Daniel Negreanu on Politics, Religion and Public Opinion

Daniel Negreanu on Politics, Religion and Public Opinion

Lee Davy spends an hour talking to Daniel Negreanu soaking up his views on the decision to ban professional poker players from competing in the ONE DROP, his political views, and how the poker community should react to a scandal within its ranks.

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I talked to Daniel Negreanu for close to an hour. Below you will find a transcription of over 3.7k words. I strongly recommend you stop reading and instead listen to the audio.

We cover many topics including a man who always thinks of Daniel when performing doggy style with his wife. We pick apart the word ‘legend’. And he airs his view on why Phil Galfond is a shoe-in for the Poker Hall of Fame.

What does Daniel think of the meteoric rise of Fedor Holz? Does he care that he is not invited to play the ONE DROP? And why does he insist on watching Rocky movies when he is quite clearly Apollo Creed?

Are you interested in politics? Daniel is, and he explains why. We talk about pretty much anything ending with ism. And I find out why he is not a member of Raising For Effective Giving (REG) despite being a huge fan of the effective altruists.


What follows is an abridged version of the audio interview located above.

You were preparing to play Day 1C. One of the most memorable sportsmen of all time, a man who once dated Elizabeth Hurley, Shane Warne, is sat at your table, and everyone wanted your photo. How does that feel, and can you remember the first time anyone asked you for an autograph?

Daniel Negreanu on Politics, Religion and Public Opinion“I showed up on time, and a lot of people in the tournament wanted to take photographs so I didn’t get a chance to settle in until they announced Shuffle Up and Deal. I am used to it now.”

“Shane {Warne} and I talked about it and had a laugh because he has recently been named one of the Top 5 cricketers of all time.  He had some kind words for me and I gave him some poker tips for Day 2.

“On my first autograph, it was way before I thought it would be at all appropriate. I won a Heavenly Hold’em tournament for $19,000. I hadn’t even won a bracelet at that time. Cardplayer Magazine was the only media outlet, and I had been mentioned in that a lot at that point, and a guy asked me for my autograph when I was playing at The Mirage.

“A woman once told me to sign her lower back. She said she would get a tattoo of it, and I laughed. The next day she came back and showed me the tattoo. I met her husband sometime after, and he said to me, ‘Daniel when I tap my wife I have to see your name.'”

Norwegian footballing star John Arne Riise recently called you a ‘Legend’ on Twitter. What does one have to accomplish in sport to deserve that label?

“First and foremost, and this is part of being in the Poker Hall of Fame is: standing the test of time. There are always people who have a great year. They win a few $100k Sit n Go’s and all of a sudden they are the God of poker. That is not legend status. It comes when you have done it over an extended period.

“To be a legend in poker or sport, being at the top at least for a part of that time and managing to win in different environments is important. In sport, you are a legend if you are part of a successful team, but even more of a sick legend if you took an up and coming team and took them to another level. Those are some of the important points for me, but standing the test of the time is the most important.”

Daniel Negreanu on Politics, Religion and Public OpinionWho are some of the young poker players you believe have what it takes to be in The Poker Hall of Fame?

“Phil Galfond comes to mind. The Poker Hall of Fame has morphed into something it wasn’t intended to be. If you look at baseball, a player’s position in the Hall of Fame depends on his skill level or statistics. In the Poker Hall of Fame, we now believe contribution to the game is significant. With this in mind, I believe Phil Galfond is a role model for a lot of the younger players. He has also played cash games at the highest levels for a long time. I think he is a shoe-in to get into the Poker Hall of Fame when he turns 40.”

What is your view on the meteoric rise of Fedor Holz?

“A few years ago Erik Seidel had that crazy run; then Dan Colman; now Fedor Holz. It is guaranteed to happen. If you have 20-30 fields of 40 players, you are going to have repeat winners. What you get with someone like Fedor, who is a great player, well success breeds more success, he has confidence, he is making plays, he is catching cards. When you are running hot, it opens up new frontiers of ability to take your game to the next level. It’s amazing to watch. It’s great for poker. If he can continue to do this over the next few years – now that would be something. The chances of him doing that, despite how good he is, is minimal.”

