A full transcript of my exclusive 1.5-hour interview with Daniel Negreanu is included below. It includes a great deal of multimedia related to the many, many topics we spoke about over the course of our conversation including: doing interviews, Daniel’s past, the Poker Hall of Fame, Israel and Israelis, poker media, his “Questions of the Day”, being a poker ambassador in general and for PokerStars in particular, the new PokerStars anti-HUD stance and VIP rewards scheme, charity and giving, Daniel’s bucket list, being an introvert, TV and movie acting, Daniel’s love of dogs, and much, much more. Each topic is hyperlinked within the transcript. You’re also welcome to read my personal chronicle of why it took me 11 months to prepare for this interview.
Welcome everyone to the Cardplayer Lifestyle poker blog. This is Robbie Strazynski and it’s time for one of my poker dreams to come true – the great Daniel Negreanu has agreed to let me interview him – AND it’s my birthday – so I couldn’t be more excited. Thank you Daniel.
Hey! Happy Birthday, I didn’t know that. Oh wait, actually I did, haha. Anyway, happy birthday!
This is one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever gotten, so thank you very much. Let’s do something special that you enjoy and that I hope people will remember for a long time.
You’ve never done any media training, but you’ve probably done 50x as many interviews as any other poker player. Do you ever do any preparation for interviews? Why/why not?
No I don’t. It’s actually kind of funny you say that because I’ve never had any media training. PokerStars has offered it to a lot of our PokerStars Team Pros. There was one point, we had this PR firm who, I was going to do an interview with this guy from USA Today, and they wanted to do a prep-interview to practice, and I don’t practice! Then I did the interview and the PR people were listening in were like “Oh my God, I guess you’re okay then” and I was like “I don’t need your help on this one.” I believe that to some degree media training helps a lot of people who are uncomfortable with it – I’m not, and the last thing I would want to do is have anyone warp and change the way in which I communicate, because I communicate from a genuinely honest perspective and I tell it like it is and I would never let myself to be muzzled and saying something I would never want to say.
I sort of feel that it would be like “working on your poker game”. Wouldn’t you think that “working on your media game” would perhaps take your interviews – and you as an influencer – to the next level; maybe beyond just poker and more into the mainstream?
Like I said, I think for a lot of people it would be true – people that aren’t comfortable on camera, people who aren’t necessarily talkative – but I talk plenty. You know when you watch sports sometimes, and I watch these guys in hockey and they’re awful. The interviewer asks what they think about something, and they’re like: “Well you know what, we’re going to keep giving it a 110%, it’s a team game and it’s all about the team. We just have to put some more pucks in and we’ll see how it goes.” That’s boring man, say something! It’s like they don’t say anything. So people that are media trained often end up saying: Nothing!
You’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of interviews, had SO many TV appearances, and do SO much interacting with fans now on Twitch, it made me wonder: What’s your favorite form of being interviewed? (written, podcast, video?) and why?
I think something like this, where it’s more conversational. There was a while where I used to get these emailed interviews with all these questions and it felt like a book report where I had to write it all out. So I definitely prefer being taped, because often – and this has happened many times in my career – I’d be interviewed by someone who’s writing stuff down and they don’t have the audio, and then you read it and you’re like, I didn’t say that! They would have totally, and incorrectly paraphrased what I said.
So now, everything is being captured so you don’t have to worry about that. What do you enjoy most about doing all the media and being interviewed?
Good question. I consider myself an ambassador of the game, so it’s always an opportunity to get my thoughts out, and I’ve always got a lot of thoughts on a wide variety of topics. So I get that it’s part of the deal, and I do probably slightly less interviews now than I did during the 2004-2006 era (because there were a lot of different mediums that were really interested). Having said that, I think it’s important. I have a loud voice so people typically want to hear what I have to say, whether they agree with it or not.
— Brian Balsbaugh (@Balsbaugh) July 15, 2015
What, if anything, do you dislike the most about being interviewed and doing media appearances?
Most definitely. There’s specific types of interviewers who drive me up the wall. They’ll want to ask a question like this: So what do you do to prepare for a tournament? However, they’ll actually ask it like this: “So when you’re preparing for a tournament what do you do? Do you wake up in the morning and have breakfast? Do you get a good sleep? Do you go over the final table? Do you think about your opponents? Or do you prefer to chill? Or do you like to get engaged? Or do you like to socialize with people?” Let me answer the damn question!!! Just ask the question! I’ll answer it! I hate it. It drives me nuts.
Well, I think based on the way I prepared it that’s not something you have to worry about.
You used to have a job as a salad bar manager and also worked in a dinner theater. Any other interesting jobs you had? Any poignant memories of having a “real job”?
Oh my god, yeah! I was what you called a sandwich artist. I worked at Subway and I could make a Turkey-Bacon in 24.7 seconds. If I would have stuck with that career, as a Subway sandwich artist, I would have been huge. Instead of having Jared, who’s a pedophile, as their frontman, I could have been the guy whipping up the sandwiches. This is back when Subway used to cut their bread from the top, and we’d pull it out and fit more in. I was good, bro, but then I found this game of poker and I ruined my Subway career.
Well you would have been in the Subway Hall Of Fame, I’m sure.
Guaranteed. And that’s my biggest regret. I could have had a big career as a sandwich artist, and would have gone down in history as one of the greatest ever. I don’t know if my skills are as sharp because of a lack of practice. I don’t make sandwiches anymore. I don’t even eat bread.
Back at the start of the Full Contact Poker site you used to sit for hours and hours and answer every email individually in person (according to your agent Brian Balsbaugh). Also, you used to come to the WSOP back in the early days with your own laptop and enter all the stats and study…. tell us more about that era where you were just very involved, with your computer everywhere, trying to make it.
Well, actually, when that was happening it was before computers. I didn’t even have a laptop then. I used to use this book – I still have it actually – where I would track all of my results in those old-school, big, black, thick notebooks. I would track results based on day, so I could tell you how I did on Monday afternoons vs Thursday evenings. I could tell you how I did in sessions that were less than 6 hours, or more than 6 hours; all without software. I would also grade my play. So, regardless of a win or a loss (because that doesn’t matter), I would write notes on how I felt and I would give myself an A, B, or C based on how well I played. So sometimes I might lose but give myself an A+, and other times I might win and give myself a D.
I would also write mental notes. This was back when smoking at the table was legal, and there were times where I’d write that the guy on my left was smoking in my face like a chimney, and that I was tilted and annoyed. Then I’d move to the other side of the table and I’ll write how I felt better, much more focused, much more relaxed, much more calm. I would write down my emotional state at different stages of a session.
At what point did you go over those notes?
