Lee Davy sits down with Daniel Negreanu to gauge his thoughts on what’s next for the PokerStars Player’s No-Limit Hold’em Championship, what goes into a cracking wedding list and much, much more.
An infectious joyfulness has always sprung forth from Daniel Negreanu. It’s like being in the bathroom with your missus as she cuts her toenails, you know it’s going to hit you too.
Today, he’s different.
It’s difficult to believe, but Negreanu’s infectious joyfulness has reached the status of the common cold.
That’s the best word to use.
Before we get to the root of Negreanu’s giddiness, I ask him to pretend he is the CEO of The Stars Group and to explain what he would do next, now the PokerStars Player’s No-Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC) has been such an unmitigated success.
“The goal for this event was to create a good number of Moneymaker like stories that can pierce mainstream attention,” says Negreanu. “Going forward what’s going to be super important is leveraging everything we did right. We have done such a great job with the hype leading up to it, and to take it mainstream. If we want the poker community to grow or sustain itself, we can focus on retention, and that’s good, but that pool eventually shrinks if you don’t bring in new people, so one of the ways to do that is to do things that will get mainstream attention. If someone does well here let’s get them on Ellen or some other talk show, so they can tell their stories, that’s where my focus would be with it.”
I was thinking more about the future of the event.
“We were looking at this event, saying, “If we can get 700 or 800 people it would be a great event”, and we got more than a thousand,” says Negreanu. “With anything, each time you have an event, the more times you have it, the more likely it is to lose prestige. If we were to follow up with another one this year, and there has been no talk about it necessarily, you’d have to find a way to piggy-back what we did last year and make people think they HAVE to get a Platinum Pass.
“The investment from the company was a big one. It’s $9m direct, but there is also a lot of money to stage the event. I think the company looks at it as a success – like how can you hate on this thing, we’ve just given away $9m! I don’t know if they will do anything like this again, but from a community perspective we would love to see it every year, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily feasible.”
Last night I had dinner with Eric Hollreiser and learned that he once did PR work for Bill Gates, and it reminded me of the needs of the outspoken to sometimes come into line with that of the company. From the outside-in it seems Negreanu has free license to say whatever he wants, but how true is that?
“I always tell people when I do an interview no question’s off limits,” says Negreanu confidently. “If you want to know what colour boxer shorts I am wearing I am down to answer it. As far as issues related to the company and poker – part of the reason why I can answer questions on these things is that these are questions I have asked myself. Typically, I take a trip to the Isle of Man, which is 3-4 days and I talk to people. I am going to agree with some of the decisions, and then think others are stupid, but at least I am prepared.
“I once went onto the Joey Ingram podcast, and he said, “You have all the answers,” and I was like, “Yes, I spend time thinking about these things and talking to people”, but if I don’t have an answer to your question I will say I don’t know. I don’t mind the tough questions, I prefer them. Everyone in poker thinks what is best for me. It’s their business. What they fail to see sometimes is that for my business to function at its best, the people organising the event have to profit. If it’s not a win-win for everyone, you lose. Poker players are typically focused on what works for them. I believe as someone with 20-years experience that it’s cool that I have my bottom line, but they have to make theirs too.”
I ask Negreanu if PokerStars treat him differently than the other Team Pros or does he leverage his experience more?
“One of the cool things I love about working for the company, and this is the message internally – they want the pros to say what they want to say,” says Negreanu. “If you curse or have a take, you don’t get reprimanded for that. It allows you to be authentic. The last thing they want is a bunch of pros acting like robots. If you don’t like something, talk about it. It’s possible I am treated differently in this regard, I am not sure, but I have always appreciated that sometimes I will speak vocally about something I don’t agree with, but what company does that not happen in. I could work for Microsoft and not like a decision they make, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like the company.”
I ask Negreanu to describe a time when he was most lonely.
“It’s rare because I like my alone time,” says Negreanu. “In Barcelona this year, I remember going for two weeks, and partially by choice and somewhat how it worked out, I never had a meal with another human being. While I was meeting fans, and that kind of stuff, in my alone time, I never went out for drinks or had a meal with anyone, and I thought that’s weird and I am going to make sure that next time I won’t do that, and I would go out more. I am an introvert too. When I am dealing with fans all day, and then I bust the tournament, I want to go back to my room and do hockey research and stuff, and that’s what I did in Barcelona. I know that’s not healthy, I know that.
“There was another time when I did a cameo in a film called Wolverine. It was supposed to be a three-day thing, and it ended up being two weeks. I was in Sydney, Australia totally by myself, no real friends, and I didn’t hang out with the cast. I remember walking the streets alone feeling connected to the homeless people on the street. I wrote 3-4 blogs about it. I found there is a lot of value in being alone in a very distinct way like that. You learn from it. I am a self-sufficient guy, but what am I giving up as a human being choosing to be this way.”
I ask Daniel if he avoided human contact because he doesn’t like the surface level conversation?
“I like surface level talk,” says Negreanu instantly, “I have my assistant Joel, and we talk for an hour or so about politics and stuff. We talk about politics more than our family. Those conversations can be quite draining for me. Not that I am opposed to them, but typically I am more ‘surfacey’ when it comes to conversations.”
And how does Daniel make friends?
“I don’t make a ton, and it’s funny because I made two friends yesterday at the beach,” says Negreanu. “There was an Indian guy on his honeymoon. He didn’t know there was a tournament on, but he called my name because he is a fan. Typically, that’s not a turn-off, but it wouldn’t be someone I would hang out with, but I liked his vibe and bought him and his wife a drink and hung out, and maybe I will see him at the comedy club tonight. Over the years, that’s one of the issues. When I did the Choice Centre work, I realised that most of the people around me worked for me or had been friends for a long time. I never let anyone new in because most of my conversations were no more than five minutes long.