What is your view on the ONE DROP becoming an invitational, and the decision not to allow professional poker players to compete?

The ONE DROP doesn’t exist anymore. It used to be a bracelet event; I imagine it isn’t anymore because that would be offensive and demeaning for to the brand. It’s fine as a standalone event. How can anyone have a problem with 40-50 million from billionaires to play a tournament and they are going to give money to charity. They will want to play with who they want to play with. We don’t have any right to have a problem with that.

“Antonio Esfandiari touched on a key reason why this happened. He has spoken to Guy {Laliberte} and has talked about this. A lot of the younger players who are tanking for a long time and staring. A lot of the businessmen don’t want to be stared at for four minutes when they are not giving off any information and then have to wait another seven minutes before raising them – they don’t want any part of that because it’s not fun.

“If anything, the young pros who will be upset now they can’t play, a lot of them are the cause. If they were fun, engaging and made the atmosphere more pleasant, there is a strong likelihood this wouldn’t have happened.”

It’s interesting how you have just gone through a Rocky binge. I recently wrote an article where I used you as the metaphorical Apollo Creed, so why the Rocky love?

“I have been watching all of the Rocky films every year since I started playing in the Main Event. It’s like the curvature of the Rocky films have mimicked my life in poker. In Rocky III he wins the title and does TV commercials and doesn’t train as hard. Clubber Lang was in the gym working his ass off. Rocky got beat, and he had to dig a little deeper and remind himself he had to grind.

“Then you have Rocky IV. Rocky is all heart, but he is up against Ivan Drago, the machine. He has a HUD; he has tracking software, is on steroids, is bigger, and knows all the numbers – he is pure science. In the end, Rocky’s pure heart wins out against the science. It reminded me of myself against a lot of the online players. They have the fundamental and math on their side but not necessarily the wisdom and heart that Rocky had.”

Who was your Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago?

“It happened when online took off. There were so many of these young online phenoms who were already supposed to be the greatest players of all time. It was a movement that represented the Ivan Drago for me, not an individual.”

You clearly have a deep interest in politics, why?

“I find it interesting how people spin things, the game of politics, and twisting the truth to benefit you, in almost a poker kind of why. This election frightens me, though. It is mortifying and saddens me what is happening in America regarding the divisiveness. I believe the source of it is Donald Trump. I believe his reckless rhetoric has an adverse impact on the entire world.

“Hilary Clinton is not a better choice regarding likeability; She has her issues. But she has served, she has done her time, and knows what she is talking about regarding foreign policy. Trump is such a con artist. We saw a rise like this with Hitler. When people had their hate stoked, and the result was killing over six million Jews. When you say things like, ‘We need to ban Muslims from entering the country’. That’s a dangerous precedent; he is the best recruiting tool for ISIS I can imagine. Just play his speeches and Muslims, who might be disenfranchised with society, may say, “Fuck that guy I am going to join ISIS and kill people like him.”

What’s happening in the world?

“You wrote an article I read related to microaggressions. I understand how they can have a negative effect on children especially how it shapes a minority. Having said that I believe strongly that the extreme push of social justice warriors has stoked the Trumps supporters. For example, in Justin Bonomo’s blog, I understand the first two cases I totally get as microaggressions, but the third one will totally set people off.

“He describes a situation where a guy is watching soccer. A woman next to him says he is watching ‘fussball’, and the dealer says, ‘That’s soccer’. To call that a microaggression makes the assumption the dealer is saying that based on her gender. You are assuming he thinks she is stupid because she is a woman, completely missing the point that when I am in the UK and use the word ‘soccer’, the people tell me it’s called ‘football’. They correct me.

“When we become so hypersensitive to the point where we are so afraid to have fun banter and humour amongst each other it turns people off so much they don’t even want to come to the table. If we are so hypersensitive to every little thing, the people who ‘don’t get it’ won’t get it anymore by taking such an extreme position, in my opinion.”

Are people in poker confused about what they can and can’t say because of the social media debates between the likes of Justin Bonomo, Cate Hall, Matt Glantz.

