Daniel Negreanu Interview

Daniel Negreanu Interview

Friday, 6 December 2013

You know, some people pretty much interview themselves.

Never short of an opinion or two, and back on top after a stellar 2013, Daniel Negreanu emerges from a stint in some weird self-improvement therapy centre to rail against the internet generation, bum-hunters and the TDA. But all we really want to know is has he ever had a royal flush…

You’ve had an amazing year, Daniel. What do you put it down to?

Well, it was a course I did at the Choice Center in Las Vegas. It was a three-month emotional intelligence course, where you sort of really delve into yourself. The biggest thing I got out of it was confidence in what I do, and I came out of the course and really went on a tear. I’m not the only one; there are a lot of other poker players who have gone on the course. It’s really rewarding, outside of just poker.

It’s about figuring out what stops you and what holds you back in life. Then it’s about saying, “OK, so how do we break through that?” Then what happens is – and this was the most valuable part for me – is the three-month program, one weekend a month, which is called “leadership”. This is where we take what we learn, and we go out into the world and make a change. One of the things that we were tasked with was raising money for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. My group raised $280,000 in one week! So that was one of the things we got out of that. I would say I really felt the love; it was always there but I really experienced the love. When you give to people, you get back. I realised that nobody else could fill me with love, it’s just me experiencing it. Being content, confident, being my authentic self – that broke down all the walls.

I think the biggest thing was related to confidence, and I didn’t realise the connection. There was a woman who broke my heart, and I didn’t realise how much that had an effect of my view of myself and my own self worth. I just thought, how could something like that affect my poker game? But when I lost confidence because of that, it just had an effect on my entire life. Breaking through that was very valuable for me.

Speaking of feeling revitalised, you spoke of a strict diet and exercise regime at the WSOP. Have you stuck to that?

Yep! Actually, another thing from the course, we do these things called a personal, strategic plan, where basically you set three goals. One of them right now is a reading goal – reading five books over a period of time – another is learning Spanish, and then there’s a workout goal. I break it down to what I want to do in three months, and then again per week. So I’m very structured there.

Since you’ve gone all Zen on us, how do you combat the insanely aggro vibe you get in tournaments these days?

I just wait for them to hang themselves, because they always do. Poker’s had a change in the last couple of years – a lot of the kids who’d be six-betting and five-betting and thinking that’s really cool, they’ve either gone broke or learnt that that’s really stupid and stopped doing it. You can’t be a consistent tournament player and play like that. It’s just reckless and stupid. You’ll occasionally see people doing that and getting somewhere, because it happens, but if you want to have consistent results you have to learn to play after the flop.

Is it one of your biggest pet hates at the table?

Yeah, I think a lot of the younger players are just wasting time, and then they’re going on about ‘balancing their timing tells’. I’m like, you don’t know shit about tells, okay? You’re an internet geek, and now you’re wasting all of our time. You’re killing the structure and making it a less skilful event, because we’re playing 20% fewer hands.

Negreanu interview

Has the online generation sucked the personality out of poker?

Yeah, personally, I miss the old days. I think poker was in a better place in the old days. Not just because of the fact that we had more personalities, but people came from different walks of life, whereas today the story is the same. The social aspect isn’t quite there. The bigger problem for me is this push towards becoming “serious”. Like the Poker TDA (Tournament Director’s Association). Ever since they were created, they’ve set the rules of poker down the wrong path – stricter, less fun: “Stay in your seat, shut up, put your phone over there, put your chips over here!” People feel like they’re back in school, and it’s just going down the wrong path. Poker used to be more fun when you were allowed to just chit-chat and do your thing. I’m concerned about what it looks like from a spectator’s perspective, and losing the audience. Personalities in poker just aren’t as unique any more.

Do you think that’s going to get worse from here?

It’ll be interesting to see what happens in five to 10 years. There are definitely some bright sparks – there are some young, good-looking guys who’ve got personality, but there’s far fewer than I thought there’d be by this time.

Do you think poker players have a responsibility to interact with the media?