“Partly it was because a lot of people wanted a relationship with me for personal gain in some way: either they wanted to borrow money, they wanted to elevate their status, or they wanted a PokerStars deal, so I kept people at bay, and when I opened that up I was able to change that, and now I have made a lot of new friends. On New Years I had a bunch of people that…oddly enough, from my previous relationship, most of her family are friends with me. I am not friends with her at all, we don’t talk, but I developed good friendships with her family, and they are the type of people I would hang out with now.”
And all this leads to the question of Negreanu’s and Amanda Leatherman’s wedding list.
“We don’t want a stressful wedding,” says Negreanu. “We want a simple beach wedding. As far as people, we will start with groupings: family, friends, etc., and make a big list of everyone we want there. Then look at the must-haves and see where we go from there. Both of our families are not very big. Then the close people get priority. The difficult part is how do I approach my poker world connections. That’s the hardest thing about a list, who do you offend. People like Phil Ivey or Jason Mercier, I have friendships with them outside of poker so they will be invited, but what about the people I just play with, what about guys I play the high rollers with who I like, do I invite all of them?
“Ultimately, we will make this wedding about us. Take the food; we are both vegans. If you want a dead animal, then go down to In and Out and bring your own. Everyone eats vegan food, but not everyone eats meat or fish. Everyone eats fruit and veg, so we will make it how we want it, and if people don’t like it so be it.”
We finish with a five-minute rapid fire round.
What expense catches you by surprise every year?
“Hotel bills, because I don’t look until the end of the year, and then I think holy shit. My assistant books them, and I like to book a suite because it makes me feel comfortable, and sometimes I am like, ‘I paid a thousand a night for that place, that wasn’t worth it.’”
What is the most important duty you perform on a regular basis?
“Dealing with my fiancé and waking up each morning with the distinct duty of making her happy every day.”
What was the worst year of your life?
“The year 2000 was not the worst year, but the most transitional year for me. I wasn’t focused on the poker table, and I was partying and drinking. I had some money from 99 that I had built up, and then I blew it all and went broke acting like an idiot. But I look at something negative like that, and it was huge. It was an important trajectory in my life. I was like, “I am going to work my arse off now”. It was the worst year from a financial perspective, but I had fun.”
If someone knew me properly they would…
“At the core know that I am a generous person at heart. I am a giver, not a taker. I set my life up that way. The people who work for me get overpaid. I would rather overpay because I come from a place of abundance. That’s how I live my life. Typically, a generous heart where I want other people to succeed.”
What’s the furthest you’ve pushed yourself physically?
“I did the short cut to shred a year and a half ago. I did it to the tee. I made a spreadsheet and counted everything. I counted my nuts. I weighed my spinach. I was in the best shape of my life by far.”
What’s the highest praise you’ve ever received?
“I was at Choice Centre, and it was Nick Binger. He got me good. I was bawling. He said something like – the world needs more fathers like you. He said it from a humble, real place and floored me with it because I do want to be a father.”
What is your negative inner voice most saying?
“If I am reading comments on the Internet I want to go fucking wild,” says Negreanu. “I want to rip these motherfuckers to shreds on times. I want to say you, motherfucker, I want to put you in a wheelchair, and you will be eating food out of a tube for life. When they go after Amanda, calling her a gold digger I start to go “Motherfucker!” I write these thoughts out, and then say, “Don’t go there”. It’s easy to rip them back, but then I’m in the circle of negativity. The truth is 90% of the comments have been positive.”
What’s the most you would pay for great sex?
“A wedding ring!” Says Negreanu. “If it’s that great sex, which it is, by the way, I would be willing to marry her, so I guess it works out like half of my net worth.”
What is your definition of true personal freedom?
“Living life in integrity,” says Negreanu. “All the things I say that I want to do I find a way to do them. I don’t think, ‘I can’t do this’.”
Are there times when you operate out of alignment with your integrity?
“Of course, that’s the thing about integrity — the Four Agreements – simple rules in life. You’re going to falter. Sometimes I will tell people I will be somewhere at one o’ clock, and I am late, and that’s a breach of integrity. I was married once, and I said ‘until death do us part,’ and two and a half years later we parted, and I’m not dead.”
What weakness will get in your way if you don’t address it?
“For me, it’s my propensity to be judgmental of people, and if someone is condescending to me, it brings out a ferocious amount of arrogance from me to come back at them hard,” says Negreanu. “I was always the shortest in school, and if someone came at me, I fought. And now it’s a different version of fighting. I don’t fight with my fists, but if you come at me hard? I realise I shouldn’t get involved as I know it’s a weakness, but it’s my first compulsion to tear someone apart. I have been so good about that because I have had so many haters over time. When it’s difficult is when people lie, but you are in a lose-lose. If you don’t respond, people think it’s the truth, and if you do respond then people are like, ‘Why are you so defensive about it?’”
As your status has grown does your ego increase commensurately or do you develop more humility?
“As it grows the ego grows with it,” says Negreanu. “You are going to have a moment in your life when you are going to ask, “Who am I going to be? And luckily for me, I have done a lot of work at this with reading, and with the Choice Centre course. It allowed me to get in touch with when this was happening. Now, humility comes more naturally to me. I can look at why people are coming at me, and I can think what is this guy going through, and have more compassion.”
You are about to get married to the woman of your dreams, and can even start thinking about being a father, how does it feel?
“Exciting! Really, really exciting! We lay in bed telling each other we love each other. I never even used to say that very much. We are touching, holding, for many years she was always my dream girl, and for many years I was looking for someone who was like her, and now I am super excited about the change in trajectory in my life. I am thinking about being a father and having her being a part of my life forever. It’s a feeling of giddiness.”