NEGREANU: The Player's Player talks the Players Championship
He may be the face of PokerStars, but Daniel Negreanu has always been active behind the scenes too, providing a voice for poker players of all skillsets and experience. We caught up with him in Prague to discuss the announcement of the exciting new Players No Limit Hold'em Championship, which he believes will become a "prestigious pinnacle event".
A micro-stakes beginner, a once-a-month punter, a low-stakes grinder, a mid-stakes up-and-comer, a business mogul, and a high-stakes superstar all walk into a poker room. They sit down at the same table in the same tournament with the same buy-in.
If you were expecting a 'ba-dum-tss' and a punchline, there isn't one. This is no joke. As Daniel Negreanu himself says: "This is special."
In case you missed it, there was a pretty huge announcement made on Friday here at the PokerStars Championship Prague. Two, actually. And there was only one guy who could get up in front of the Main Event field, the tournament staff, the media, and the fans and players watching at home, to deliver it.
We already knew Negreanu was the people's champion; just look at the crowds that gather to watch him play, or ask any of the thousands of fans who he's stopped to take photos with over the years. But more and more he seems to be becoming the player's player, particularly when it comes to their wants and needs. Negreanu takes these responsibilities seriously, and so it was important for him to fly out to Prague especially.
"There was a lot of anticipation for the announcement, y'know?" he says shortly afterwards. "So it was one of those things that you want to get right. Usually when I do an interview it's no big deal if you flub, if you get it wrong. But it was really important to deliver this properly and to get it right.
"This is special. It's a big deal and a big giveaway for the poker community. I wouldn't say I was anxious like nervous, but I felt the moment."
Let's quickly break the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold'em Championship down:
• It is a $25,000 buy-in tournament that will be held in the Bahamas as part of the PCA in January 2019.
• PokerStars is providing around $8 million in added value by giving away more than 300 'Premium Passes' worth $30,000 each (including tournament entry and hotel/travel expenses).
• An additional $1 million will be awarded to the winner, and there's no rake.
• There are many ways players can win a Premium Pass, from winning online tournaments (anything from a MicroMillions to a Sunday Million) to grinding online cash games, playing at live events or opening a Stars Rewards Chest.
• The event is for all players, regardless of bank roll, regardless of skill level.
Value is the bottom line
If you follow the world of the $25,000 high rollers, you'll know that aside from a few weekend warrior business/sports men and women, it's only really the best professionals in the world who get to play them. This all changes with the Players Championship, and we wondered how Negreanu thinks the atmosphere will be compared with the usual $25Ks.
"It's an interesting question because I play in a lot of these high rollers and typically you see the same 40 or 50 guys, all the crème de la crème best players in the world," he says. "So, most people think "I wonder how I'd fare in those fields", and now a lot of low rollers are going to get the chance to sit with the killers! The Bryn Kenneys and the Fedor Holzs and all the top geniuses in the world.
"I think it's going to create a very interesting dynamic," Negreanu continues. "It's going to let people have a taste who would otherwise never have had a chance to sit in such an elite field. We've seen an evolution of poker tournaments, right? We have a lot of main events across the world at the $5K-$10K level. But the $25Ks are exclusive for the most part, and this is something that's going to open it up to a wider audience."
It's not just the low stakes and recreational players who will be getting excited though. This event caters for the high roller players as much as anyone, as Negreanu explains.
"If you're a professional poker player and you play high rollers, what matters to you most? You wan't to know that the tournament is in a cool location...meh, whatever. But the bottom line is, you wan't value! So we have instilled guaranteed value with 300 plus people who are going to get seats randomly.
"Y'know, they're not all going to be geniuses, you're going to have to some low rollers in there. Plus an additional million dollars up top, and no rake! I mean, there's really not much more you could ask for.
"I feel like it's going to be a must-play event for every high roller player. So you'll have the 300 or so [Premium Pass winners], plus everyone else who has $25,000."
And let's not forget about those players in the middle.
"I truly think people will plan for this," Negreanu says. "Even the guys who are at the mid-level stakes. If someone typically plays $5Ks and things like that, he or she will plan to find a way to get into this one as well."