I wouldn’t say that they have a responsibility to, but long term it’s in their interests to do it. The more people that are interested in poker, the more money they’ll make. Poker’s a very selfish game. We obviously don’t have a union which dictates what’s best for “us” as a whole, so you’re going to have people who take advantage. There are certain people who just suck, like the guys who sit online with a bad player, and as soon as he sits in they’ll play, and as soon as he sits out they’ll sit out. That’s cold-blooded, and they’re being assholes. They have the me, me, me mentality and are not thinking about the bigger picture.

In the old days when we didn’t have online poker that sucker would come to town – a tourist – and when he left, people didn’t just all sit out! You’d feel like an asshole. No, they’d play for a little while, at least half an hour, even if the game was bad. And then when the guy leaves you can go too, but don’t refuse to put another blind in as soon as he stops playing! If you do, he may know he’s a sucker – but you’ve just made him uncomfortable.

You played in the WCOOP recently, but is it true to say that you don’t play much online?

Nah. I’m playing more live, and when I’m in the US I can’t anyway because the government’s silly. So not playing a ton online.

Do you use a HUD?

[Coyly] I do. Do you? It’s quite a personal question [laughs]. I find them very valuable, especially for tournaments. I feel that when I have a HUD I don’t have to pay any attention, which is great. I can do whatever I want, surf the net, whatever. Then I just look at the numbers, and do some colour-coding, research the players, look at their stats, etc.

You said in another interview you thought >Tom Dwan was overrated…

No, I’m actually really annoyed at the way that was written. They took it out of context – what I actually said was I’m not qualified to answer the question! I’ve never played him heads-up. That’s why I find it interesting when people talk about overratedness, because unless you’ve played at that level with those people you don’t know! Of the ones I played, Sauce was the best, and Viktor Blom. I’ve never played with Galfond, and I’m sure he’s great… but I don’t know! I can’t comment on whether Dwan was the best HU player that ever was, because I never was one of the best HU online players! I can only base it on the opinions I’ve heard of him, of which a lot seem to be that he is not very good.

What was it like playing with Isildur? You seem like very opposite characters…

I love him! I think he’s a great kid. It’s so fun playing with him. I really took it seriously and trained for it. It was so unfortunate the first time we played – I mean, he’s great, but right off the bat I turned super unlucky. I got so far behind that I just tried to gamble with him to try to win the match, and he beat me for the whole chunk. So then I had a week off to train again, and then the same thing happened. Like, what the hell! I would be getting it in good but it was not going my way. But I was really proud of myself for sticking with it and coming back and beating him for money in the second match. I really enjoyed that… it was when I was getting into online poker more than ever, and then Black Friday happened.

Oh no!

Yeah! I’d just got a new monitor, I’d got my HUD set up, I’d got TableNinja, I was like ooh look at me I’m gonna be a baller [laughs]? Then it happened. I knew it was bad when my agent called my home line at 9am. I was like, “Oh my god, why is he calling me in the morning?! That’s never a good thing!” He told me the story and I went to the computer to check, and there it was. I felt quite at peace at the time, like I didn’t really get it, I didn’t know what it meant… but it wasn’t a good day.

Negreanu interview 2

Is online poker getting slowly back to its feet in the US?

We’ll see. Even in Europe, there are a lot of countries that are doing that whole .fr or .it thing, and I think they’ll all see that that doesn’t really work long-term; that you need critical mass. But I think the US will get there eventually. It’s a good step. How long it will take I have no idea.

Do you think there will be a second poker boom?

Hmm. Not quite as big as the first, unless Asia opens up. There are poker booms that are happening all over the world, and once you’ve had it you’ve had it – and the US has had theirs. There’ll always be an ebb and flow. There’ll be moments where it’s more popular, and maybe people will create some new shows, or something like that. Right now I think we’re in a lull period. There were a lot of TV shows before, even too many – I felt like it was oversaturated, whereas now it’s a lot saner. We’ll see.