“Without microaggressions, comedy doesn’t exist. Part of what comedians do is make fun of our differences, and they do it in a way that’s supposed to bring us together. I come from a background of a variety of different ethnicities, and we made fun of our differences. It was a way of bonding. I was the white man who couldn’t dance. It was fun. It wasn’t done in a hateful way. It wasn’t done to demean. It was simply just noticing.

“The hypersensitivity of seeing things that are just real, for example, it’s likely if you take a kid who is run up in Italy, and compare him to a kid in Hong Kong, it’s probably true that the lad from Hong Kong eats more rice. Now that’s racist because it’s based on race. Some statements that would be racist don’t necessarily have to be negatively charged.

“Saying the Italian kid is more likely to be thief is where you start to go down a dangerous path. Not all statements that have a racist undertone are harmful; plenty are. The danger I think, especially with the Trump supporters, they do not understand the message that the social justice warriors want to portray.

“If the social justice warriors want to make a change in this world they have to clue into those people. They are the people who represent 45% of the country, and they don’t hear it. They are tuning themselves out completely to every single discussion on what a microaggression is.”

Jamie Foxx and Tim Ferriss recently had this discussion on a podcast. There was a concern that we hamper freedom of speech because people are afraid to speak their mind fearing judgment for not being politically correct.

“San Bernardino is an example of where this can be dangerous. Several people noticed suspicious activity, and the people who were suspicious happened to be Muslim. They thought about contacting the police but feared they would be judged by it and seen as racist so they choice not to do anything about it and 14 people ended up being killed.

“Right now we are going through a crazy time in America with blacks being profiled, pulled over more, being killed by police at a higher rate, and it’s created a divide within the country. But let’s say there has been a random increase where people wearing pink jackets are killing people. You are walking down the street, and you see 20 people walking down the left-hand side of the street wearing pink jackets, nobody on the right has a pink jacket, where would you walk? It’s your own ability to gauge risk.

“When it’s done by the colour of skin this is very problematic systematic racism which hampers the ability for black people to live an equal life as whites. When I hear people saying that blacks create most of the crime, I find it offensive. Whether it’s true or not, you can’t simply judge someone who has black skin and say they are more likely to be a criminal. It’s just hate.”

If you could have participated in any march on Washington what would you have chosen and why?

“I have two assistants, both are gay, and gay marriage was something I was very charged about – listening to them talk about it and their rights being heard, but we seem to be in a better place with those issues right now.

“I find the legalisation of marijuana to be such a hypocritical point. Alcohol is clearly linked to more deaths by automobiles and heart disease; I drink alcohol but don’t smoke marijuana. How can a government deem alcohol legal and marijuana not?

“There was a kid in New Jersey having very bad seizures. They found a brand of THC without creating the high that quelled her seizures. Chris Christie wouldn’t allow marijuana in the state so she had to move to Colorado so she could medicate herself.

“NFL players addicted to painkillers who have suffered trauma to their bodies; science shows that marijuana helps with inflammation. That is something I would march for because I even think it’s good financially for the country.”

I assume you have more money than you need. Do you feel a certain pressure to follow the charitable lead of the entrepreneurs like Bill Gates etc. when it comes to your money?

“I am doing fine financially. I remember Bill Gates and Warren Buffet created this billionaires club where they ask billionaires to pledge half of their money to charities. Essentially, this group maintain a lot of power. They can do a lot with that kind of money.

“I don’t have a thirst for money. I appreciate a guy like Talal Shakerchi, who has a goal, not to buy nicer watches, but has a plan with what he wants to do with that money to help people. I get why people want to purchase a yacht but it’s not something that has ever driven me.”

Why have you never joined Raising for Effective Giving?

“I am supportive of what REG do. They are great for the analytical mind because they do a lot of the research, and they figure out how best to use the money donated in terms of affecting lives. I am a person who gives because I am passionate about it and iIs emotionally connected to it. I am aware that if I gave $500 to get malaria nets for kids in Africa, I am getting more bang for my buck than helping one particular person go on a field trip in school.

“There is something about humanity and giving that I want to feel. Writing a check for $500 and not having any connection to it doesn’t have the same allure as seeing with my own eyes the change it could make. Anytime you do something for someone, you also feel good about it, so it’s not a selfless act. The only selfless act is giving your life to save others. Outside of that, I am ok with understanding that I know when I give it makes me feel good, and I am ok with accepting that it gives me the warm and fuzzies.”

