Poker’s $25-million man Daniel Negreanu ready to battle the world’s best this month


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Negreanu will be competing in the World Series of Poker, which kicks off on May 27 in Las Vegas

Photo credit: Dean Northcott

You know you’re doing something right when you lose and still take home $8.3 million. That’s the enviable situation Toronto-born poker star Daniel Negreanu found himself in last July after being bested by 23-year-old Daniel Colman at a big-stakes event in the World Series of Poker.

That day, Colman won $15.3 million — an enormous sum even for the world of high-rolling poker — at an event where just getting a seat at the table cost $1 million. 

By any measure those are mind-blowing figures. For those of us who are used to more modest paydays, it’s almost impossible to conceive how it would feel to stake life-altering amounts of money on a handful of playing cards. 

But to hear Negreanu talk about poker, you’d think he was on about a game among buddies over some beers. The pressure, he says, just doesn’t get to him. 

“Even when I had no money, it was never about the money for me,” he says. “I always had confidence as a teenager that I would be wealthy, so the minor setbacks never fazed me.”

Frequently sporting a baseball cap, usually with a scruffy-ish beard, there’s an everyman style to Negreanu that has endeared him to the game’s millions of fans. In his 20 years in the business, he has become one of the game’s most recognizable faces. In large part because of his performance at the table, ranking number one on the all-time cash list with $30 million in winnings. But it’s also because there’s an openness to the man known as Kid Poker that has made him so popular with fans.  

He tweets incessantly, blogs regularly, appears on TV (even in some unlikely places, like a cameo on CBC’s Mr. D) and last month made his debut on online poker streaming service Twitch, where he has over 300,000 views on his channel.

That openness may seem unusual for a man who makes his living in a game famously based on giving away as little as possible, but Negreanu believes that there’s an innate skill to great poker players that can’t be learned anyway.

“Anyone can become a decent player,” he says, pointing out that it’s easier than ever to learn the fundamentals of the game and to practise risk-free online. “But there are key areas that just need to be there. Emotional intelligence, or self-awareness, is the number one most valuable trait a poker player can possess. If you can be aware of how you come off to others and how they perceive you, they can no longer beat you.”

That awareness of self is among the reasons Negreanu does yoga and meditates. Mindfulness techniques are becoming increasingly popular among high-stakes poker players as ways to not only put losses into perspective, but also help keep calm during high-pressure situations like when they’re bluffing. Negreanu takes meditation so seriously that he even teaches courses on it. 

With this year’s World Series of Poker getting underway at the end of this month in Las Vegas, where he now lives, getting in the right head space will be Negreanu’s key focus in the coming weeks.  

“There is only one player I focus on before WSOP: myself,” he says. “I know when I play my game and trust in the strategies I’ve developed over the last 20 years that I’ll be successful.” 

“At this point in my career, I don’t focus much energy on learning how to play better, instead I focus on how to improve my mental state and preparation.” 

These days, Negreanu has the luxury of picking and choosing his tournaments, tending to focus on the two months of the WSOP. 

When he was cutting his teeth, however, things were different. Having started playing poker in his friends’ basements as a teen in Toronto, Negreanu moved up to charity tournaments. Never a particularly diligent student, he dropped out of high school and concentrated on the game, eventually deciding to try making it as a pro around the age of 22. 

“I woke up one morning and just thought to myself, ‘Well, I guess this is what you do for a living,’ then I made the move to Las Vegas, and it’s all worked out amazingly well.”

Although he advises young players to be more cautious than he was. 

“I would warn them of playing outside of their bankroll. That’s what I always did. If my bankroll was only big enough to play $20 to $40 limits, I would be seated at a $100 to $200 table,” he says. 

Away from the poker tables, Negreanu spends a lot of his time on the golf course. It’s one of his great passions. Gambling on the game, he says, is the only area in his life he’ll take a big risk; otherwise, he says he’s quite calculated in what he does in both life and poker. 

Though he makes it back to Toronto regularly — recently to see the Raptors play, and lose, a game in the playoffs — there is one area that really makes him miss home. If there’s one thing Las Vegas is not, it’s a sporting town, which means there’s no hockey. 

Like any good Canuck, Negreanu is a big fan of the game, and so he has recently been making moves to drag Sin City out of the hockey wilderness. With the NHL’s Western Conference having two teams fewer than its Eastern, Negreanu is promoting the idea of bringing an NHL team to Las Vegas. 

“I am personally quite excited about the prospects of an NHL team in Las Vegas, and I believe strongly that not only will we get a team, but that hockey will work in this sports starved city,” he wrote on his blog, Full Contact Poker.

Negreanu is working hard to realize the dream, promoting the idea and reportedly having met with others interested in bringing a team to the city. Whether he will succeed or not is a moot point, but in his passion for bringing a team to Vegas, it’s clear Negreanu isn’t bluffing.

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