Saturday, January 24, 2009

The First Time I Played Against Daniel Negreanu

In November 2002, I entered my first World Poker Tour event at Lucky Chances in Colma, California. The interesting fact about the town of Colma is that it's filled with dead people; it's reported that 90% of its residents are buried in the surrounding cemeteries. It's always a little eerie and bizarre to drive past headstones to enter a card room named Lucky Chances.

It was the early days of the WPT so no one expected the huge crowd that descending upon that small casino on a Sunday morning. As I made my way to my assigned table, I spotted Phil Hellmuth being interviewed by the WPT announcer Shana Hiatt. And, there were poker pros all over the place-it was very cool.

By the time I sat down, the cards were in the air. As I settled in, seated immediately to my left was Daniel Negreanu, nicknamed "Kid Poker." His big smile signaled a champion who knew he was about to control the action. After all, Daniel's charismatic personality and winning style had won him fame and millions of dollars. Today, he is probably the most popular poker player in the world.

I viewed this as a prime learning opportunity. And, Daniel did not disappoint. He craved action, and entered almost every hand. I sat back as Daniel scooped pot after pot. He was beating everyone at the table, except for an older gentleman.

This grey haired fellow was unfamiliar to all. His style of play demonstrated that he was not experienced at poker. When he played a hand, he would limp and just call all the way to the river. Sometimes he'd win, but more times he'd lose. Surprisingly, the only player at the table he was beating consistently was Daniel.

Four times Daniel went to the flop heads-up against this player. The betting pattern was the same each time. The man would limp, Daniel would raise, and everyone would fold except this one guy. Daniel would bet every street, and the old guy would call every street. At showdown, the hands would flip over and the guy would beat Daniel with a monster.

The fifth time they were heads-up, Daniel just checked the river and asked, "Okay, what do you have this time? Another set?" Sure enough, this old man had Daniel's number, as he dutifully flipped over a set of 8's.

A few hands later, I was dealt 10-10. The grey haired novice was under the gun and he limped into the pot. I just called being in an early position. Daniel raised, and the old man and I called.

I was more than a bit nervous playing my first hand against Daniel. I've never played against a poker pro before. I don't know why, but I figured he must've had pocket Aces.

The flop came with three rags, all 8 and under. We both checked to Daniel, who bet almost the size of the pot. To my surprise, the older man folded. I had an over-pair, but I was intimidated. I wanted to fold. But, I called.

The turn was another rag. I checked again, and Daniel instantly bet the turn. This was not good. Now, I knew for sure he had pocket Aces. If I called this bet, I'd have half my chips in the pot. What should I do?

I thought about it for a while. I decided to try to find another 10 on the river. I called.

The river was a Q. I stared at that card, hoping it would somehow change. How could I possibly have tried to hit one of the two remaining 10's on the river? It's like a 25-1 shot. I realized that I'd lost half my chips on a poor decision.

Sadly, in a defeated tone, I said, "Check."

Daniel sighed softly. Paused. "Check."

Huh? Did I hear that correctly? Daniel checked his winning hand?

I'm stunned. I took too long to show my cards, so Daniel turned over his A-K. My 10's won.

Wow! I beat Daniel Negreanu.

I know it was just one hand. But, it was the first time I played a hand against a poker pro. I felt alive. Sure, I got knocked out later in the event, but as I drove past those dead folks and headed home, all I could think of was that one hand of poker.

Excerpt from: Tournament Poker: 101 Winning Moves


shuck said...

That's a great story. I would be extremely nervous in that situation against my favorite player. Have you played in any other live events?

Mitchell said...


Yes, I've played against a few of the Poker Pros in other live events:

TJ Cloutier
David Pham
Erick Lindgren
Phil Ivey
Layne Flack
Shannon Shorr
And others.

The great thing is that by playing against these Pros in live events, you learn from them and sometimes get a sense of them as people.

Daniel is really just like the person they show you see on TV.

What's Your Poker IQ?