It’s not so much about going over them. That’s less important than actually writing them. It’s about letting it out, so thinking out loud, or discussing with people, or writing it down, that’s therapeutic in itself. It’s not like I wrote all these notes and then I’d go back to them. I mean, I would look at them occasionally, but I’ll tell you it was more about writing them and being clear in my thoughts as I did.
You mentioned during the Player’s Panel at the American Poker Awards in February that back in the day, in Toronto, you “used to run poker games”. What does that mean? Can you tell us more about the role you played?
Well, these were private games in Toronto, at this place called the Bridge Club and this guy John Jr. used to run them, but then he would have me basically run the game. This meant, people would come in and I would give them chips, I would run the books and balance the budget, make sure the dealers were going in and out, and also credit, which was a big part of private games – if someone needed credit, I’d write it down. I would also calculate the rake. The rake was absurd back then. We’d play $10-$20 limit hold’em and the rake was $10, basically 5% of the ten bucks, plus people tipped at least $2.50 (which was the minimum tip), so people would often tip $7.50 or $10. So what happened it, we’d start a game at around 8 pm and by 1 am they’d be 7- or 8-handed, and they’d all be losing. We factored it in, and it took about 6 hours for all the original buy ins to be raked out. People talk about rake today, but man if you played in those days. The thing is, the games were still beatable because people were really bad.
Interesting. You said you had a “glitzy, glamorous place”… do you miss those early days? The excitement?
I wouldn’t say I miss running the games but I do miss the romance and the drama of being a young kid who’s just grinding with the sole focus of making a bankroll. I fantasize about making prop bets, and I was just talking about this yesterday with someone, where if I had no money, just give me a thousand dollars, and how long would it take for me to turn that thousand dollars into a million just from playing poker. I thought about making that bet and I could do it in three years, which seems crazy, I know. That’s a lot of confidence in myself, but I mean when I was young I had the work ethic to sit and play for 12-15 hours. If I was broke and owed money, I would be in one place: either sleeping or I would be playing. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I took it very seriously.
I had prepared this question before you went on the PokerStars Pro Tour in California: Do you ever get the urge to go back to the Mirage or another local poker room and mix things up with some tourists and play $1/$2?
No! I play very little poker. When I’m at home and not playing tournaments I don’t play at all. I don’t play cash, I don’t go to the Bellagio. It’s a 20-minute drive and it feels too far. I spend my free time at home – I love being home. It’s my favorite place, and my couch is my favorite vacation spot in the world.
And Hearthstone right?
Is doing that (playing $1/$2 with tourists once in a while) something you’d advocate for professional poker players to do as ambassadors to help grow the game?
Well I would look at that in a couple of different ways. Obviously I get that people appreciate that, to play with the pro they’ve seen on TV at low stakes. It’s fun for them. I wouldn’t say that there’s any real reason why a 24-year-old grinder, who’s trying to make a living for himself, should feel the responsibility of being an ambassador by going to play in the small games with other people. If they choose to because they think it’s going to be fun, then great! I definitely don’t think that there’s enough immediate benefit for them to, instead of playing $10/$20 NLH, go to play $1/$2 to appease those people. Their bottom line won’t benefit from that, it will actually hurt.
You’re 41 and a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. Now that you’ve gotten to where you are and see how all the hard work has paid off, do you ever look back and wish you could do it all over again? You say you fantasize about it, but would you re-live it, because I’m sure there were hard times along the way.
That’s the thing, and that’s the question I was asked when I was having this conversation yesterday. Would I want to do it? No, because I love my life so much right now. That’s part of the challenge that came to my table a while ago: playing $25/$50 online, and whether or not I could beat it over a certain sample size. That would require me A) to leave the country because I can’t play from Las Vegas, and B) it would require me grinding 8-10 hours a day online, and learning and really just soaking it in, and basically making that my life. That part of it sounds fun, but the other problem is, I like my life so much as is now. I don’t wanna have to do that.
And then, what would be the purpose? Just to prove myself that it’s something I can do if I put my mind to it? I believe I could – and I know people laugh at me because the games are so tough – and I’m not saying I’m a favorite, because I don’t know, but I have a lot of faith in my ability to adapt and learn and compete at every level. There’s never been a poker environment that I’ve entered, that I didn’t figure out a way to be successful at. Whether it was the high stakes games in Bobby’s Room, whether it was playing online tournaments or cash, or anything. I’ve never been one that’s failed at anything I’ve put my mind to when it comes to poker.
If you don’t want to go back and do it all over again, what are a moment or two that you would want to re-live? It’s not like winning a bracelet or anything like that, but one or two moments where you felt “Ah! Wonderful,” that’s not from a huge win and winning a bracelet.
I would describe it more as a feeling, rather than a moment. I did really, really well when my back was against the wall. Like if I had my case $400 on the table, it brought out this crazy, hyper-focused version of myself that was like an absolute killer. To get this $400 you’re going to have to fight me for it. I’m going to stab you in the face, you’re going to try to take my money, but I’ll kill you before you do. Sometimes I would lose it but to get the money from me, it would be like you trying to rip a basketball out of Shaquille O’Neal’s hands. You’re just not going to do it, and that’s how I felt when I had my back against the wall. There was something fun about that, I don’t know, something romantic and fun about being on the verge of being broke. It was kind of exciting, a little bit of an adrenaline rush, and I don’t have that anymore because I’ve got money.
The thing is, I wouldn’t want to play in games that were so big now that I would feel that feeling. It would just be stupid. I don’t want to be in a game where I could lose like $7 million and be like, well that was dumb! Let’s go play $100k/$200k NLH – Weeeee!
Do you think working as hard as you have over the years to achieve the goals you had set for yourself has come with a price tag?
No, quite the opposite. Goal setting is a big part of my life. I’m at my best when I’m looking to strive to become something, to achieve something, to better myself in one area or another, and again, that’s not necessarily for everyone because they might not deal with the failures as well as someone who is detached from results. I really think it’s important to be a goal setter. If you want to be the best version of yourself, and you want to achieve greatness, you first have to know where it is you’re aiming to go, and not just randomly go through the flow.
I got into it, not for the first time but for the millionth time, with Mason Malmuth who’s writing a book on psychology and I thought to myself that there isn’t anyone more unqualified to write a book on the subject than he is. He basically says that he doesn’t goal-set, he doesn’t prepare, and I don’t believe him, because it’s not true. Whether you believe it or not, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it for a reason. You’re doing it to achieve a certain goal. Whether you’re conscious of that, or whether you point that out, is another story, but don’t kid yourself and think, when you start a company, or you want to create something, that you didn’t have a goal in mind. When he started the company, what was the goal? To make money, right? For what? So he could live the life that he has now. That’s a goal. Just because he didn’t verbalize that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t part of the process in terms of him getting there.
