With a boisterous crowd behind him all the way, poker's biggest star came through on the game's biggest stage at the Rio this evening.
In front of a packed house at the ESPN final table, Team PokerStars pro Daniel Negreanu took down 2008 WSOP Event 20 Limit Hold'em, grabbing his fourth WSOP bracelet and a $204,874 payday in the process.
Moments after the win Negreanu took a few minutes to chat with PL.com.
So umm, tell us what your name is and where you're from?
[Laughs] Well my name is Billy Bob and I come from Iowa. I figured I've been playing Limit Hold'em a long time so uh ... I gave it a shot [laughs].
Really though Daniel - congratulations. This is your fourth bracelet. Are you perhaps on your way to number 11 and beyond?
Yeah, I have these really weird dreams sometimes at night where I win like six tournaments in a row at the World Series of Poker. It's never been done and everyone is like "Wow." Then I win the Main Event and it's seven and [Phil] Hellmuth gets kind of upset. Yeah, he's like happy, but not really. In the dream he's smiling, but not really. But yeah, he's got to be scared, just not this year.
You haven't won a bracelet since 2004 so it's been a while between wins at the Series. How good does it feel to get things going here again?
As good as the one in 2003. I won the very first event I ever played at the World Series of Poker in 1998. I was 1-0 and I could have quit with a 1.000 batting average. I thought it was easy, but in 1999, zip; in 2000, zip. I didn't win another one until 2003 and so that one was really special. I got another one in 2004, but every year you hear the people talk about how you're washed up and you're too busy with your outside interests and your poker VTs, your PokerStars things and all the traveling.
But what people don't realize is poker is still my No. 1 thing. And golf [laughs]. But actually, for the World Series, I try as hard as anyone to win a bracelet and when I'm playing my game I'm in contention for Player of the Year.
Do you think have a particular edge over the fields here when it comes to playing Limit?
Yeah, I think, after playing this tournament, about halfway through I'm like "I am frickin' great at this game." I sound like Hellmuth, but it's true. I'm really good in Limit Hold'em tournaments. My track record, historically, is incredible in Limit Hold'em. I don't get to play them a lot because the other events outside of here are not Limit.
There's something special about Limit Hold'em tournaments in that people can't move in on me [laughs]. They got to see a flop, even if they three-bet me, every hand I play there's going to be a flop and that's really going to play into my strengths. That's basically what the whole small-ball concept is based on - Limit Hold'em principles. That's the core of the way that I think about poker: Limit Hold'em.
I actually feel there are a lot more tells available in Limit Hold'em than any other game. People act quicker, they are a lot more relaxed when they play and there are so many more things you can focus on in Limit than other games. It's a simple as a guy reaching for his chips a certain way. People get into a rhythm and that plays into my strengths. In No-Limit people are a lot more deliberate and slow. In Limit they are pound, pound, pound and a lot of the times when they throw that chip out I'm like "OK, I know it's this" or "I know it's that."
Isn't Limit Hold'em where you got your start?
Yeah, when I was a teenager all I played was Limit Hold'em for about seven years. Forty hours a week $10/$20 Limit Hold'em in Toronto and that's how I learned how to play poker. I played No-Limit tournaments when I was a teenager also, but Limit Hold'em is how I made my living from a teenager until I was 25, that was it; Limit Hold'em.
You are the one of, if not the, biggest names in the game right now and there's a lot that comes with that. Outside of this result, do you think that all the distractions of being a superstar hurt your game?
Yeah, there's no question. You've got all these young, hungry players who all they do is play poker. They're going to be in tune and they're going to be focused. But there's something to be said also for maturity; getting a little older and getting a little bit wiser.
Understanding what my body can handle and understanding what mistakes not to make. For example, you don't see me drinking and partying during the Series. I'm not out there like these other young kids might be. I'm very aware and if I'm too tired to play an event that's a good time to rest. I'm much better at gauging that kind of thing, but having said that there is a tradeoff. There's more attention and more demands on my time, but I understand that and fortunately I have the support system to help me through that and make it somewhat sane.
The other side of that is that you get tremendous support from the crowd. Everybody loves Kid Poker, Daniel Negreanu, and we saw that here at the final table. Is poker the kind of game where that crowd support helps?
Yeah, it's so weird. It's funny you mention that because there was a point where I wasn't doing well and it didn't look good and then I won a huge pot and I hear this huge roar from the crowd and I'm like "Yeah, that's what I'm talking about."
It sort of gives you an adrenaline rush. I stack my chips a little faster, my legs start shaking a little more and I'm like "OK, let's do this. Let's go." So to some degree, from a state-of-mind perspective, home team advantage, having people cheer for you gives you a little oomph. Of course when the other guy has got fans and you lose a big pot it's like "Ugh, shut up people."
So what's next - are you going to continue to play a heavy schedule here at the WSOP?
Yeah, right now it's such a great year for the pros and the WSOP. The structures have been perfect; it's been run better than any WSOP ever. You compare complaints over the last 20 years and we've had none, virtually. Everything is going really well, the players' advisory council and Harrah's [have] been really in tune. We've also got an amazing race for Player of the Year this year; Erick Lindgren's got to be up in front. I'm probably in second place. There's some other big names up there and it's a really good list. That's going to come down to the wire this year and that's going to be my focus now that I'm in the running.
Add this win to the others so far and it seems like this is the year the pros strike back at the WSOP ...
It feels like that right? The key reason for that is that last year they did some things with the structures that made it a lot faster and more luck oriented. Now you look at these final tables and it gives a pro an opportunity to really maneuver and not just play a crapshoot type of thing. That's why you are going to see, the real pros are the ones who know how to finish the job and this year has been a testament to that.
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With this bracelet and two other deep cashes already, Negreanu is right about his place in the race for the 2008 WSOP Player of the Year. If he stays this focused nobody here at PL.com is betting it's not within his reach, and another bracelet is never out of the question.
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