WSOP 2016: The Kid Poker Main Event campaign starts here
It's impossible to not think about it. It's an act of folly to try to put it out of one's mind. It's still raw despite having happened nearly 12 months ago.
But one man seems to have put it behind him completely.
Right now, Daniel Negreanu sits in the middle of the Amazon Room. He cleans his glasses. He arranges a bottle of Fiji water next to his chips. He orders a massage. He sits quietly across the table from famed Australian cricketer Shane Warne, and in this moment, no one is screaming. No one is imploring Negreanu's hand to hold. It's just after 11am, and most fans are still asleep.
This is the beginning of Negreanu's 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event campaign, and it couldn't be any different from the last Main Event hand he played. Right now, Negreanu is just another guy in the room with 50,000 chips. Last year at this time, he was on the cusp of making the Main Event final table. He believed it would happen. The poker world believed it would happen. And then it didn't happen.
We all wrote requiems for what could have been. We stood, our mouths agape, staring into the abyss, a black hole created when one of poker's biggest stars simply evaporated from its own galaxy.
In our heads (and, for many, in their hearts) we believed we were witnessing the rebirth of poker under the power of its tireless ambassador. We listened to crowds of fans--not backers, not friends, not family, but honest to goodness fans--chant Negreanu's name. They counted his push-ups. They celebrated with him when he won. They fell with him when he fell. No matter your feelings about the man they call Kid Poker, there was no denying his 2015 Main Event performance lit a spark in poker's dry and twisted tinder.
And then it fizzled.
They announced Negreanu had finished in 11th place.
For a lot of people, that's a phrase that echoes in this room. Nevertheless, it never echoes as loudly as what Negreanu said afterward.
"(The November Nine) is the most special final table of the year. I believed I could help by being there," he said that night. "I love to promote the game. I love this game. I owe it a lot. I live my dream life day to day, and without poker I wouldn't be here. I don't attach my results to my self worth, so whether I win at poker or lose at poker, I know who I am."
That man is back today, and to look at him, you could believe he's put last year behind him. After all, he's a pro, and he's not going to live in the past.
But for others, that memory of last year hasn't quite evaporated. There is just enough of it left to remember the electricity in the air that July 2015 night. There is still just a whiff of that lightning-strike ozone in the air here...just enough to wonder if Negreanu will take us on another electric ride toward poker's most important final table.
Even he doesn't know for sure if that will happen this year.
But in the event it does...it starts right now.
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis. WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.