Looking back, would you change anything about your life trajectory and choices you made if you had a chance to do them over again?
I don’t regret anything because all the mistakes that I made got me to a place where I learnt to become who I am now. So, whether it was comments about Annie Duke, whether it was how I handled different situations – those are all learning experiences that I learnt a lot from. I wouldn’t want to do them over, but what I would do, for example, is if I saw someone my age making those same mistakes I would offer my advice. I would be like, here’s how you can learn from my path, learn how to do this or that. I’d try to take him under my wing to some degree.
If you’re at a place in your life where you’re super happy, every decision you make matters. It’s part of it. So that includes the mistakes. I look at it this way, and I tweeted this the other day: Every breakdown in your life is an opportunity for a breakthrough. Every mistake you made, every downtrodden moment where you’re up against it, is an opportunity to really learn something valuable. So without breakdowns, you don’t have the breakthroughs quite as often, and I think that all the faults encompass the person I am today and I can’t be happier.
Okay, that makes a lot of sense!
Of course it does. I said it! Hah!
Let’s switch gears to Israel… give us some of that Israeli accent 🙂
Ma Inyanim?! Ani lo medaber Ivrit (What’s up?! I don’t speak Hebrew)
Ata lo medaber Ivrit? (You don’t speak Hebrew?)
Lo, ani lo medaber Ivrit. (No I don’t speak Hebrew.)
That means Daniel doesn’t speak Hebrew for those who don’t.
You’ve spoken publicly a few times about your “Israeli family” (the Farkash family), Oren and Regev. How did you originally get close to them back in Toronto? What is it about them that you love so much and that’s kept you close with them all these years?
So I met these guys in Toronto. We were in a gym class together in Junior High, but that didn’t matter. I used to go to this pool hall, and they’d always be at the pool hall too. We met through that, and we became friendly, and they reminded me of my family. They were easy-going, chilling out, always laughing and having fun. We had a lot of similar interests and then we got into poker together, but it really started with pool and video games. I used to spend basically every weekend at their place. In the morning their parents would make Havita (Omelette) and put Pilpel baboker (pepper in the morning) and I would spend a lot of time with them and we became like brothers.
My Israeli family! Love these guys my two brothers Oren and Regev and my father Benda. Helping Meir Panim pic.twitter.com/VX1zQeBW3R
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) March 3, 2013
That’s really cool. And that’s remained like this all these years? You’ve kept in touch with them and everything?
Yeah, well they moved to LA which is interesting – I moved to Vegas, they moved to LA. I see them around once a year. When I go over to LA I go over to their house and we’ll reminisce. It’s funny because back then I never smoked pot, never, I just wouldn’t, but they smoked a lot of pot. There was a couple of times when I was in a pickup truck with them and they were smoking weed the whole way to this party we were going to. I didn’t smoke but they would blow it in my face and stuff like that. Then I got out of the truck and the first thing I said was: I want a pizza. Like not a slice, but an entire pizza. Then I ate a whole pizza and they explained to me that I had the munchies. I didn’t know what that was but I got secondhand high from those guys.
This is what poker should be all about. Fun first and this is a blast! pic.twitter.com/PmoROwFfbu
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) March 4, 2014
I saw you tweeted out a picture of yourself playing in one of their poker rooms in their house, what’s that experience like, being in the home game with your buddies again?
You know what’s great about them in terms of when we see each other? Nothing’s really changed. Me and Oren are politically at odds in terms of our views. It doesn’t hamper our friendship but we’ll be talking about stuff and he doesn’t like Obama at all, he likes Trump, and I’ll be like “Dude! What’s wrong with you?” He’s like: Trump! Yes, we need a guy with balls. We have some discussions about that but they’re always respectful. I enjoy having discussions like that because he teaches me a lot too. He fought in the Israeli army so he understands first hand what’s going on in the Middle East. A lot of us are pundits from afar. We say we always have it all figured out, that Israel is being unfair to Palestine, Palestinians are at fault, but we don’t know, right? Everything we digest is secondhand and filtered down through sources that we cite as maybe being very valuable, and others may disagree. Unless we have firsthand information, it’s hard for us to really understand the complexities of what’s happening there.
He gives me a different take on what he experienced and what he sees as being someone who fought. That’s just one aspect of it, but I feel like for a lot of people, when they look at that issue, it hurts me when I hear Antisemitism because I feel like people forgot how everything was created many years ago. There’s a thing called the Holocaust and a lot of people were killed and you just have to give them Israel which is a small, tiny spec surrounded by a bunch of groups that actually want them obliterated from the Earth. I totally get where some of it comes from, some of the decisions with the settlements and pushing the envelope of what’s fair in the face of the UN, and I think they make some mistakes in that regard so it’s not without fault. I feel there’s a lost sensitivity to the struggles that the people have gone through in terms of their history, and maybe they are a little more protective of their people, but they went through something that no other group can say that they did really.
Poker night with my Israeli mafia family $40 buy in with rebuys. Yalla yalla nu! pic.twitter.com/6ZqXfCEl6h
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) March 4, 2014
Okay, that’s interesting. Is there anything specific about the stereotypical Israeli that you enjoy or that you connect with?
Well obviously my extended family, they’re just really laid back, they get along with everybody, they’re fun-loving, and they like to live. They really live the life and they live it with a smile. I’ve met some obnoxious Israelis. I’ve been in a poker room and he’d be like “Daniel! The Messiah’s coming! You know right?” and I’m like: “Oh you mean Jesus? He already came” and he would be like: “No, no. That’s not the Messiah. The real Messiah’s coming.” There’s a wide spectrum just like in any culture, I don’t think you can stereotype and say that all people are one way or another. My experience has always been good and positive.
You’re a big supporter of Israel; as someone who lives here, I thank you for that. Here’s your chance to say hi to the people of Israel – go for it; what do you want to tell them?
Oh, well I only know bad words. I’ll say here’s what you need to do Israel. You need to get on board with poker and have a tour and we’ll call it the Afghani…no I’m just kidding. I think Israel can run a poker event, but I don’t know if we’re going to have one in Afghanistan anytime soon. I don’t know if we’re going to create the Middle East tour just yet.
You’ve said in the past that you feel the production of poker shows should focus more on building characters. Do you feel Alex Dreyfus and his new Global Poker League initiative will accomplish this?
