An Interview With Daniel Negreanu: Part II
By Justin West
Though Daniel Negreanu has certainly made his name known worldwide, sitting near the top of the all-time money-winners list, winning three World Series of Poker bracelets, and earning almost $10,000,000 in his career, he hasn't lost his head. Daniel prides himself on being down-to-earth, but is simultaneously unafraid to speak his mind.
Rather than ask the run-of-the mill questions one might ask such a superstar ("What's your favorite hand?" "How did you start playing cards" "Why is the sky blue?"), I decided I'd take the opportunity to discuss some of poker's major concerns with one of its biggest names.
What follows is part two of my interview with Daniel Negreanu, in which he discusses his thoughts on the World Series of Poker and some changes we can expect this year, etiquette at the poker table, the UIGEA, and finally what he wants to ultimately be remembered for in both life and poker.
Justin: Do you think that players that get the bulk of their experience online are bringing some kind of emotional inexperience to the table?
Daniel: They don't have poker etiquette. They don't understand it because they didn't grow up playing live poker. There are other things they do, too. When you grow up playing live poker, you learn a few things. First of all, you don't stall. That's cheating. You get a lot of kids on the internet that just do that anyway, and are totally open about it.
The other aspect is that they don't understand how to treat the "sucker." I used to come to Las Vegas in my early twenties, we'd come and there would be about six or seven professionals. Then the tourist came into the game and he got treated really well. "Hey, how you doin'!" People would ask him. "How've you been. When you coming back to town? You going to the fight?" You'd just treat the guy really nicely because you understand that he's your bread and butter.
Well, with online poker you don't have to be nice to anybody. You can be a "nit," if you will, and don't have to worry about the social aspect of being a host. Playing in a live cash game, if you want the guy to come back you better not piss him off.
Justin: That reminds me of an adage I heard when I first started playing, to not "educate the fish."
Daniel: I don't mind educating players that are making mistakes, but you don't discourage them from making these kinds of plays. If a guy wants to play goofy and loud and wants to have a good time, you're supposed to encourage that kind of play and make it look like you're doing the same thing. The last thing you want to do is look at someone who's been playing too many hands and say something like, "What are you playing that hand for?" You'll scare him into not playing those kinds of hands. It's so counter-productive.
Justin: You're a frequent player on High Stakes Poker. I'm just curious about what draws you to playing such a high stakes game, putting so much money at risk at once.
Daniel: It's not a lot of money. I know it seems like a lot of money, but it's a smaller game than the game we normally play in. Significantly smaller. It's actually just fun, you know. It's a fun show, it's really well done, exciting, good television. It's especially fun to play with these guys and then later look and see what they had against you, so while you're giving away information you're gaining information as well.
Justin: What were your thoughts on the World Series of Poker Europe?
Daniel: I have mixed emotions about it right now. I'm really not sure where I stand. The World Series of Poker has always been an event that has happened at one time of the year in Las Vegas. You know, I'm all for moving the World Championship from year to year to a different city or country. However, turning it into a tour, having an event in Europe and in the US... if it stops there it wouldn't be so bad, but my fear is that we'll end up with a WSOP Asia, a WSOP Australia, and then you'll see the effect of fewer professionals traveling because there's too much traveling already.
Right now, the WSOP is unique because it's one spot and all the world's best players are there, as opposed to something like the World Poker Tour where some players go to "x" event, and others don't, and you never have such a high concentration of top players.
Justin: Do you think the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas has lost its prestige?
Daniel: Oh, yeah. Well, the event is gone, as far as what it once was. It once was an event in which a world champion was crowned, something really prestigious, and I really don't see it that way anymore. It really just is a question of numbers, structure. I could see a lot of changes.
For example, if it's the world championship, why are there ten or twenty tournaments that have bigger buy-ins? The real world championship should be the biggest buy-in event in the world. There are four events at the World Series of Poker alone that often have buy-ins at or above $10,000.
It's a shame, too, because of the public view... you see random people so much. But the fact is that it's just a sheer numbers thing. You've got 7,000 random people and 200 pros. When you make that comparison it's very, very difficult to see pros consistently at the final table. I think those types of things are good for poker, that having the Cinderella story is okay. But when it's nine Cinderellas out of ten tournaments, then it ceases to be a Cinderella story.
Justin: What kind of changes would you make to the WSOP Main Event, given the opportunity?
Daniel: If I was in charge, the first thing I would do would be to raise the buy-in to either $50,000 or $100,000. The second thing I would do would be to change the format completely. I would change it from a typical tournament to a shootout style tournament in which you have to win each table that you're at. It wouldn't be a four-hour shootout, it would take like fourteen hours to win your table.
If you had, say, 8,000 players, after day one you'd have 800, then you'd have 80, eight tables of ten, and you'd do the same thing. What that does is it tests overall skill, not just ring game but short-handed as well. You can't just sit there and wait for good cards. Also, and this is the important thing, it limits the amount of chips an amateur can win off of other amateurs without ever facing a professional.
By changing it to a shootout style event, each time you win your table everyone starts all over on a level playing field. Can you imagine the odds of an amateur winning the event if he had to first beat a table of nine, then a table of nine that just won a table? Not only that, but if he wins that table, he'd have to play off against nine other guys that won two straight shootouts. Now, if guys have won two straight shootouts, you can assume one thing... they don't suck. The odds of an amateur winning under that structure would be less than 1%.
Justin: But isn't there still a part of you that craves winning the Main Event?
Daniel: No, I couldn't care less about winning that tournament! There's like the lowest amount of skill in that event of any tournament throughout the entire year.
I enjoy the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E event. That's a fun event because there's a high concentration of sophisticated play and sophisticated players.
Justin: So I know you're on the World Series of Poker Advisory Council. Are you pleased with the changes they made to that $50k H.O.R.S.E. event in 2007?
Daniel (chuckling): Well the whole event was my idea, so yeah I'm happy with what they've been doing with it! The other event that we're going to add this year, just to show people how cool this could be, is to add a $5,000 shootout no-limit event.
The problem with shootouts at the World Series now - they do have a couple, but they're $1,500 events and they only take about four hours to finish a table. If you have a four hour shootout, it's just a crap-shoot. But if you have a table that lasts twelve to fourteen hours, now you've got a shootout that's just a grueling test of skill.
Justin: You've recently become sponsored by PokerStars, and have always been involved with Full Contact Poker, so I'm interested to get your thoughts on the UIGEA and its effects.
Daniel: It's just so stupid! It's just so brain dead. For a government not to understand or not to see how much money could be raised for important causes, like helping those that suffered from Katrina or education... there's just so much free money to be made off of regulating something that they cannot control under any circumstances, that it's so beyond foolish for them not to take that route.
But, you know what, I don't really worry about it anymore. Poker is fine. The good news is that the US government doesn't rule the globe, so while poker may be taking hits from the UIGEA in the US, it's flourishing around the world. It's just something that can't be stopped.
Justin: Thanks for taking the time to let me pick your brain, Daniel. One last question... What do you want to be remembered for both as a person and as a poker player?
Daniel: Well, for one I'd like to be atop the record books in many areas that still compel me, and also be remembered for being a consistent winner long-term. But the best compliment I ever got in my life had nothing to do with poker. It came from my friends, who I hadn't seen in eight or nine years and said: "You haven't changed a bit."
part I | part II
Justin West played poker since the age of 17, he spent more than a year earning a living on the green felt; a modest living, to be sure, but a living nonetheless. His aim was at one point to win the WSOP main event, thus causing Hell to freeze over. However, given his penchant for sin and his extreme dislike of cold weather, Justin has put that dream to rest.