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Kid Poker is All Grown Up10 July 2006
Most young poker players who go broke in their first Vegas trip would like to forget the experience. Daniel Negreanu decided to learn from it.
A serious poker player for the last 15 years, Negreanu has matured since he first moved to Las Vegas over a decade ago. That move was quickly reversed, as Negreanu ended up with a busted bankroll, forcing the Canadian to return to his native Toronto and start over.
"I was basically a young bull," Negreanu says. "Push, push, push, push, push. That's all I had. I had no texture and no finesse in my game."
Negreanu Fast Facts
Nickname: Kid Poker
Negreanu learned how to read players and shift gears, and in 1998, he returned to Vegas at age 24 and became the youngest player to win a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet, a mark he held until 2004.
Dubbed "Kid Poker" early in his career, Negreanu is growing past his nickname. He turns 32 later this month and will celebrate his first anniversary with his wife Lori in August. Long gone are the days when he worried about going broke. A celebrity player with endorsement deals for an online poker room, a video game released earlier this summer, and a book coming out this fall, Negreanu's future is secure.
Negreanu became a household name after dominating the 2004 WSOP, earning a spot at five final tables and claiming a bracelet in a Limit Hold'em event. After a rough 2005 in which Negreanu cashed in only two World Series events for just over $10,000, he is one of just two players to make two final tables through the first eight WSOP events this year. Add to that a second place finish at the Tournament of Champions contested at the beginning of the series, and Negreanu appears to be back in the form that helped him win the ESPN/Toyota Player of the Year award in 2004.
Despite his success (he holds the record for most money won in tournaments, claiming over $8 million in career tournament earnings), Negreanu prefers playing in the "Big Game," a $2,000/$4,000 mixed game at the Bellagio.
"Frankly, I like playing for millions," Negreanu says through a yawn. "In the Big Game you can win or lose a million in a night. You play the tournaments, $10,000 buy-in, it takes five days to get (to the final table) and first prize is $1 million. I could win that in a night. I prefer playing in the high-stakes game."
Major Tournament Wins
While he may prefer playing in the Big Game, Negreanu is still a tournament regular, and he is worried about the direction tournament poker has taken. The broadcast of tournaments on ESPN and the Travel Channel has greatly increased the popularity of poker, but Negreanu is concerned that the only game to be found is No Limit Hold'em.
"When corporate people get involved, they don't understand how poker works," Negreanu says. "You destroy what poker is; poker isn't just No Limit Hold'em. Poker has many facets, there are many different forms of poker that are all fun and interesting."
He is constantly thinking of new ways to package the game. He worked with WSOP organizers to add the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament to this year's schedule, and has also organized a heads-up league on the online poker room he endorses, FullContactPoker.com (FCP), with a schedule similar to an NFL season schedule.
"Even the show 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' ran its course because it was the same thing over and over again," Negreanu says. "For (poker) to stay hot, we have to have things like the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship. We need different types of events with different types of formats to keep the viewer's interest peaked."
Negreanu seems to have struck a chord with the poker playing public. His comments often spark a lively debate on the FCP message boards, where more than 9,000 users have posted a message in the last year.
Negreanu's popularity is in part a result of his demeanor at the table. One of the most cheerful players on the circuit, Negreanu often jokes with other players and is rarely seen without a smile at the table.
"I wasn't going to pick a career that I hated," Negreanu says. "It's fun, it's what I do for a living, and it's great. I'm going to enjoy it; I'm going to have fun with it. Frankly, what you see on TV is probably a little bit more toned down than anything. It really is, because I don't want people to think that I'm playing up for the cameras. But really, when the cameras are off, I'm about as goofy as they come."
There's no one more serious about the future of poker than Daniel Negreanu. It's obvious, however, that when it comes to playing the game, he has the same joy and passion he had as a "Kid."
In his previous life, Aaron Todd was a sports journalist by day and a poker player by night. He can now be found covering the poker beat for Casino City and making horrendously unsuccessful bluffs in his home game.
Write to Aaron at email@example.com.
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