the pay jumps, which was all done in good fun and I was kidding, but reminding them does benefit me.
I’m a big believer in the psychological side of poker and I feel the rules, created by the TDA [Tournament Directors Association], are sending poker down the wrong path because they are taking away a lot of the freedoms and making it a prison guard and prisoner mentality. It was just better in the old days. The rules they have put in place today have hurt the game rather than helped it.
Once I had a big chip lead, it was smart of the other players to wait each other out, which enabled me to have about an 11-1 chip lead heads-up, whereas I could have had a 5-1 lead. Heads-up was against Daniel Marton, and I wanted it over as quickly as possible. Prior to this tournament, I had worked on my heads-up game by playing a lot of $5,000 heads-up sit-and-gos where eventually you get down to 20 or 30 big blinds. However, my thinking was not to gamble in a spot where I could allow him to double up. It was very obvious from the way he played that he wanted to gamble and anytime there was dead money he wanted to get it in before the flop.
I wanted to play flops with him, I wanted to limp and see a flop because that’s where I had an edge over him. He doubled up early, which made me nervous, but I won those chips back the good old-fashioned way by playing a flop. However, he doubled up again and I started having flashbacks of the WSOPE main event in 2009 where I came second. I just wanted it to end because I had been coming second a lot before Australia.
Soon after, he turned a gutshot straight with 8-4. When I saw he got there, my knee lifted up and hit the table. I was disgusted and frustrated because I was emotionally invested in the tournament. I was already mentally preparing for the new match and paying him the chips that I didn’t even look at the river card. Then I saw the 9 and realised I had split with A-8. Awesome! That’s cool, I thought.
Coup de grace
A few hands later, we eventually got it all-in. I had 2-2 versus his A-7 and, fortunately, my hand held. It was definitely a feeling of relief after I won. I had won tournaments before and I had been in this situation before, but I’d lost the last four tournaments where I was heads-up. This was the monkey that I needed off my back. Mentally, I needed to get over that hump. Sure, there is a lot of prize money coming second, but it’s not the title. Second places beat you down.
I had a couple of drinks after the win with Marvin Rettenmaier and ended up hanging out with Phil Ivey until late and didn’t sleep. I packed my bags, had the prize money wired and slept it all off on a plane back to the US the next morning. Although this was my fifth bracelet, I felt that at this stage in my career I should have had about eight. So it was good to get back on track, but I need a couple of good years to reach where I think I should be.
The hands that won the tournament
1. Daniel Negreanu J♣-8♣ vs George Tsatsis 10♠-9♠
Tsatsis raises with 10♠-9♠ and Negreanu calls the 26k in the big blind with J♣-8♣. The flop is 10♣-9♣-Q♥. Negreanu check-raises Tsatsis’ bet of 96k to 256k. The Australian house painter dwells before calling. The 2♦ falls on the turn and Tsatsis calls Negreanu’s 475k bet. The river is the 7♥ and the Canadian fires out a lumpy 950k. Tsatsis folds and Negreanu rakes in a 2.53m pot before flipping over the J♣, much to the disgust of his opponent who blurts out an expletive.
‘I’m never going to fold this hand in the big blind. If you do then you shouldn’t play poker – just quit and get a job. Not only did I hit the straight, but also the flush draw. Once I check-raised and he called, I knew I had him locked in. He called my bet on the turn and the river was a blank so I felt his hand was really polarised; he either had a hand he is going to call me with or he missed the draw. In these spots it’s important to bet a lot. So I bet two-thirds of the pot and I was surprised when he folded, which I think was a really bad move after calling the flop and the turn. I showed him the card to mess with his head.’
2. Daniel Negreanu K♠-Q♣ vs Benny Spindler Q♠-6♣
Kahle Burns raises to 40k with A♦-10♣ and Negreanu calls on the button with K♠-Q♣. Benny Spindler then squeezes in the BB with Q♠-6♣ to 150k. Burns mucks and Negreanu calls. The flop is K♥-3♠-Q♦ and Spindler check-calls a bet of 204k. The turn is the J♠ and the young German again check-calls, this time for 444k. Spindler checks the 2♦ on the river. Negreanu slides 604k into the middle and his opponent relinquishes his hand and a 2.27m pot. He then asks if Negreanu had K-Q, but for once Kid Poker remains tight-lipped.
‘I called Benny’s raise preflop because I had position and there are a lot of boards I can represent if I missed. When he checked I thought he had something because if he had air he would probably try to bet and take it down. When he called my bet on the turn I was hoping he had A-A or A-K. I didn’t bet a lot on the river because if he did have a one-pair type hand he wasn’t going to call a bet that’s too big. He tanked with Q-6, which really only beats a bluff. I wasn’t surprised to see in the broadcast that he had a hand like that.’
3. Daniel Negreanu A♥-Q♥ vs George Tsatsis J♥-9♥
Negreanu raises to 130k UTG holding A♥-Q♥ and Tsatsis re-raises to 290k with J♥-9♥. Negreanu calls and sees a flop of Q♠-J♠-J♦. Negreanu check-calls a bet of 275k. The turn is the 4♦, Tsatsis bets 510k and Negreanu shoves all in for 1.54m. Tsatsis ponders for a while before calling with trips. A miracle Q♦ on the river gives Negreanu a bigger full house and the 4.34m pot.
‘Tsatsis was three-betting me a lot with garbage hands, although this wasn’t shown in the broadcast. He was crazy. I was in a spot where you think you should four-bet, but I realised it was a bad play against him because he was crazy enough to go all-in with 6-6. And then what do I do? Fold? I was worried when he bet the turn because he was often checking back the turn when he didn’t have anything. The pot was laying me a big price and if he did have a flush draw it makes no sense to just call, so I didn’t think I had much choice other than to move all-in.’
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