PCA 2015: The secrets of his success: Daniel Negreanu reveals all
Daniel Negreanu is the leading money earner in tournament poker and stands a pretty good chance in the Bahamas this week of becoming the first player to break through the $30 million mark. If he finishes eighth or better in the Main Event, he will take his career earnings past that total, and even if he dusts off a stack that currently stands at about 105,000, there is still the $25,000 High Roller to come.
Despite his lofty standing, Negreanu is also one of the most open players in the professional game, happy to talk to opponents, fans and reporters on any subject they care to mention. But it's notable, perhaps, that Negreanu doesn't often do strategy videos or write many in depth articles examining the technical aspects of the game - at least not since his latest book was released in the Dark Ages of 2008.
Negreanu has extraordinary talent, that much is clear, but is in no great hurry to share the secrets that have taken him to the top. But what are those secrets? How come Daniel Negreanu is so good?
Shortly after the start of play today, I tried to see if I could figure out what Negreanu was doing that nobody else in the game is. About ten minutes into the first level, with Negreanu in the three seat of the feature table, I loitered along the spectators' rail and fixed a gaze on the Team PokerStars Pro, hoping to watch him watching others, or at least to examine his mannerisms and compare them with his table mates. He is a great advocate of the importance of staying focused at the table, picking up reads on his opponents, and I figured he might spend the first hour at a new table with gaze fixed hawk-like on adversaries.
But the exercise failed. I couldn't see Negreanu doing anything unusual. He was chatting away with his opponents, enjoying chewing the fat with Corey Hochman in particular, and a couple of random lines from these conversations included: "Nice read!" (accompanied by a high five); "She came home one day and I said, 'Do you wanna get divorced?' And she said, 'Yeah, I think I do.'" And: "I dated her for three months, and broke up with her, and she's dating someone else...And she's pregnant. We'll see what colour it is when it comes out. If it comes out looking like him, then it's not mine." (This was accompanied by a point at Pratyush Buddiga.)
Negreanu was leading the table-talk, as you would expect, and these were certainly personal thoughts that he was sharing. But they weren't the poker secrets I was looking for.
When he was not in a hand, he also didn't seem to be staring down his opponents in a manner some of the books advise us. It should be noted that he also wasn't looking at a smartphone, like his neighbour, Tony Baggio, nor staring directly ahead, apparently in a different world, as was Vlad Ristu, of Romania. Negreanu was involved in the action, but it couldn't really be said that he was making a point of harvesting information.
This task called for a different tack. Sarah Herring, of PokerStars.tv, was preparing her video blog for the first break in play and was looking for potential subjects. Herring has a pretty persuasive manner and it seemed like a good idea to see if she could get Negreanu to let us into his world. Herring asked Negreanu directly how he goes about gathering his information. Was he up to some tricks that I simply couldn't see?
"Isn't that the secret?" a conspiratorial Negreanu said. "You're paying attention but nobody knows you're paying attention."
He then went on to describe how he rations the amount of time he spends looking at opponents; ignoring the Hollywooding pre-flop but focusing most intently on the river, when a player will either value bet or bluff. And he also says you need to have at least two data in order to figure out a tendency: if you've only seen a player act in a certain way once, how do you know what it represents?
"Try to remember what looked different," Negreanu said.
Negreanu was clearly disarmed by Herring because he also revealed something that has never shared with anybody. Kid Poker has a dossier on his cellphone of players against whom he has played in which he notes their tells and their mannerisms, and keeps it all safely filed away. "Tells are unique to the individual," Negreanu said. "When I spot something really good, I note it down."
Although Negreanu rarely checks his phone at the tables, he has the information with him at all times. If you think he's writing a text message when he's playing against you, you might want to examine whether you've been scratching your nose when bluffing a bit too much.
The full video with Negreanu is now with us. You'll never watch a more important three minutes from PokerStars.tv.