For a long time, Daniel Negreanu would crush this game, and make it look easy in the process. As he says, 'in the era of 2003-2005 I was a league above everyone else in terms of skill. I was doing things ahead of its time. It made the game too easy.' But then the rest of the world caught up to Kid Poker. Suddenly he wasn't the best player in the field anymore and even admits that he knew he was 'outclassed in certain situations.'
Fast-forward to 2018 and that balance has shifted once again back in Daniel Negreanu's favour. A series of excellent results at the tail end of 2017 – a $936k score in a Las Vegas Super High Roller – and a fantastic 4th place finish in the PCA Super High Roller are good indicators that he's on the right track. By his own admission, Negreanu has had to change his game significantly to get to the point where he can compete and overcome titans such as Scott Seiver, Fedor Holz and Bryn Kenney et al. So how did he do it? And what can you learn from the evolution of Kid Poker?
Find out all of that and more in part 2 of our exclusive interview with Daniel Negreanu…
PokerStars School (PS): The standard of poker across the world has never been higher than it is now, despite Black Friday shutting out much of the US market in 2011. Do you think if that hadn't happened then the standard would be even higher than it is now?
Daniel Negreanu (DN): Yes, I do because if Black Friday didn't happen I think you would see more young Americans doing well, and we don't really see any right now. The young players today are Adrian Mateos from Spain, Fedor Holz from Germany and the other young Germans but there are no Americans right now in that age bracket. The way to improve your game at that age is to get online experience but that's just not available.
PS: There are probably more poker tournaments, especially Super High Rollers, televised or on live streams, now than ever before. Do you see this extra pressure causing players to make mistakes they wouldn't normally make?
DN: Not anymore. I would say 100% yes three years ago. There were people that weren't comfortable playing under the lights and with cameras. But the new brand of poker players are machines. They are so much more like a machine where they don't let stuff like that distract them.
I listened to an interview with a guy named Steffen Sontheimer, who is probably the best in the world right now. He talked about feeling very comfortable whenever he's bluffing or if he has the nuts because he's not bluffing in the true sense of what bluffing used to be. Bluffing used to be, "oh my god, I have a bad hand but I'm going to try and steal this pot!" Now it's "oh, 35% of the time I need to be bluffing here so I am going to do it."
There is no emotional connection to it because he [Sontheimer] knows what he is doing is balanced and correct. If you make a bluff where you're not sure if it's correct then you might have a racing heart or body language that is different, but if you're just putting a formula together and then pressing the button that correlates with that formula then you know you are not making a mistake. It doesn't matter what your opponent does so you're at ease.
PS: Where do you fit in alongside these great new players?
DN: I'm at my best right now but I have been working hard daily [to get there]. I've taken some time away for a few months to study every day, [and] I've been working with some people to really understand game theory.
In the past, I was always an exploitative player – i.e. 'they think this of me so I'm going to do this to them' – but I didn't know what the GTO (Game Theory Optimal) play was. I've been learning that, and learning how to deviate from that based on my reads and my opponents. It's been a new way to think about poker and I am starting to understand a little bit more about why some of these guys are taking two minutes to think about a decision!
PS: You've been a vocal critic of long tanking in SHR events. With this new approach, have you softened your thinking on this stance?
DN: Absolutely not! We play in shot clock tournaments [where you have thirty seconds to make a decision], and that works. Pretty much any High Roller in the world right now, except for the WSOP, is employing a shot clock because it's necessary. Recreational players are not going to stick around if you have Christoph Vogelsang and Byron Kaverman playing 25 minute hands where it's Aces against Kings. That's just not fun.
I understand that for a lot of these guys the more time they have the more likely they are to make the right decision. But there's a breaking point. If everyone starts doing that you have just destroyed the tournament. If everyone takes three minutes for each decision then how many hands are you going to play in an hour?!
PS: Also, if you're trying to build an audience with TV that will be impossible if all hands are taking so long to play out?
DN: No question – one of the struggles we face is how do you have a live stream when a guy could tank for ten minutes at any point? It feels like poker has evolved to a point where we need to make some rules and not put the onus on the players to do it [such as by calling for the clock].
In the NBA there used to be no 24-second shot clock. And then teams started figuring out that if they were up by ten points why don't they just pass the ball around and not even bother to try and go up the court to score. That kills the clock but it also kills the game - it's not fun to watch that.