Possibly. Again, it’s all going to come down to production. He has some very unique visions for what might work. Again, I don’t know if it will work or not but I support the effort and I hope that it does. What I’m really referring to is the way in which shows are produced. There’s something called 441 Productions that did the World Series for many years, and they didn’t come from poker, they came from the documentary genre. What they did, is they took every episode and they wanted a story. They wanted to make every episode a story so it’s starts from the beginning, then there’s a middle, and then there’s an ending. You have a hero, you have a villain, and you have an actual story. I think they’re trying to make an effort to get back to that, for example in this year’s World Series. They did an excellent job of capturing the drama. They make some very good points.
People remember, they talk about it around the water cooler, you know, Prahlad Friedman and Jeffrey Lisandro going at it, they talk about Mike Matusow and Shawn Sheikhan going to war and getting penalties. That’s the stuff that people remember. They don’t remember the hands many years later but they remember that those guys were feuding. That’s what encaptures people. Obviously the poker-diehards love the poker analysis and that kind of stuff, but that’s limiting in terms of an audience if we focus on that. In terms of the live stream that we do for the EPT, all that is fine, but when we have these mainstream broadcasts we have to maintain and make sure that they are dumbed down to a certain degree. They need to be easily digestible by an audience that may not even like poker, but they’ll be like: Oh I can’t wait till that tall guy with the black hat loses it all.
Just like Obama said about you, right? “Oh you’re that poker guy.”
So the GPL might do that you think?
— Alexandre Dreyfus (@alex_dreyfus) October 23, 2015
I don’t know. We’ll see. I don’t know enough about how he’s planning on producing it. I think he’s trying to cross-over the gaming phenomenon where we see live streaming of things like Warcraft and even Hearthstone – capturing that audience as the new audience for poker.
More than most professional poker players, you obviously follow what’s going on in poker on a regular basis. What do you want to see more of and less of from poker media outlets?
Hmm, that’s interesting. To be honest I think they do a pretty good job overall. I think there’s a wide-spectrum of them, there’s always opinions and podcasts. I think there’s enough information to digest, and there isn’t anything that sticks out to me that make me think they’re doing a poor job in this area or that. I think that for the most part, those who choose to be in the poker media do it because they love it. They’re passionate about it and they want to do a good job. It’s not like they’re the teachers on a tenure who just don’t care anymore, and just sit at the front of the class and earn a paycheck. It feels like people in the poker media are always trying to continue to focus on growing the personality aspect of the player rather than technical stuff.
So if you’re doing an interview, with someone on a break during a tournament, rather than asking how the tournament is going so far, where they answer something like: Well I’ve got 22bb, UTG+1 I had pocket sixes. Oh brother! Ask something different. I think the PokerNews girls do a great job at that. Like Sarah Grant, and of course Kristy Arnett used to make it fun. My ex-love, Amanda Leatherman, I thought she was good at it because she didn’t really talk about poker, it was always weird stuff like “what’s that?”, “what are you eating? That’s gross”, “let’s do shots.” So, stuff that shows people’s personality outside of just the game, because I think that’s pretty boring. No one wants to hear it. I don’t care.
So something like Cardplayer Lifestyle. That’s what you’re saying?
Oh yeah! Exactly! “So how do you like AQ under the gun with 17bb?”
We mentioned the Poker Hall of Fame before. This year you had the honor of casting votes for the first time. They’ve just announced the new inductees, John Juanda and Jennifer Harman. Is there anything you think should change about the voting process or the Poker Hall of Fame in general?
Oh yes. I have major concerns about it. I did before I got in. Tom McEvoy is my poster-boy for a guy that didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame based on the criteria, but then he wanted to get in and he got the right people to get enough votes to get in. I compare the Poker Hall of Fame to other Halls of Fame, and I think in others it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t say in the criteria that you have to be a nice guy. It doesn’t have to say anywhere in the criteria that you have to be an ambassador for the game.
People often say like, “oh this guy did so much for the game.” But then there’s stuff like not playing against the toughest competition, and not standing the test of time, not being respected by peers, not having a track record or a resume. That’s what the criteria is. We’re not inducting people based on how nice they are. We should be basing it on how much they meet the merits. Now that’s not to say, one of the criteria for the builder categories is what they’ve done for the game which is why I put Bruno Fitoussi and John Duthie on my list for induction several years ago. Bruno is essentially the Godfather of Poker in France and he brought players to the WPT there, John Duthie created the EPT.
Obviously there’s big controversy this year. There’s a lot of controversy about Devilfish. This is the first time Devilfish had been on the ballot, he was never on the ballot before. Thor Hansen was never on the ballot before, he was sick and diagnosed with cancer and then got on the Poker Hall of Fame Ballot. Now, Devilfish passed away, who I think is a great guy and I do think he meets the criteria to be inducted, but just because he died, the sentimental aspect has no bearing on it. We should vote based on who meets the criteria the best. I think the competition was stiff. I think the Devilfish warrants a nomination and the voters believe he earned it based on his results, and the respect from his peers, not the fact that he was fun to play with. He was a great guy, he was always funny. As far as the Europeans in the Hall of Fame, he wouldn’t be in my top 3 or top 2. My top two would be Fitoussi and Duthie in the builders category and I think we need to better define how people get in on the builders’ category. Someone like Linda Johnson, who got in years ago, that was clearly a builder’s category, not based on resume, which is fine because she obviously earned that. I think maybe we should have three people a year, two being players and one from the builders’ category. Or 1 and 1, but I think 2 and 1 makes more sense.
For a few months now, you’ve been posting “Questions of the Day” on Twitter and have generated lots of interesting discussions. What was your motive for starting to do this and what are your goals with it?
Question of the day: what are your thoughts on gender neutral restrooms? Story below:https://t.co/adHtynD7Qy
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) September 4, 2015
Being the Donald Trump of Poker. The troll of poker. I’m trolling everybody. No, I do it because I enjoy it. We’ve come to a place where everyone is hyper-sensitive about saying anything controversial, or something that’s a hot issue, whether it’s race, religion, politics, or whatever. I’m certainly not afraid of these things, and I like the fact that we can use Twitter as a way to openly have these discussions. It’s amazing how often I’m attacked for a question that I don’t even put my opinion on. Just recently I asked this question: Approximately 5% of tournament poker is represented by women. What do you think the number 1 reason is for that? I asked that and some of them were like, “how dare you ask that question?” “Why are you saying that men are better?” “Who cares?” I’m like, what the hell! I didn’t even comment yet. The reason I brought the question up is because I am curious as to what people thought, because there’s a lot of talk about how the number 1 reason why there’s not enough women represented is because they are treated poorly by men at the table. I definitely think it’s a factor. I think it is an uncomfortable environment for women. However, I don’t believe it’s the number 1 factor.
