Keeping Up With the Phils

Daniel Negreanu

As Daniel Negreanu weaves his way through the field at the L.A. Poker Classic with some 100 players left, he does so with the knowledge that even a fifth place finish at Commerce Casino would get him above Phil Ivey as poker’s all-time leading money winner.

But sitting among the leaders on the event's third day, that's not at the forefront of his mind.

"The thing is, it's a lifetime thing," said 35-year-old Kid Poker. "It's not really a pressing thing."

The pressing business was for both he and Ivey to get past 2006 WSOP Main Event champ Jamie Gold, who edged out him for the top spot with that single $12 million win four years ago.

But when Negreanu passed Gold finishing second at the WSOP Europe main event this past September and Ivey's November Nine appearance and Aussie Millions High Roller runner-up finish pushed him even further ahead, two of poker's best were left to spend the rest of their careers vying for top spot.

The only problem is, continuing to collect big scores from tournaments isn't getting easier.

Negreanu says everybody is getting better and every year, fresh faced kids rising from the online ranks continue to display an unmatched fundamental talent for the game.

He says he's been forced to change his game, unlike another player named Phil, who still sits behind Gold in fourth on the all-time list with a little more than $11 million in earnings.

"The biggest difference with Phil Hellmuth and I is that I watch the way the game changes and I understand I need to tweak my game in order to compete," he said. "He thinks if he brushes his teeth, does yoga and eats right he's just going to win.

"He really thinks you just need to have a positive attitude. You just need to learn how to play poker better."

The way Negreanu sees it, the old-school way just isn't going to cut it anymore.

"Years ago there was a way to play. It was easy and it worked," he said. "These young kids have found a way to exploit it. It's like a bacteria mutating to become resistant to the medication you've been giving it. You have to find a way to attack the problem.

"There are weaknesses in every strategy to some degree. So I go after their weaknesses and the way they perceive me, which opens up a whole new group of opportunities that I can use against them."

His willingness to adapt is where he finds the consistency.

"Right now I'm getting back to basics," he said. "Which is paying attention to a lot of physical tells that I'm seeing in the young guys. Paying attention to who is the wild man, what they're doing and that sort of thing.

"In the old days I didn't even have to do as much of that, because people just played the game so fundamentally poorly."

But as he goes about trying to make poker history as one of the leaders in L.A. Sunday afternoon with an eye on the big screen inside Commerce and the Canadian Olympic Hockey Team Winning gold on home soil to make hockey history, Negreanu sounds ready for business.

"It takes a lot of concentration. It's not easy anymore," he said. "It's not like I can just sit there and wait for them to make mistakes like we used to."

The World Poker Tour's L.A. Poker Classic continues through March 4. For comprehensive coverage, tune in to PokerListings' Live Updates and News.

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