Another day at the 2007 WPT North American Poker Championship here in Niagara Falls, Canada gives us another opportunity to interview one of this country's best poker players. Only this time PokerListings.com has landed the big fish.
With almost $10 million in career tournament earnings, three WSOP bracelets and a WPT Player of the Year title, any discussion about Canadian poker players begins and ends with Daniel Negreanu. So, in between shaking hands, posing for photos, signing autographs and oh yeah, playing a little poker, Negreanu took time out to sit down with PL.com and discuss table talk, his year so far, Jerry Yang's religious views and what it's like to be one of Canada's and the world's biggest poker superstars. Sadly, Kid Poker was eliminated a few hours after we spoke.
How's it going in there today Daniel?
I'm playing fairly well. I have a pretty unlucky table draw with some tough players, some young kids. I ran into a kid I play with online and he's tough and the other players are tough too.
I started off really well getting it up to $30,000. Since then I've kind of been sloughing off chips, but losing the minimum. A lot of players, if they'd had the luck I've had, would have been out, but I've lost the minimum and I still have $16,000.
Watching you at the tables today you are a pretty chatty guy. But you're not just a friendly guy; you're probing for information aren't you?
Oh yeah. It's a combination of things. That's how I am naturally, but the more you know about people in general, the easier it becomes to make good decisions. So, if you sit there and you don't know anything about anybody, you ask some questions, find out more about their history, how long they've been playing poker, etcetera, etcetera. Then it will set you up to make better decisions.
There are clues you can gauge and often they have nothing to do with poker. Like who did you vote for or what's your position on abortion (laughs), anything like that can give you a clue into how someone thinks and whether they are conservative or aggressive.
You started off 2007 making a WPT final table in Tunica, but how's your year been other than that?
I came into the year real well. In like late December, I was on a nice little rush at the WPTs, did fine at the World Series, had an OK showing. I've had like a blah year, nothing great. I've done pretty good in side games and playing online, stuff like that. It's been more like a year of learning my golf swing.
You have been playing a little more in Europe this year too.
They've upped the buy-ins at the EPT now and there are some really cool spots I've wanted to go to. Barcelona, London, places like that. And I've started playing in the EPT because it's grown so big; it's like a major event now.
Is it also because of your affiliation with PokerStars?
A little bit. PokerStars is the title sponsor of the EPT so it does make sense for me to be an ambassador and go places where they're going to be sponsoring, but the decision was really all mine.
Speaking of being an ambassador, it seems you've really embraced your role as an ambassador for the game of poker.
Somewhat, because if I don't do it who will (laughs). No really, I feel like I've been pretty lucky to do what I do. When I was young I kind of looked up to some of the other big guys, so I do feel a sense of responsibility, not only for poker, but for Canada as well, because I am Canadian. You know if I did something bad, something really, really foolish and it gets out there, it just looks bad on me and the country.
You have to be conscious (of your image) even when you're away from the table. There's a new age now. TMZ is a site where random people with cell phones will take shots of celebrities and stuff and someone picking their nose and all of the sudden it's on YouTube and everything like that. You have to be conscious of that because there is media everywhere now.
Everyone's got a video camera in their cell phone. Everywhere you are, you have to be a little more conscious of not being foolish, but I'm really not much of a foolish guy anyway. As a rule I try to live a pretty clean life. That way I can't get in any trouble.
Speaking of clean living, I understand religion is an important part of your life. What did you think of Jerry Yang praying to God for cards at the 2007 WSOP Main Event? Some people were sort of offended he was trying to turn a poker room into a church.
I haven't quite seen the end yet, I have it on TIVO, but I know that he was actually praying for cards. It's weird, but to be offended would be foolish. I think it's weird, I think it's a little strange. It's not something that I would do. I would never pray to God and say like "give me a Jack," you know what I'm saying. If I've ever prayed to God during a tournament it's more like something for focus, let me be at my best, whatever happens let me handle it well. I'd use it as a positive and if I lose I'm sure it's for a good reason (laughs). But I think it's kind of weird to pray for actual cards.
So what's next for you Daniel?
After this I'm going to stay in Toronto for a bit, then back home to Vegas. From there I'm going to head over to Foxwoods for the next WPT and then I'll be coming back to Toronto for the Grey Cup (Canadian Football League championship) to do a promotion with Pokerstars. But if you go to the Full Contact Poker website you can read all about it.
You grew up about an hour from here in Toronto, Canada and it seems like everybody in the country is rooting for you. Does that add a little pressure to this tournament?
I'd say there's a little bit more pressure because a lot of people don't understand how poker tournaments work. The way I look at it is if you're not first, second or third, you're out. Last year I was knocked out extremely early and people were like "How did that happen?"
It was like the first hour and then you get people saying "Oh you didn't even try." So there's a little more pressure to make sure that you don't have like a horribly bad showing, but I don't let that to influence the way I play a hand. If I'm going to go broke, I'm going to go broke.
It seems like the game has grown by leaps and bounds in this part of the world. Most people say it's because poker was on TV during the NHL strike a few years back; is that your take on it?
I'll tell you what and I generally and truly believe this. A lot of people attribute the strike to poker getting hot here, but it's only one small fraction of what made it popular. Whether the strike happened or not, poker was going to become really popular in Canada. It's taken off here, in Germany, all over Europe and in Australia, so there's no reason why it wouldn't. It just became more popular a lot quicker [than it would have otherwise] because people had nothing to watch on Saturday night anymore. So, they'd watch poker.
From the decent size of the crowds of railbirds and the tremendous number of people asking Daniel to pose for a photo or sign a hat here in Niagara Falls, it looks like they're still watching. It even seems sometimes like the poker hopes of an entire nation rest on his shoulders. But, if anyone can handle the weight, it's got to be Daniel Negreanu.