And that's what we need to do with poker right now to avoid a trap of letting slow play take away the enjoyment from the game.
PS: You talk about GTO play coming more into the game but is it still important to play off history that you have with other players too?
DN: Absolutely it is. I'll give you the best example I have heard that explains this. If you were going to play Rock, Scissors, Paper what would be the GTO % to play each one? It'd be 1 in 3 for each. That's GTO but you don't necessarily win money this way either.
So you're playing GTO but what if you come across a player who throws rock 100% of the time? If you're playing GTO you won't beat him, you'll just do OK versus him. So what would be the best way to play against him?
PS: Play paper 100% of the time?
DN: That's kind of a mistake too – it seems like the logical answer but the problem is that after 8 or 9 throws he's going to realise that you just throw paper all the time. So now you've become exploitable. The best approach is to up your paper frequency to 40% so that he doesn't know any different. After a long period of time he's just going to think he's unlucky. You start with a GTO baseline and then deviate and make adjustments based on history, but you do it in a way that doesn't wake you opponent up to it.
A real world example would be if I am up against an opponent who knows that I never bluff. So I am going to start bluffing against him, but not every time. If he still sees me checking back hands that I could have bluffed then I have his impression of me where I want it to be.
PS: Are there any players in the Super High Roller world that you end up in crazy spots against regularly?
DN: You have some players who are playing unconventionally or they come at you with different styles. Some of those players would be Nick Petrangelo and Scott Seiver, who both play outside the box. And of course, anytime that you play against Fedor Holz or Steffen Sontheimer they are going to put you in spots you may not have seen before.
Like, a hand goes check-check, check-check, check-check and then all of a sudden on the river Steffen is betting three times the pot! And you're going, "what the f***!"
PS: Do you love the challenge of playing against guys like this though?
DN: Absolutely – I played the entire day with Fedor Holz directly on my left [recently] and it was tough as nails. He put me in so many tough spots but I thoroughly enjoyed the back and forth. Jonathan Little tweeted at me when he saw my table draw and said I needed to work on my game selection as a joke. I said I want to play against the best so I think my game selection is on point!
I really enjoy testing myself. I don't have delusions. I have the upmost respect for these players and I don't think I am better than them. I am quite certain that they have a deeper knowledge base and are better [than I am]. But what drives me is the willingness or thought that I can actually improve my game to the point where I am competitive with this group and I can be among the top players in these high rollers.
But I'm not delusional to say that I am [right now] because the results are not there – I haven't run hot in these things of late. And also you just know. I've been playing poker for 20 years and you just know when you are outclassed in certain situations. [Editor note: this interview was conducted before Negreanu's two recent Super High Roller final tables].
PS: Super High Roller tournaments are relatively common nowadays, but are there some that really stand out for you?
DN: The Super High Roller Bowl is now the pinnacle and is seen as very, very special…[but] I think what we are going to do here with the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold'em Championship [PSPC] is going to be really unique and special.
It's going to be a high stakes field that we have never seen the likes of. We are going to have such a big field and typically in these events you are looking at 40-50 of the same people, but because we are going to have qualifiers that's going to bring in some of the more mid-level players and then the mid-level players will bring in some of the lower level players and then the recreational players will see the prize pool and they will want to play too! It could be a massive field that plays a lot more like your standard Main Event-type field but it does so with a juicy buy-in and some of the best players in the world.
PS: What do you think the chances are of a low-stakes qualifier winning the Players Championship?
DN: It's going to be very, very unlikely that you see a low limit grinder actually winning the event. Now, cashing in the event and making the final table is a totally different animal. The toughest part about closing one of these tournaments out is [when you get into a situation like this]; OK, so you're chip leader with 5 left but look who is on your left…it's Fedor Holz or Jason Koon or Bryn Kenney!... and now you still have to beat all of them! [Editor note: you can find a list of all Platinum Pass winners here]
What typically happens with these tournaments is that on Day 1 you have the big field and think this is an OK table. And then as you get down to the last 18 players you have only killers left, so you have to get very, very lucky or come up with some creative, aggressive styles to actually make it to the finish line.
If you missed Part 1 of our exclusive interview with Daniel Negreanu click here to read it now.