I think there’s a couple other things that factor in. Someone brought this up, that it’s always played in a male dominant environment. I also believe at the core, this is not a matter of right or wrong. I just think that women are typically less interested in strategy based games like this. That’s not better, that’s not worse. I was going to ask this question today: Men represent a small percentage of sales of romance novels. Why is that? What is the reason behind that? I simply think that it’s because we are built differently. Men have penises, women have vaginas. It’s true! It’s a fact. In that regard, those novels typically speak to women a lot more than they do to men, and that’s not right or wrong. I don’t think there’s a problem with celebrating our differences. I’m not saying that women are inferior, in fact, I said quite the opposite. I said that if I took 50 men and 50 women off the street and I gave them a 6-month tutorial on how to play poker, I’ll bet a lot of money that the women would do better. Absolutely, as a whole and as a group they would do better. I do think there’s some outliers, and studies show that maybe the very top might be male. Again, I’m not suggesting that that’s true, but I genuinely believe that I could teach women to play better than men. So when I said that, I got a woman that was offended by that! I said that I think women are smart and she said that she was so offended. What is happening to this world?
So you’re just trying to get people to talk and communicate more?
Yes, I like it and I find it fun. I get that it’s not a good decision in terms of PR, but I don’t care man. I enjoy being in the middle of these issue, I enjoy sharing my opinion and I enjoy hearing others’ opinions too. The best thing that came out of this is the awareness of how much PC bullshit has taken over and is actually destroying the 1st Amendment. If you look at an article that was recently published about college campuses and how people are completely neglecting the 1st Amendment by trying to make hate speech and criminalizing it. This goes completely against free speech. I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to use hate speech, but you have the right to do so. You shouldn’t be able to incriminate them based on that.
Having said that, if you have a college campus and you don’t like what people say, you have every right to say that it’s not welcome here. Trying to criminalize it or censor it is way more dangerous than anything else. Ultimately I think that so many people focus on language and they villainize people for using phrases that may not be politically correct, rather than doing something about it.
Bill Maher said something recently about how it’s lazy liberalism at its worst. People choose to scold others rather than do something. Let’s say you take a guy who is 65-70 years old, who’s been around a long time, and he says something insensitive like: “Oh don’t wear that. That’s gay.” He may have said that term before, and I’ve said that term before, but we’ve come to realize that term is offensive. Now, are you going to label this guy a bigot, hateful, angry man, or are we going to do the right thing which is to explain that that term offends people as it sort of demeans gays and that it’s bad/negative.
Let’s teach him a little bit.
Yeah! I hear some people, like Doyle Brunson, who is 82 years old and grew up in Texas with terminology and views on the world that is very different than what we see today. We have two choices. We can call him a racist, bigot, insensitive prick (he’s none of those things), or we can understand that he came from a different time, a different world, and if we really want to see some change, it takes time and understanding. An understanding that it doesn’t happen overnight. All of a sudden the term “illegal immigrant” is villainized. People don’t use it anymore, but don’t call the people who do, racists. I used to say illegal immigrant because it seemed to be the most accurate term to describe them. Then a lot of people spoke about it and wanted to call them undocumented workers. I don’t think “undocumented worker” is an accurate description. Now, people started using the term “undocumented immigrant” and I’m fine with that. I think illegal immigrant is fine, but if a lot of people have a problem with that, it’s fine saying undocumented immigrant.
Change does happen but there has to be patience. We have to avoid this idea that you have this epiphany that is this new way of speaking that everyone who says this is being offensive. I actually reached out to Justin Bonomo who did this video that was full of absolute inaccuracies and definitions of what I said and paraphrasing in a very unfair way. I reached out to him directly because I feel that’s what responsible people do – they don’t go do a video and bash somebody without reaching out to me at all, especially when you’re going to mischaracterize. Vanessa Selbst and I have a great relationship, and I spoke to her about the issue and she sent me a message that actually made me tear up. She let me know that she backed me up completely on the issue and that we don’t have a beef. I did say something (an innocent comment) on Twitter like “Going to Monte Carlo to play with the big boys in the super high roller.” I didn’t have any offense but she tweeted back at me saying “And Girls. K. Bye :)” so I thought she was joking. I sat down at her table and I go “Hey all the big boys are here,” totally joking, right? And immediately I saw that she was upset, like legitimately upset and I asked if there was something wrong. Then she said that it hurt her feelings and we spoke about it at great length and I told her that I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings by the term, nothing to do with male or female, it’s just a common phrase we use. It wasn’t meant to be offensive in any way, and we’ve had great discussions about a lot of different issues that we don’t really agree on, but we have a civil discussion about.
So this mischaracterization that I’m not empathetic to minorities, or that I don’t listen and I don’t understand, came off to me as very condescending and very self righteous and it’s very inaccurate. Especially because he’s quoting parts of my blog where he missed the part where I actually talked about my childhood, and how the vast majority of my friends were black and the struggles they went through that I could never understand, but I listened. My friends used to get beat up by cops for fun, no joke, their bikes used to get trashed and they’d show up to school the next day with bruises on their face. I’d be like, “what’s that about?” and they wouldn’t want to talk about it because they knew I wouldn’t understand. I get this idea of white privilege and I understand that I’m privileged because of the color of my skin, but when you demonize someone for that, based on this modern definition of racism, it’s exactly that. When you say something like: “I don’t trust what comes out of a rich, white man’s mouth” you are essentially labeling me solely because of the color of my skin, and judging what I have to say based on the color of my skin. Isn’t that, by the modern definition that the PC Culture’s pushing, the definition of racism? When the only reason you are not listening is because I am white. You’re not listening to the content of what I’m saying, you’re only looking at the fact that I’m white. That’s what racism is based on what they’re trying to say. So you can’t have it both ways.
I certainly think that you are engendering a lot of discussions so you’re certainly achieving that goal.
You’re the most influential player in poker. You’ve got a sponsorship deal with PokerStars and you’ve professed on many occasions that you love being with them. Does anything you do as a PokerStars sponsored pro actually feel like work to you?
It doesn’t really feel like work because I don’t overextend myself and I don’t have to do too much. I mean there are times where I may have a media day and I’ve got 7 or 8 interviews in a row, and that kind of feels like work, especially when you’re being asked the same questions over and over again. Ultimately, I wouldn’t associate myself with any company that I felt breached my integrity or that made me say or do something that I didn’t truly believe. There have been, throughout the years, many issues that I’ve stood against. Whether it was bleeding stacks in a high roller where I would boycott a tournament because they were not giving players a fresh stack later and I thought that was not fair for our customers. There have been several issues over the years and obviously there’s an issue that’s going on right now in terms of the VIP program and changes that are going on there, that I have a lot of internal conversations about and I think that in terms of what Amaya’s done – and I think they had a lot of learning curves trying to understand the customer base – the way we rolled out information at times wasn’t ideal, to say the least, and I definitely voiced my opinion there.
