|With over $8 million in tournament
winnings, Negreanu is a stone-cold killer at
the tables, but is the kid still playing too
much poker on the edge?
Daniel Negreanu has been a uniquely public player for a number of years now. After winning multiple TV tournemants and receiving player of the year awards from cardplayer, ESPN, the World Poker Tour, and the World Series of Poker, he's been busy capitalising on this success with promotions and endorsements aplenty.
All of which has led to almost every aspect of his poker career being documented in print and online. Fans have read about his continual cycles of building a bankroll in Canada and losing it in Vegas, his stress-release tactic - which he dubbed 'nutbar' - where he would raise every pot pre-flop in his usual game for a couple of hours, and even the effects of relationships and marriage on his play. In Barry Greenstein's words, 'His light-hearted nature, good writing, and accessibility to poker enthusiasts have made Daniel one of the most popular players.' But make no mistake: under that facade lies a supremely competitive and focused individual.
As one of the most analysed players in the game, it's little wonder his style is a subject of controversy. Among certain pros he has become somewhat notorious for a loose and unconventional approach to the game. And while it's hard to argue with his winning record, there are aspects of his play that can quite legitimately cause questions to be asked. Certainly he is not afraid to take chances with his play or his money. This is perhaps exemplified by his excessive re-buys in World Series events - no fewer than 48 times this year in the World Series $1,000 no-limit event. The idea is that he can afford to invest heavily as he feels he can outplay most of the players in the event.
Talking about the early stages of this year's WSOP main event, for example, he explained that 'I#'d be willing to bet that no-one played more hands than I did - I think I played about 90% of the hands. I went in with my typical strategy then quickly realised that I can kick this up because raising every hand, literally was a profitable strategy.'
In a nutshell, this is the Negreanu thesis - if you can play significantly better than your opponents after the flop, then starting with the worst hand isn't so bad. It's a method whereby it becomes possible to accumulate a lot of chips by winning small pots, rather than (in a tournament at least) waiting until all the blinds go up and having to gamble on all-ins. Other players like Gus Hansen have to come to the fore front with similar tactics, but in Negreanu's game the focus is more on finesse than brute force.
Therefore, a great deal of what others might call questionable hands come into play, like 4-3 or 6-9 suited, which have the potential to make unreadable straights and flushes and win large pots against premium starting hands. The effect of playing these cards also has his opponents second-guessing their standing in a hand and acts as a strong balancing factor to the conventionally strong hands, allowing him to maximise his edge over the opposition.
But Negreanu is not just a tournament player, and has placed considerable emphasis on the virtues of playing many different forms of poker, particularly in the Big Game at Bellagio. At this game he takes on the best in the world like Chip Reese and Phil Ivey on a rotation of games that might include as many as ten variants of stud, Omaha, hold'em and draw marriage. This, according to him, is the 'real poker', as specialists in one area will have to play other games, and the person winning the most is arguably the best player in the world.
Obviously, playing at this level requires a strong stomach, and he is also the model player when it comes to coping with the swings of the game. At WPT final tables he is without exception talkative and good humoured, but equally he is able to coolly deliver a video blog from the golf course informing everyone that he has just lost over a million dollars.
Though it takes a unique individual to handle this kind of pressure and competition, bankroll management is a key factor in being able to do this. In the early days, his entire bankroll would rest on the table, but since then he has matured into a businessman.
'The best poker player in the world could play in limits over his head and eventually he would go broke,' Negreanu has said in the past. 'It doesn't matter how great you are at this game, if you're not leaving yourself an out for the luck factor of poker, then you're basically doomed. I've seen too many great young players come to this town with great goals of becoming a millionaire but constantly playing over their heads. All it takes is one bad day.
Negreanu then, rather than being all about the play of a hand, is a very instructive example of how meta-game factors, whatever they might be, can have a tremendous impact on a players performance. It's what enables him to play the game he does and stay on top. The loose aggressive style certainly isn't for everyone, but few play it as well as Daniel Negreanu.