Sunday, July 10, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The World Series of Poker’s Main Event is underway, and one Las Vegan with his eyes on the prize is Daniel Negreanu. He has six WSOP bracelets and more than $30 million in tournament winnings, but one accolade that eludes him is a Main Event victory.
“The Main Event is the one everybody watches. People who don’t even understand poker know what the Main Event is,” says Negreanu, also known as Kid Poker for the success he enjoyed from an early age as a pro.
He was knocked out of the competition in 11th place last year, narrowly missing out on a seat at the final table. Asked what it will take for him to win this year, Negreanu says, “Doing the exact same thing. I played well, and I’ve got a style that works for that event. I’m good at this game.” He adds that he might take more time to make his decisions: “I play pretty quickly — on instinct, mostly. But it’s good to be more thorough and think about the options available.”
Having started the 2016 series with a chest cold, which affected his sleep, Negreanu cashed in seven events before the start of the Main Event, including a fourth-place finish in the $1,500 buy-in Seven Card Razz. Ten days after, he busted out of the $10,000 buy-in Omaha Championship on the first day and tweeted:
“I think it was my best tournament played so far this WSOP.”
“As a professional, I distinguish between when I played badly and got knocked out versus when I played well and got knocked out. I don’t look at the result as much as I look at the decisions I made,” Negreanu says. “I made the right decisions, but the cards didn’t cooperate.”
Events like Omaha and Razz are why Negreanu enjoys the WSOP. He says: “I love the mixed games. Outside of the World Series of Poker, it’s mainly No Limit Hold ’Em, which is a good game, but the testament of a good all-around player is one who can play all the games.” The WSOP draws plenty of those all-around contenders, though Negreanu notes the absence this year of 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Ivey and says: “There’s something special about the World Series when Phil’s here.”
At the end of last year, Negreanu posted a blog, “2016 Annual Poker Goals,” in which he announced plans to win three bracelets
“It’s tight,” he says. “I would have liked to win one or two by now like Jason Mercier has, but I’m still hanging on to hopes of three. I’m playing well, and there are good events coming up.”
Aside from three new bracelets, Negreanu has other WSOP goals: reaching third place on the all-time cashes list and second place on the all-time money list. His strategy is simple: Turn up on time for tournaments. He says he’s typically shown up late because: “The early levels don’t mean much, so you’re not giving up a lot. You think of the value of your time, and decide you’d rather have lunch or play golf. Also, for six weeks, it’s hard to play 12 hours a day, so registering late allows you to have some rest in between.”
At this WSOP, however, Negreanu is turning over a new leaf: “This year I’m showing up right on time and going as hard as I can, to give myself the best chance to win. If a tournament starts at 3 o’clock, I’ll be there at 3 o’clock. The earlier you show up, the more opportunities and time you have to accumulate more chips.”
At last year’s Main Event, Negreanu was seen doing pushups: “It started because guys were thinking in a hand, and I decided, ‘I’m gonna go to the ground and do some pushups.’ After I did that, the crowd started asking for more, and whenever they asked, I’d bust some out.” But expectant audiences should know that Negreanu isn’t planning to repeat that performance. “I actually hurt my wrists — I had tendinitis for six months.”
Winning the Main Event would mean more than any other bracelet. “Anyone who says differently would be lying,” he says. “When I started in poker, I was sure I’d win it in my lifetime. Back then it was only 200 or 300 players, then it got up to 7,000 or 8,000 players, and I was like, ‘Ugh!’ I want to give myself the most opportunities possible. It’s a dream to be at a final table, let alone win.”
Despite this, Negreanu’s only joking when he says he’d like to be at the final table with “eight people who are rubbish!” In truth he’d love to play “with all the legends. It would be special to have a tough final table, where it’s not a cakewalk with businesspeople, but all top pros.” His wish list would include Ivey, Mercier and Phil Hellmuth, “but he’s not going to make it — he sucks now,” Negreanu jokes.
His documentary, “KidPoker,” was released on Netflix in June, in time to win him more fans for the WSOP. “I can’t tell you how many messages I got, from people telling me they were inspired, or that they cried — it was great to see all the positive feedback. The number of people who had good things to say was overwhelming. ... You don’t have to be a poker fan to enjoy it; it’s a story about family.”
The film includes family footage, as well as coverage of Negreanu’s early career. “I think people will be surprised to see that in my early 20s, I had lots of struggles, and also that I worked really hard. A lot of people think, ‘He’s so lucky, he has this sponsorship deal and gets millions for doing nothing.’ They don’t realize I put in years of hard work to achieve that success.”
Some have speculated that the nature of the documentary suggests Negreanu is about to retire, but he adamantly rejects that notion.
“There is no retiring in poker. (Ten-time WSOP winner) Doyle Brunson is 83, and he plays in the biggest cash games in the world. He will retire when his heart gives out,” Negreanu says. “The last day of his life will be the day he retires, and I can say the same for myself.”