Would you sacrifice your child to save the lives of many?

“That’s an easy one for me; it’s obvious. If it’s your child, your instinct will be to save your child, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If I have to kill a stranger to save 50, then that’s different. Am I wrong from a theoretical point of view – yes. Is it the most altruistic way of being – no. It’s honest and realistic, and I think it’s way more true of people than they think. You would have to be sociopathic not to come to that conclusion at the moment.”

In the past, I wrote an article about rape in poker. I didn’t consider the feelings of the victim. That was wrong of me. We have so many scandals in poker, such as the recent problem with PNIA, and there is a tendency for the poker community to apportion blame before all the facts are heard. We don’t have a jury. What’s your opinion on this?

“Rape is a very strong word and a serious thing. I have a friend at 13-years old who was kidnapped, raped with a knife and brutally beaten. I have another close to my life raped by her uncle, and her community repeatedly, with her parents knowing. That is rape. That is serious; very important. Not to demean the severity and seriousness of what those women have gone through by lumping together things like microaggressions, verbal slurs, things that may have hurt someone’s feelings or offended them. We don’t want to lump those things together in places where people are going to have traumatic experiences that will be with them for the rest of their lives. Being choked, slapped, beaten, held at gunpoint, raped by several men for days at a time – that’s a serious thing.

“We need to be careful of making that word or throwing that word around in such a way that we think of sexual assault as verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is wrong, and it can be harmful, I get that, but it’s a far cry from the traumatic effects of being physically violated by someone.

“You mention the Poker Night in America thing. If Nolan Dalla did what he is being accused of, then that’s wrong. There is no question that it’s inappropriate for him, if he did, to stick his head in a woman’s boobs. But to lump that in with something as severe as my friend who at 13 was stabbed with a knife in her vagina and cut so that those wounds don’t heal I find that problematic.

“Let’s get real here. Let’s leave what’s serious where serious is. Let’s have discussions about the other things but let’s take them with a grain of salt in terms of what really happened here? What happened? Something bad? Ok. But not something to the effect of a brutal rape. These other things are really, really, bad but on a different scale.”

But when people discuss these things they end with a view. That view turns into an invisible poll. That means either Jacqueline or Nolan will be judged without being found guilty. I stayed out of it because I didn’t feel it was appropriate to share my view, for the reasons I have just described.

“I took a very similar approach to you outside of the fact that when I heard that Nolan was accused, I didn’t make a comment. One of them is lying. She is claiming she is the victim and of course if she is lying Nolan is the victim because his life is being destroyed by stories that may or may not be true.

“I went to Twitter to say that in my lifetime I have no evidence to support what she is claiming. I have never seen him do something like that. And I don’t think that’s victim blaming. I have some strong opinions that I haven’t shared, and I know some things that not everyone in the public is privy to.

“I don’t know if Nolan did it because I wasn’t there. I don’t know if she is lying about everything she said. There is clearly some evidence as far as I am concerned there have been some untruths in terms of what she has said. It’s not my job to condemn either party until all the facts come out. So many people saw her account on the Joe Ingram podcast and said, ‘Well she is telling the truth’. That’s not fair either. You don’t know the other side of the story.

“A lot of these things can be taken out of context. The text message from Chris Capra that says, ‘So sorry Nolan Dalla’s behaviour is inexcusable’. That doesn’t prove anything. If you told me that my assistant did some bad things to you, I might apologise to you on her behalf without knowing anything about it. That on its own isn’t evidence enough. It doesn’t hold up. She will put her best case together. Nolan will know also. I believe the only charges being levied are from Nolan for defamation of character?”

Where do we draw the line?

It’s fine to have an opinion. This is a perfect example. Victim blaming is wrong, but we don’t have a victim yet. There is no evidence whether or not Nolan is being victimised, or Nolan victimised her and we are blaming her for coming forward. I don’t want to make a pre-judgment and say she is lying. I don’t know – she may be telling the truth. As a community, we have a responsibility to be relatively neutral on our public opinions on it. I have a strong opinion on this issue, but it would be wrong to share that opinion without having all of the information.”