There were three things that came out after Amaya took over. They were already somewhat in the works, but when you first roll out, and you make these big changes, everything you do is negative. It’s like, this is bad for you, this is bad for you, and this is bad for you. Well, when is the good stuff coming? Definitely, I’ve had some disagreements in terms of how information is released, but I realized that sometimes people and companies make mistakes. In this case, they’ve made several I think. I fully understand both sides of this. I understand the player’s side a lot more in terms of the VIP Program and having a promotion that starts on January 1st, that if you get to Supernova Elite you’ll get the benefits next year, and communicating the changes in November (the eleventh out of the twelve months), even though there were warnings, is not right. In October of 2014 they did mention that there will be substantial changes, potentially. I think you have to be a little more clear and transparent and I’m a big believer of that. If I ever felt as though things were moving in a direction that was not in line with my integrity, I would never move forward with a company. There’s no amount of money, because I have money and my integrity is not for sale. An issue like this is a hot-button issue and the misconception is that a lot of times people think that I’ll say what I have to say because I’m being paid, and it’s not the case.
You don’t get paid every time you say “PokerStars?” What do you mean?
Not the case presently, and definitely not in the future. If I feel like they’re doing something unjust, first what I’ll do is the responsible thing – which is have internal conversations about understanding the deeper issue before I just I just go public and vomit all over the place. Once I have all the information, if it’s at odds with my own personal integrity, then I’ll make a decision based on that and I won’t breach it, that’s for sure.
You’re in a unique position in the poker world as someone who has met with both Isai Scheinberg and David Baazov, the former and current Heads of PokerStars. What can you tell us about having spoken with each of them; what’s similar about them and what sets them apart from one another?
I have deep admiration for both. I like them both very much. Shai (I called him Shai), his name is Isai but we always called him Shai, I’ve known him since I was 17 years old. There’s a video from way back where we were in a tournament together in an underground club and I remember busting him. He had two 3s, and he went all in and I called with Kings, and then we discussed the hand later. I’ve always had a deep respect for what he created with PokerStars. He did an amazing job of being player-friendly, and really going above and beyond for the players. In some ways I think that part of that culture that was created, players got so used to having all these benefits, but the question is whether they’re actually sustainable long term.
Let’s be frank, what we’ve seen is a decrease in the industry as a whole, not just PokerStars but it’s becoming tougher and tougher for recreational players. I know a statistic that depositing players are losing their deposits (the $20 depositors) 40% faster than in previous years. That’s a problem, and that’s the dangerous thing. So changes were inevitable. Now, moving forward to David Baazov, the guy’s brilliant. He’s very smart and wants to make the company bigger and better. He’s obviously running a public company now which changes things. When you have a private company you’re not beholden to your shareholders but once you’ve become public there are things that you have to do that are looking to increase profits. That’s what a public business does, right?
So they’re expanding, sportsbook, casino, daily fantasy sports, as well as making adjustments to some of the VIP programs that were existing before. The key, for David, is that there’s a new environment for him – understanding what we call them the 2%, the professional players on the site, their value to the site both in terms of revenue and filling seats and creating games. So there’s really the question of, these players are valuable and good for the site, but at the same time there’s a point where it’s actually like they could hurt. So they’re valuable but if they get to a point where they’re overrun by that, it hurts the experience for the recreational players and we might see a steady decline. These are things you have to think about.
David, I think, is very open to listening and he’s always going to be looking at ways to expand. He has very different ways of marketing the company, and there are some verticals that he wants to take that I think are genius. These changes, I think I would have made them a long, long time ago. I’ve always been a big believer that the benefits should go to the recreational players firstly, and as a result pros will benefit from that because they’ll play longer, be available longer and they get the money in the end anyways. I’ve told this story before.
When I used to run poker clubs, there was a guy named Moshe, he was an Israeli and he used to play at our club called Check and Raise. He was a big fish, very bad. He was the biggest loser for three straight months. This place was beautiful, it had high ceilings, free food, free rake, everything was clean and no smoking – beautiful place. Well, after three months Moshe said “well you know what, I’m going to start my own club, and I have friends.” So he opened a club down the street that was a basement, it was disgusting. The food was expensive, the rake was high, but his friends played there and he played there. What do you think happened two weeks later? Check and Raise was empty, and Moshe’s spot was full. What does that tell you? It tells you that the most important players are always going to be those that contribute to the game. Those that are typically losing players because those are the ones that bring pros. If pros all lost money, they wouldn’t play. They’re only going to play if there’s equity for them. So you create the equity first, and there are ways to do that. There are strategic ways in which, as a company, we can do that. What we’ve done for so many years, is cater for the pros and we’ve given them all the bonuses. What that’s done is create an ecosystem that’s unfair for recreational players.
There’s another thing that’s interesting. We talk about third party software, like HUDs. The average depositing player on PokerStars deposits $20.
Yeah, $20. The average cost of one of these tracking software is about $100. So right off the bat, these pros have an advantage over these players because they’re better and now they have this additional software that the average player just simply can’t afford anyway – because if they’re putting $20 in, they’re not going to spend an additional $100 on tracking software – so it’s already created an unlevel playing field. So I absolutely support getting rid of that, getting rid of seat-scripting, making the game more accessible to recreational players – do more to support their play.
Having said that, as I said prior, it’s a very delicate balance between what we’ve promised players in terms of the VIP program, and we have to make sure that we give them enough time for these changes. Again, I think these changes were inevitable, whether it was prior management or current management. The industry is shrinking, so something had to happen. There were always going to be changes, and it would naive to think that wasn’t the case. The real question is: what is fair, in terms of how players are treated, in terms of what they were promised?
For example, imagine McDonald’s had a promotion where they said if you buy a Big Mac for 30 straight days, at the end of that we will give you a Ferrari. Then on day 29, they announce that they’ve decided to change the promotion for the benefit of the customers, and now instead of a Ferrari you’ll be getting a Honda Civic. That’s not going to entice anyone. I’m a big believer in being transparent, and if mistakes were made I think it’s very important for the company as a whole to make good on the promises they made, one way or another. Again, that’s something that’s internally being discussed. So we’ll see what happens. I can’t say just yet, but it’s definitely something that I’m taking on personally.
The Poker Central 24/7 poker network launched on October 1st. You’re one of their ambassadors, along with Phil Hellmuth and Antonio Esfandiari. Why did you sign on with them and what are your hopes for the network in general and your future with them?
