As the man designated to announce the PSPC at PokerStars Championship Prague - and as a key consultant in planning the event – Negreanu has a lot of his professional reputation riding on the PSPC's success. Even though its' early days still (the PSPC takes place in January 2019), it's fair to say that he's bullish on the project's success. In a PokerStars Blog article Negreanu said, 'I do think this will become a prestigious pinnacle event…PokerStars has been talking about ways in which they could have something that would be really buzz-worthy in the community, and this is the way they felt they could do that.'
There are over 300 Platinum Passes available to PokerStars players worth a huge $30,000. This will get you into the $25,000 buy-in PSPC and also cover your expenses, accommodation and plenty of conch while out in the Bahamas (look it up, it's delicious). But let's say you win a Platinum Pass and book your seat in poker's can't-miss event.
You don't really have a shot of winning it, do you? How about just cashing? Luckily, Mr Negreanu is much more positive about your chances. In part one of this exclusive interview find out how you should prepare for the PSPC, and what you might encounter in this $25,000 tournament once you get there.
PokerStars School (PS): Do you have a routine before you play a big poker tournament?
Daniel Negreanu (DN): I live my life with such a regimented routine anyway. The key I would always say is sleep. I'm a great sleeper. I sleep eight hours a night without fail. In terms of preparation, have a good breakfast, healthy greens and a power shake – something along those lines. And make sure there are no other distractions, just try and focus on what you have to do for the day.
PS: Is it better to play lots of poker leading up to the tournament or to take a break so that you're refreshed on the day?
DN: I've had experience with both being effective. If things are going well for you and you're winning then playing loads of poker is ideal. However, if things aren't going well and you're having a little bit of a bad run a break will sometimes bring you back in with a fresh mindset where you have a healthy fear. That healthy fear keeps me on my toes.
PS: In the PSPC there will probably be hundreds of players that have never played in anything like a $25k tournament before. Do you have any advice for players like this in the early stages so that they don't suffer from nerves?
DN: Typically, in these tournaments you start with so many chips compared to the blinds that there is no need for you to create a table image early on. If you're not quite comfortable yet I would honestly suggest playing slightly more conservative, not doing anything too crazy and working out who the sharks are on the table, who are the people that have qualified just like me and, also, what do they think of me? You will start to develop a table image in the first hour or two and then later you can start to exploit that.
A big mistake people make is that they think, "I'm going to win the tournament!". But you can't win the tournament in level one, you can only lose it.
PS: Is it a mistake for qualifiers in the PSPC if they don't go into it aiming to enjoy themselves?
DN: I find that I play my best poker when I am having a blast, whether that's because I am playing very high competition or if the table banter is really, really good. If you add extra stress to yourself where you're not even enjoying the whole environment then the odds of you playing your best are lessened.
You want to be as comfortable as possible and it's going to be difficult for some people to do that in the beginning. But after a few hours you might realise that this is just poker, the same game I was playing to get here! It's just that you might be up against slightly tougher players but it's still just poker.
PS: If you don't enjoy playing do you lose half the point of playing in the first place?
DN: I think the enjoyment comes from letting go of expectation. If you put too much expectation on cashing or winning then you add stress. But if you go in there without the expectation of winning and just go in for the experience, make the plays you feel comfortable making then you won't be so crushed if you lose. Because you probably are going to lose! But if you go in with that mindset then you've actually got nothing to lose.
PS: Putting aside the PSPC for a moment, what is the usual make-up of a Super High Roller in 2018?
DN: It's very pro-heavy. The tournament I am playing in as we speak [a $100k at Bellagio, where Daniel eventually finished second for $936k] is the absolute toughest tournament I have ever played in poker. This one had 20 players to start, none of which have a job, none of which are recreational players and all of which are high-level wizards.
So it's super, super tough. Typically in these fields you might see 20 pros and maybe 3 recreational players. But even those recreational players are tough to play against in some cases because they are smart individuals with enough money to know that they aren't favoured here but are here for the experience. We don't see a lot of mid-level grinders here who put the money down and play this thing. It's pretty well known now that, unless you're Phil Hellmuth, these are the best players in the history of poker when it comes to No Limit Hold'em.
PS: With so many good players in Super High Rollers, are there wide edges between the players still or does variance become a huge factor because you are all so evenly matched?
DN: Variance is certainly going to become a bigger factor when you have a concentration of players that are all really, really good. There are of course some players that are built better than others but the edges are definitely smaller than what you'd see in something like a $5k PCA Main Event. [In that particular event], all of these guys are going to have a massive advantage and a big ROI.
If you think in terms of ROI (Return On Investment) then in the WSOP Main Event I put up $10k and I think that that money right off the bat is worth about $40-$50k. A 400% ROI. Now, when you play in one of these Super High Rollers if somebody has a 15% ROI that's really good.
PS: To put the money down to play in these events, everyone must think they have an edge. But it's impossible that they all do. Are some of these players misleading themselves when it's actually not a winning game for them?
DN: If 20 people play in a tournament and there is no rake then by definition some people are wrong in thinking that they have an advantage. High Rollers typically don't have a rake on the first entry and then they rake the second entry, so a lot of players are playing rake free. This means that even if they are just slightly better than breakeven then they are making money in these events. That scenario typically happens when you have a few amateurs in the field. But when you take the amateurs out of the equation you have [think] at least 25-30% of the field are losing players now.
I always used to joke with people that you can be the fifth best player in the world, but if you're playing with the four best then you are the sucker!
PS: From what I have seen, preflop play seems a lot more passive now than it used to be. Is that the case?
DN: Around 2010 and 2011 people went insane. It was a 6-bet, whip it out, kind of bravado, machismo thing. I knew back then and I still do now that it was stupid. It's just not good poker! The evolution is people getting back to realising that is not necessary. We are still seeing 3-bets but we are not seeing nearly as many 4-bets. We are seeing a lot more defence of the blinds, flatting, calling and seeing flops. It's playing the game optimally. In the era of 5 and 6-bets there were a few players that played like that and now they're either serving French fries or they've learned to adapt.
PS: Are you sad that the rest of the poker world caught up to what you were aware of?
DN: No, actually I am happy about it. In the era of 2003-2005 I was a league above everyone else in terms of skill. I was doing things that were way ahead of its time. It made the game too easy honestly. I won everything, and it wasn't even hard to win everything.
My interest in improving waned a little bit whereas now in the last two years the level of skill in these Super High Rollers is so far beyond where I was at that time despite the fact that I am much better now than I was in 2004! The truth is that the 2004 version of me crushes those fields I was playing in yet now I am not one of the premier players in these tough fields I am playing in.
PS: And that's just due to the average level of the elite being so much higher?
DN: I find it disrespectful when Phil Hellmuth often talks about these kids being idiots and not very good. These kids spend 12-14 hours per day studying the game really, really hard. This is true of any industry – you can't be out of that study for 15-20 years and think that you can just walk right up there and beat them. They are at the highest level, in their prime and working very hard on their game. You'd be foolish to think you could stay competitive with them unless you were putting in as much work.
Coming up in part 2: Daniel Negreanu talks about which young wizards give him nightmares at the table, the impact of Black Friday and if a Platinum Pass qualifier really can win the PSPC…