Play like a pro: Daniel Negreanu

Daniel Negreanu made a heroic run in the 2015 WSOP Main Event, but fell agonisingly short in 11th place. This is the hand that broke the poker world’s heart…

Daniel Negreanu

  • Event 2015 $10,000 WSOP Main Event
  • Blinds 200k/400K/50k
  • Stack 6,675,000
  • Hand A-4

It’s Day 7 of the 2015 WSOP Main Event and just 11 players remain in the hunt for the bracelet. All eyes are on Daniel Negreanu – leader of poker’s all-time money list. When two more players are eliminated play pauses and the ‘November Nine’ will return to the Rio in November to play the biggest final table of their lives.

Joe McKeehen is the dominant chip leader and is very active, raising almost every pot. No one wants to be eliminated but Negreanu only has eyes for the win. He’s short-stacked, along with three other players, when he gets dealt A-4o in the big blind. Joe McKeehen raises from the button and Negreanu elects to call and see a flop.


It folds to Joe McKeehen on the button who makes a min-raise with J-3. The small blind folds and Daniel Negreanu, with a stack of around 16BBs, decides to defend his big blind with A♠-4.

Conventional wisdom would tell you to shove here. The huge pay jumps ($526,778 to 11th, $756,897 for 10th and just over $1m for ninth) mean that some players would fold however, and not put their tournament life at risk. Few players would call.

‘Some will argue that against a player who opens 100% of buttons in that spot, that moving all in preflop is a better play,’ Negreanu said. ‘I think for most people that is absolutely true, but not for me, and not in that situation.’

Negreanu went on to say that he wasn’t just looking to make the final table, but to put himself in a position to win it. He knew that McKeehen was abusing the bubble and that other players – with an eye on making the November Nine – weren’t fighting back.

Negreanu’s postflop skills are well known and he was entirely comfortable playing against a weak range either in position or out of position. He didn’t want to put himself in a position where he was guessing what McKeehen had – he was looking to grind his way back up rather than getting himself in a position where he was flipping for a double. And, according to Negreanu, the plan was working.

‘I was able to go from four million in chips to nine million without being in an all in-situation… Once I got over eight million it allowed me to start defending my blind a bit more liberally against Joe. A few rounds in a row I had defended the blind, once with an all-in re-raise with K-T, a much better hand to move all-in with than A-4, by the way.’

Negreanu gave three reasons for calling rather than shoving:

  • It balances my calling range from the blind a little bit
  • I WILL get extra value postflop when I hit an Ace. He can’t check an Ace [when checked to]
  • I avoid getting it all-in preflop in spots where I will almost certainly be a 2-1 underdog when called

It’s hard to argue with someone with Negreanu’s record, but as he acknowledges, this is an advanced strategy that only an elite player would see as profitable.



Negreanu pairs his Ace but McKeehen hits one of the few flops that would see him call an all-in with his J-3 starting hand. Negreanu checks, McKeehen bets 700,000, Negreanu moves all-in and McKeehen calls. After not wanting to flip for his double up, that’s exactly what Negreanu is faced with. He’s 56% to win the hand.

Turn and river


Negreanu fades the turn but the Q on the river makes McKeehen his straight, and leaves Negreanu on the floor. If Negreanu had shoved preflop, McKeehen would have folded and the 2015 WSOP Main Event would have played out very differently. Ironically, the best player on the table was the only one who would have busted here.

You can’t be results-oriented though and Negreanu put a positive spin on it afterwards. ‘Had I won that pot I would be sitting on a very healthy stack of about 14 million. That’s the way I do it. Chop away, chop away… see flops, try to get it in good when necessary, and then hopefully the hand holds. It didn’t this time, but I’m quite happy with how I played overall and stuck to my gameplan throughout.’

Second opinion

The great thing about poker is that there’s no absolute right or wrong way to play a hand, just good, reasoned analysis. Daniel Negreanu might be happy with the way that he played his elimination hand, but in this video ICMIZER creator Q sees it slightly differently.

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