The Premium Pass
The beauty of the Premium Pass giveaway structure seems to be that literally anyone could win one. It's never been this way before; for past events you'd have at least had to win a satellite to get a package, which at least proves you can play a little bit.
"Yeah, you're going to have people who don't necessarily play well, y'know?" Negreanu agrees. "It's not exclusive to just people who do well. This isn't a tournament of champions - all the champions will be there - but it won't be a case of just rewarding people based on their play. Quite the opposite."
We've already seen the first two Premium Passes handed out to Andrzej Siemieniak and Mihai Manole - the co-bubble boys of the PSC Prague Main Event. Now we'll have 12 whole months to watch more people winning them, each with their own story to tell.
"It's funny you mention the bubble guys," Negreanu adds. "When people finish on the bubble they're usually quite dejected. You're really not happy about where you've finished and you've missed out on the opportunity to make some money. So it was kind of funny to see those sad faces and then be like "Here, have this!" and to see the shock that sets in."
People of all ages, backgrounds and poker experiences will be taking their $25,000 seats come January 2019, many of whom will be right at the beginning of their poker journeys. How would a young Negreanu have reacted to winning something like this?
"If I was in this situation way back when I started out, I would look at this as a really juicy opportunity that could potentially be life changing."
Negreanu admits he's known about the Players Championship for six months, but nothing could be announced until the details of how it would work and how much money would be given away were ironed out. Ultimately, they settled on a staggering $9 million.
"PokerStars has been talking about ways in which they could have something that would be really buzz-worthy in the community, create a big splash, really create an event so that all poker players will feel appreciated," Negreanu explains. "And this is the way they felt they could do that."
But why was now the time to launch such an event? Negreanu is candid in his response.
"Obviously, competition breeds people coming up with innovative things, and we've seen some competition lately from the way people can play live events. This is our way to show the poker community that PokerStars has always actually cared about poker first and foremost, and they want to prove that."
If PokerStars listening to what players wanted was ever in doubt, that doubt was firmly quashed with the second announcement of Negreanu's Prague speech:
The EPT, LAPT, and APPT are back, baby.
"Y'know, it was a very sad day when the EPT and these local tours were no longer," Negreanu reflects. "There was a lot of sadness in the poker community, and we got a lot of feedback about it. So we were like, y'know what? Why not bring it back? It's what the players want, and I want to focus more going forward in 2018 and beyond on what players want."
He begins what reads like a player's Christmas list.
"They want free money. They want added money and more contributed. And they want their beloved EPT back. So we chose to do that."
The future of poker
It really has been hard to avoid the buzz around Prague and the poker community since the Players Championship was announced. Team Online's Benjamin 'Spraggy' Spragg expressed his excitement best on the live stream yesterday: "I feel like Charlie Bucket, and I've got a year trying to find a Golden Ticket."
Those Golden Tickets, or Premium Passes, will create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lot of people. But even for the pros for whom $25K is no big deal, the $8 million prize pool guarantee and additional $1 million up top make this too good to be true. They have a chance to win huge, but without needing to grind through an 8,000-player field.
""I do think this event will become a prestigious pinnacle event," Negreanu says. "Not only is it a big buy in, not only is it a good field, but it's also going to have one full year of lead up where we're going to be qualifying people on a weekly/monthly basis, and there's going to be new storylines. You'll see who's in the event on an updated list of players who have won their platinum pass.
"I think with the coverage we're going to have around it, it's going to be a spectacle which culminates every year in January."
For now though, we've still got 2018. Negreanu says he'll be starting the year off right at the PCA in the Bahamas, before going to EPT Monte Carlo and EPT Barcelona among other stops throughout the year. He'll also be playing online during the SCOOP and WCOOP series.
Oh, and even the player's player isn't exempt from Charlie Bucket-like feelings.
"I don't actually know if I'm eligible to win a platinum pass," Negreanu laughs. "But I'll be in a lot of opportunities to get one!"
Tweet us at @PokerStarsBlog using the hashtag #AreYouPlaying to let us know your thoughts on the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold'em Championship and the Premium Pass.
Jack Stanton is a freelance contributor to the PokerStars Blog.