— Poker Central (@PokerCentral) April 30, 2015
So first and foremost, Cary Katz is the innovator behind the idea – he’s funding it. He’s a great guy, who has been playing the high rollers for a long time. He has a vision for a network that could do great. We looked at the numbers, and the golf channel makes ‘x’ and the tennis channel makes less than ‘x’ and he believes that poker could be something in between. There’s more people who play poker than gold and tennis combined, so the question is: would they watch it? It’s a slow developing thing when you start a network like this and I think they’re doing things in a very smart way. They’re not on DIRECTV, they’re not on television yet – it’s starting very, very small. However, the base is growing organically in a new technological age, where people do watch it on different platforms. Television is not necessarily the be-all & end-all, and it’s certainly not the place where you need to start.
So the network growing on a grassroots level, in the way that it is, and starting to build momentum, is part of the plan that makes more sense than just randomly throwing it out on TV hoping that it all works. Developing a fan base, developing a viewership and then slowly, but surely, building distribution into new areas, is the way to go. It’s much more difficult to deal with cable companies like DIRECTV – as it requires more vetting. I know a lot of people are asking where they can watch it, and obviously if you get a Roku Box it’s available, if you get an XBox 360 (and that’s a platform that a vast majority of people do have). The goal now is to get the most eyeballs on it and then grow it in such a way that we get original content that’s really, really good, and fun. They’re starting to do that already, despite the distribution being small. I have an idea for a show myself that we’ll be putting together that will hopefully be enjoyed by people, and when we continue to grow it will sort of be a flagship that makes people want to go and watch the network.
Before we continue, we’re going to take a quick 1-minute break to tell you about our cool live poker note-taking app – Poker Notes Live. Have a look!
You’re involved in tons of different types of charity work. Hosting poker tournaments. St. Jude’s Fundraisers. But you’ve also done some very unique things. There was a time, for example where you went out and paid for people’s groceries on Thanksgiving. I imagine you must get approached a lot to give of your time and money for charity. With that said, someone in your position must see a lot of hurt and pain in the world; more than the average person. People who have fallen on tough times. How does that affect you? Does it empower you or make you feel a little more helpless?
Looking to make a difference this Thanksgiving? How about this: https://t.co/a3MNVx8lT3 I’ll be out Monday doing this locally in Las Vegas.
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) November 22, 2013
Well in the poker community people fall on hard times in terms of going broke, but I don’t necessarily have a ton of empathy in terms of trying to make a difference for them, because there are bigger problems than someone running bad. I mean the fact that someone is able to play $5/$10 NLH, when people are struggling to get food, is already something. That’s where I spend a lot of my focus. As for the grocery thing, it’s actually really fun.
What I do, and I do this all the time, well every time I go to a grocery store which is rare because I have assistants, but when I’m on the road especially, after I pay my groceries I tell the cashier that we’re going to play this game. I’ll give her $300, typically 300, but whatever, and I’ll say: “Okay, here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to pay for people’s groceries all day until the $300 are gone.” I leave, so they don’t know it was me. So what I’ve done here, is I feel I’ve created an opportunity for two people: the people who are receiving the free groceries who get a chance to receive (and realize that there are people in the world who want to make a difference); and I also give the gift of giving to the cashier, who gets all the warmth and fuzzy because they’re the ones who made it possible for them.
There are times when I’ll go hide in the grocery store, because I just want to watch. I don’t want them to come to me, because I love to leave the moment there, but I love to see it. I got caught one time, actually, I was in Toronto not too long ago. The lady told on me, she’s like “that guy paid for them.” They said they’ll pay it forward and I believe that’s a world that works. Little things like that, that don’t seem like a big deal especially since $300 are not going to change my life, will make a difference. It inspires them to do it for other people, no question, I think it does. What would you do? Think about that. You’re going through the grocery line and someone says that someone in front of it just paid for it. What would be your first instinct?
I should have bought more!
You’re typically going to feel good about it. You’re going to feel like you want to do that for someone else. That’s a world that works, where we’re all looking out for each other in very small ways and I think it adds up.
That’s really beautiful. That warms my heart.
The next topic I’d like to talk about are your goals. I saw recently that you had accomplished a bucket list item of going to one of the top vegan restaurants in the U.S. (plantrestaurant). What other items are on Daniel Negreanu’s bucket list?
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) August 1, 2015
I definitely think that one of them is bringing hockey to Las Vegas. That’s definitely happening. Game One will give me chills. I’m a Canadian and it’s in our blood. That will be great, to sit center ice for a Las Vegas game.
Drop the puck?
You can pretty much decide what you want to do any and every day, but you’re also big on having a schedule. So, how do you schedule/plan your day? How far in advance do you set your calendar? Is that something that your assistant Patty Landis does for you?
No, I do that myself. Typically Sundays. Sunday is usually a day that I don’t just relax and I’ll map it out. My weeks are pretty much filled up with a schedule already. I go to the gym Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at noon. I wake up at 10:30 every morning. I play soccer twice a week, Monday and Thursday. I actually have a game in two and a half hours. I practice with my soccer coach as well. There’s that and then there’s Hearthstone play, and my shows that I catch up on. I don’t have what I call a ‘PSP’ right now, which is a Personal Strategic Plan, but I will have one by January 1st. Basically what I do is a three month goal. Maybe it’s read a specific amount of books, or have a physical fitness goal, or a poker goal, or something like that.
Speaking of Patty – shout out to Patty; she was kind enough to let me interview her here at Cardplayer Lifestyle back in February 2013.
You set yourself yearly goals, but do you also have like a 5-year or 10-year set of goals/plans’ i.e., what’s your vision for yourself? Are there any fantasies of yours that haven’t yet come true that you’re still working towards?
I have a vision that I wouldn’t say is necessarily 5 or 10 years down the road. My vision goes to my deathbed. If you chose to start at the end, and ask yourself what you want to have written on your tombstone. Is it gonna matter on your tombstone that you were a great poker player, who won 2 WPTs, Player of the Year? Is that going to matter? What else is going to matter? He was a good role model for people around him. He inspired others to be the greater version of themselves. He was a good friend/husband/father, a good pillar in the community. Those are the things that are going to matter.
So the vision for my life, typically revolves more around stuff like that than my poker, and I would say that that’s something that’s changed since I did a course on emotional intelligence called Choice Center, where it really put that into perspective for me. I think in my early years a lot of my self-worth was attached to my poker results, so if I was doing really, really good, then I felt good, and if I wasn’t doing good, I felt bad. Then I realized that that’s not what defines me. That’s what I do, but if I never won another poker tournament again it won’t affect my self-worth one bit. That wasn’t true in my early twenties when I had a lot to prove. I always had something to prove: that I beat this or I beat that. When people doubt me, and tell me I suck, like these young kids, and I’m just like: “Okay son, I’ll just keep winning my way and you can keep chastising me about how bad I play while I smack you, son, year after year after year.” All I do is win, win, win, no matter what.