It seemed like poker was starting to be seen as more legitimate as it became more mainstream, then Black Friday happened. Do you think that poker will ever be seen as a respectable profession by the public, or will it always be something taboo?

I think it already has been considered as a legitimate way to make a living. Having said that… Going back to the TDA again, the vision that they have of us being taken ‘seriously’, to be considered in the same way as professional athletes – I don’t think that’s even worth trying to do. I think that’s a mistake. I think we need to go back to the way it was, and just make it fun! Have weird guys in chicken suits at the Main Event!

You could make that happen – you could be one of those guys!

Well, no, I already do enough [laughs]. I just mean the characters who are at the game are the ones who drive the interest. I think wanting poker to be taken seriously as a ‘real sport’ is a huge mistake. It’s a game – I mean, you wouldn’t call chess a sport, would you?

Who would you say is really on top of the game at the moment?

Me [uproarious laughter].

Apart from you?

Being serious, Phil Ivey is the best poker player in the world. He has been for quite a while, and until proven otherwise he is always going to be. There’s more to poker than just hold’em, and Phil is well-versed in all the games. But I love playing with him.

Have you ever felt like poker was too much of a grind, or considered retiring?

[Laughs] I’m never going to retire, retiring’s silly. Poker’s a game I can play whenever I want to. In terms of scaling back, it feels like a grind – and don’t take this personal, because this has been great – but this kind of stuff. I’ve been doing interviews for 20 years now. A lot of the questions I’ve answered 20 times each. Going on the road for extended periods of time –for example six weeks going across Europe – is something I don’t really wanna be doing any more. I want to scale back and start the next phase of my life. So if I travel it’s because I want to travel, not to get to a poker tournament.

What’s a question that you always get asked and you groan inwardly when hearing it?

A dumb one, like, “Have you ever had a royal flush?”

On the flipside, what’s a question you really wish people would ask more often?

Stuff that has nothing to do with poker. Ask me what I’m looking for in a woman! [Laughs] I like those questions because they’re fun. I’m very open when it comes to discussing my personal life, I don’t mind at all. I’m wide open to it.

What are you looking for in a woman?

Well, obviously someone’s who intelligent, that’s important. Cute, of course – you have to be attracted to her. Somebody who’s socially aware, like if you put her in a setting you don’t feel like you have to hold her hand the whole time; she’s fine on her own and has her own friends, her own life. Someone who can talk about a lot of different things. I’m a big conversationalist, I like to talk, and somebody who doesn’t would probably bore me. Like, I dated this one girl who was beautiful, nice, wanted to have babies, the whole thing. But we went to dinner once, me, her and another couple, she didn’t say one word and I wanted to shoot myself in the head! Like, God you’re boring! Finally, somebody who’s outwardly focused – somebody who wants to make a difference in the world. I’m in a financial situation where I mostly can do whatever I want, and I admire and respect a woman who wants to do things to help other people.

So someone that’s a lot like you then?

[Laughs] Oh my God… maybe! I guess so. Somebody that can keep up!

If you could give your 18 year old self a piece of advice, what would that be?

There were some things that I did not necessarily understand when I was in my early twenties, where I used my voice in very destructive ways for a very long period. I didn’t have to do that – there were ways in which I could have empowered other people and brought us together, rather than destroying them. Another thing that I learned at the course which is applicable to most of us is that I have the ability to be a cancer, and destroy. But I also have the ability to inspire. It really comes down to a choice. So in my younger years, out of misplaced anger, I’d lash out. There’s two ways to do that – in one you’re actually doing good for the community, in the other it’s just about being destructive.

Have you heard about Tony G? He’s running for parliament in Lithuania. Would you vote for him?

I don’t believe so. The other person would have to be a real mess, like a real terrible human being.

Apparently his chances are quite good, he’s second on some sort of list.

He would be a terrible president of a country.

Do you think you could do a better job?

Yes. No. The problem I have with politics is I’m very honest, and it doesn’t work like that. You have to lie a lot. I don’t like to lie.

Tags: Daniel Negreanu, interviews