Daniel Negreanu is one of the most recognisable poker players in the history of the game. Essentially a live tournament professional but good at many variants, he sat for many years at the top of the all-time winners list with an incredible $42 million in winnings.
What Kind of Player Is He?Apart from his stellar record, he is best known for his chatty style at the table coupled with amazing live reads he is able to make based on his opponent’s reactions. Negreanu’s ability to have a normal conversation while picking up the most subtle reads is phenomenal.
In days gone by he was famed for what was known as a “small ball” style. This was to deliberately aim to play lots of smaller than average spots enabling him extra flexibility when it came to hand reading, and outplaying his opponents in general.
Those readers who think that this is now an extremely outdated approach are correct (at least when it comes to the elite level of the game). But understand that a player who has been around as long as Negreanu and still competes at the very top, must have moved with the times. And the current times dictate a balanced game theory optimal approach.
Hand ReviewOur hand to analyse is from Season 5 WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio with an eye-watering $2 million at stake.
With the blinds at 100,000/200,000, Ed raises to 200,000 with 87 and Mads 3-bets to 625,000 with 99. Daniel Negreanu is on the button with AK and only flat calls. Jim, holding the same hand as Negreanu, decides there’s too much action to risk continuing and mucks his hand. Ed calls the 3-bet and we head to the flop.
The flop is QQT and the pot is 2,025,000.
Ed checks his eight-high and Mads checks too. Negreanu holding two overcards and a gutshot to the nut straight decides not to show aggression and checks behind.
The turn is the 4. Ed senses weakness and jams his airball for 1,045,000. Mads folds.
The action is now back on Negreanu who immediately starts probing for information. He cunningly asks “what have you got”, before clarifying that he doesn’t mean what hand Ed has but how many chips he has left.
This might not sound like much but it is these small subtleties that allows a player of Negreanu’s calibre to squeeze out those extra pieces of useful information. He knows that he is a 92% favourite if Ed is bluffing and certainly has outs against made hands.
After much showboating while he thinks Negreanu finally makes the call to the whooping delight of the crowd in the Bellagio.
The river is the 6 giving Negreanu the pot.
How to Play Like Daniel NegreanuLearn how to read physical tells: Readers should be able to tell from the hand review that Negreanu has heavily relied on his live tell reading over the last couple of decades. To improve this area of your game, beyond lots of practice, the standard advice is to buy Mike Caro’s excellent book Caro’s Book of Poker Tells. There is a lot more to this art than people think, and you can expect to make fast progress as soon as you begin studying.
Play patiently: This characteristic isn’t talked about much but there is no doubt that Negreanu is a more patient player than most of his contemporaries. It is common at the lower stakes for players to try and get a tournament won in the early stages without showing any patience. Follow Negreanu’s lead by being prepared to play with the endgame in mind, rather than being too enthusiastic to build a huge stack too quickly when it really isn’t that important..
Practice small ball poker: Being prepared to play lots of small pots instead of reraising so much is how Daniel grew to become one of the best in the world. Playing small pots with marginal hands gives you plenty of practice at hand reading and how to take pots away from players with the second best hand. The trick, of course, is having the discipline to fold when you know you’re likely beat.