Poker Mental Game & Planning

Daniel Negreanu Poker Strategy

27,186 Views Comments on 2/6/16

While Negreanu's game (especially in cash game format) was often under pro players scrutiny it's hard to deny that Daniel is a tremendous poker player and in this article, we'll try to figure out what made him so effective throughout the years.

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Daniel Negreanu might as well be the most famous poker player currently alive. His popularity managed to transcend the poker world resulting in some minor movie roles and high level of recognizability. Daniel - despite few PR missteps - is also widely regarded as one of the best poker ambassadors.

He's outspoken, entertaining, interesting and while he might be crossing the PC line from time to time he's not outright disrespectful like some other famous poker players (for example the one who's last name rhymes with 'ellmuth'). Oh, and did I mention he's on top of the tournament all-time money list? You don't get that sort of reputation without staying on top of your game for a very long time.

While Negreanu's game (especially in cash game format) was often under pro players scrutiny it's hard to deny that Daniel is a tremendous poker player and in this article, we'll try to figure out what made him so effective throughout the years.



Unconscious Competence a.k.a Soul-reading

This is by far the most important quality of Negreanu's game. He might not be your friendly neighborhood GTO nerd wizard, he might not be the most aggressive player out there, but he sure has a lot of experience under his belt and he knows how to use it. Some players learn the most out of coaching videos, some of them favor things like database analysis, others blossom when they are subjected to the external feedback of the coach.

Daniel Negreanu learned by playing poker. Years and years spent at the poker table resulted in his uncanny ability to make incredibly accurate assumptions about other player's holdings/ranges with very little information or information that would be disregarded by lesser players. Let's take a closer look at some examples from the video to see how he does it.


The hand against Doyle is a simple matter of recognizing the range advantage of the opponent with a small aid of combinatorics, history and player profiling. Even though Brunson is a great player in his own right who's capable of mixing it up he's also on the tighter side of the spectrum. When we couple that with his betsizing, very dry board texture that doesn't offer a lot of semi-bluff opportunities (especially when compared to Doyle's preflop range) and the fact that Daniel is blocking Ax combos, sets become a fairly big part of the Godfather's of Poker range.

At the same time, Daniel is not your average live casino sage who's putting you on "ace-king of clubs", while he suspects Doyle's range is strong it's still a range that might consist of some offhand backdoor bluffs. Folding A8 would, therefore, be too weak of a play and "Doyle flopped a set of 33" is more of a mental shortcut than the complete truth.

Daniel (like every good player) realizes, that while calling specific hands is impressive and good for TV poker is still a game of ranges. 



The second hand against the younger part of the Brunson family is the prime example of unconscious competence at work. Daniel was in this all-in spot so many times throughout his tournament career that exposed card coupled with the time Todd took to make his decision allowed Daniel to call his hand perfectly.

Calling out check/raising villainfor having a 9x with four to a straight on the board isn't the pinnacle of hand reading, but naming the kicker is a bit more interesting. In the third hand against Trauot, Daniel showed that he takes all the information available to him into consideration and while post flop line alone wouldn't be enough to determine the exact starting hand of the opponent when we couple that with the preflop action plus the fact that board combined with Daniel's hand heavily blocks all the popular suited connector 9x combos (T9, 98, 97, 96 etc.) the situation becomes a bit clearer.

In the hand against McLean’s AA, Daniel (similar to the hand against Doyle) correctly recognizes villain's range advantage based on the history and preflop action. What makes this hand interesting is the intimidation factor associated with naming out loud the exact hand of the opponent. We already established that Daniel isn't putting people on one hand like the old movie hero or degenerate gambler at your local casino would, instead he's putting them on a range of hands like every good poker player would.

Why does he say "you have pocket AA" then when he knows that KK is just as likely? Because the act of naming one hand is far more powerful than saying something like "well you played a standard very tight tournament reg game so you most likely have some premiums like AA, KK, maybe AQ but I'm blocking that, and like 10 combos of bluffs sprinkled it". Daniel won't name the exact hand of the opponent every time in this spot, but when he does the shock value is so high that he might get a free card or two out of the deal when he otherwise wouldn't (and that can matter a great deal in the game of small edges especially when you're playing for WSOP bracelet).

Antonio Esfandiari made the mistake of naming the hand he wishes Daniel had which in turn allowed Daniel to name his exact hand. Again the act of naming the hand has power and even though Negreanu has no more betting action to make, he can possibly dissuade the villain from making the call simply by acting like he knows exactly where he is in the hand.



Small Ball Poker

Daniel coined the term small ball poker. As the name suggest "small ball" is about minimizing variance by winning as many small pots as possible without exposing yourself and risking your whole stack. This can be understood as wildly suboptimal by advanced players. After all the only thing to really minimize variance is the increase of win rate and if playing for your whole stack is +EV you should do it.

Basically, if you want to look at the game of poker from the game theory optimal standpoint why would you ever settle for something that's clearly suboptimal, arbitrary and limiting like "small ball" when there's the optimal way of doing things? First of all, Daniel's approach predates many other poker schools of thought including GTO.

Second of all painting 'small ball' as restrictive and overly-cautious isn't very productive (like in many other situations when we judge instead of evaluating). If we look a bit deeper into the concept, Negreanu was one of the first players to realize that standard open raise sizing of ol' like 3x of even pot size are simply not necessary especially when you want to keep your range a bit wider. Second of all - and that's really crucial - Negreanu realized that small and medium size pots are the real win-rate builders.

Big pots often happen when players compare the top of their ranges (this is especially true for tight and loose-passive players which are still to this day the most common player types) and this simply 'happens' due to the nature of the game. There's not much skill involved in running your KK into AA in a sub 100bb game. Same goes for big postflop situations like set/over set, hitting your draw when presented with appropriate odds etc.

Small and medium size pots are a lot less automatic and obvious and therefore they offer the most room for gaining the edge over the opposition. This small realization allowed Daniel to make a lot of money over the years. 



The Willingness To Learn

As a popular figure in the world of poker, Daniel had to endure some scrutiny at different times of his career particularly as it regards to his cash game play. While Negreanu's poor performance in High Stakes Poker was caused in a large part by variance he also wasn't always the best player at the table.

Live tournament poker focus made him go a bit out of touch with dynamically evolving poker landscape, but he realized that and improved greatly by logging a lot of hands online and seeking the advice from the younger players. Daniel Negreanu from five years back wouldn't be capable of taking this very modern approach of turning the bottom of his range into a clever bluff like he did in the hand against Ike Haxton posted below. 




Winning Personality

Daniel has a great mindset, and a great approach to both poker and the life in general. He cares about his nutrition and health, he's very talkative and always happy to play the game. He's curious and eager to learn.

While he had some darker moments during particularly bad streaks in televised poker shows his default approach is that of an enthusiasm and optimism.

When you add all of that to his amazing hand reading skills and solid betting patterns you get a winning combination that ensures a long-term success in poker and life.




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    Matt is predominantly a mental game and planning expert, with a terrific knowledge of science, meditation, practical methods of improvement and of course, a good level of poker skill! Look out for his strategy articles and follow him for his nobel-prize winning forum po ... Read More

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