Okay, so you’re in the public eye a lot, and you’re very outspoken. So how on Earth can you be an introvert? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Surprises a lot of people to know I am 100% an introvert. Doesn’t mean I don’t know how to me social! https://t.co/BtxomI4YB2
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) August 10, 2015
It makes a lot of sense, actually. So people think the word introvert means shy, or quiet, but no, that’s not what introvert means. Introvert is basically, so, where do you charge your batteries? A lot of people they feel more engaged, more energetic when they’re social or around people. That drains my energy! It doesn’t mean I can’t be social or I’m not good at it. So for example on a dinner break of a poker tournament, if I went to dinner with 5 or 6 people, I talk a lot and spend a lot of energy and then I’m drained for the rest of the tournament.
So I don’t do that. I go to my room, I nap, I stay alone, and I just really, really enjoy being alone. I feel really recharged. Then when I have these weeks like the ones coming up, where I’m going to be on the go-go-go, I’m ready for it. I’m charged up for it and I can survive it. I have a pretty crazy November 5-13 in terms of responsibility, and I’m kind of anxious about it.
People often ask if I get tired of it (pics and autographs) and the answer is no, but I do get tired FROM it. I cherish my alone time
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) August 10, 2015
I appreciate that you gave me your time now, on November 3rd.
What does 4444 mean? Is that something that can be explained in one sentence?
You could. So essentially, and I won’t ruin it right, but basically this (four fingers pointing up, palm facing outward) means “I love you, bro.” Part of the thing that’s interesting about the course, and part of why a lot of people are skeptical about it is that we don’t tell you the details of the exercises that you go through, because it would ruin it for you. It would be the same as the idea that, if you watched a football game and you already knew the final score you’re not going to have the same emotional connection to it when you watch it because you already know what’s going to happen. If you watch the ending of a movie, and then watch the beginning, it ruins it for you. So similar to this, a lot of what the course does is it mirrors your life, and through different exercises creates scenarios that you would experience, and then see how you react to it. So if you knew what the 4444 symbol was, it would ruin it for you. So that’s why I won’t go into detail about it.
What’s the most important thing you learned from your time at the Choice Center?
I would say that the thing that speaks to me on a grand scale is integrity. What that really means and breaking it down. And also, the difference between being a victim and being responsible. I’m going to touch on both of those separately. Integrity is as small as saying I’ll meet you at 7 o’clock. If you show up at 7:03, you’re only 3 minutes late right? But, it’s a broken agreement. You said 7, and it’s 7:03. So ask yourself, if you do that in those little areas, where do I do that on a bigger scale? If I break my integrity so regularly, my character is weakened. All we really have, ultimately, is our character.
What integrity really means is doing what you say you’re going to do. Every time you don’t do that, you breach your integrity. Obviously some breaches of integrity are much bigger than others, but we do it. I mean, obviously I’ve done it. I breach my integrity all the time, but you have to acknowledge that it’s going to happen, be aware of it, and then ask what you’re committed to. What are you committed to doing in the future? So if you showed up 5 minutes late for something, acknowledge and apologize for it and be committed to, in the future, being 15 minutes early so that you don’t have to wait for me. That’s what integrity is.
The other aspect, and this is a big one (and this is something that’s written in books, it’s not like it’s unique to choice center), is the difference between being a victim and being responsible for something. This is very controversial for a lot of people. I’ll use an extreme example just so we can cut to the chase. A 35 year old woman, her life is a mess. She’s a travesty. She was raped as a child when she was 12 years old, and as a result she gave up on life. She didn’t believe that anything good can happen and it was really traumatizing for her. It affected her, and understandably right? The question is, who’s responsible for her life at that age? Clearly what the rapist did is not okay, we don’t condone that, and it’s not her fault that she got raped, but she’s 100% responsible for how she responds to it many years later. So if her life is not working as a result, it’s not because of the rapist. It’s not because of him. He obviously did something drastically awful and inexcusable, but if her life isn’t working at that age, she’s responsible for the response and how she’s handling it.
A sidebar issue that illustrates it is, it’s not the event itself that creates the response. So this happened to two women, and this is a true story. Both women lost a child to a drunk driver. One women, obviously distraught and very saddened by it, started drinking heavily, started doing drugs. She had three other children and basically checked out. She was basically mortified by it, so she just quit. The other mother, and the exact same thing happened to her, started a thing called MAD (Mothers Against Drunk-driving). She saw the incident and said, you know what, I’m going to do something about this to make sure this doesn’t happen to other mothers. The same incident happened to both people but one responded to it in such a way that was destructive to her life.
Again, I’m not blaming her. It’s a natural reaction to be distraught about it. The other one chose to take that as a fuel to do something great for herself. So every situation, whether it’s poker, or whatever it is, we can look at it from two perspectives: Victim or Responsible. There’s no power in being a victim to your circumstance. Saying: “Oh My God, I’m so unlucky I always lose with pocket Aces, there’s nothing I can do” – what’s the value in sharing that? Who cares? Let’s focus on what you can be responsible for. How did you get short in the first place before you got the aces? Oh you made a sloppy play. Let’s focus on how you got there. Did you do everything the way you were supposed to? If so, then don’t focus on the bad luck, but focus on the responsible version of that, which is how you got there in the first place. If it was everything you were supposed to do, be at peace with the result.
I will just publicly disclose that a few months back that something you told me privately about the victimhood, I just want to tell you again, thank you very much because that helped get me through something very personal. So thank you, I appreciate it.
You got it.
You’ve said in the past that you believe you can “transcend poker.” Is that where you’re headed – more mainstream sponsorship deals?
I don’t know if I said that exactly like that, but I certainly enjoy those opportunities. When I was a kid I always wanted to be an actor. I find it fun. I think I have a film mind, whether it comes from writing, acting, different types of things like that. So I find it fun. I don’t do it because I’m trying to make a bunch of money off of it, of course. I do it because I enjoy it.
To some degree I do think that as a poker ambassador, the more we do stuff like that, the more we bring people into the game. The more mainstream people that know who you are, or even like who you are, like the stuff of Vanessa Rousso going on Big Brother, more people will be interested in the game itself and they’ll go: “So you play poker for a living?” There’s still a lot of people that don’t know that that exists as a profession.
Which companies would you love to stump for? Do you want to pursue more acting roles?
The only thing I can think of at the top of my head right now is Hearthstone.
You’ve featured in a movie called “Detention” as a male news reporter and also guest starred in an episode of a Canadian TV show, Mr. D. Plus you were also in a Katy Perry music video and had a cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and the poker movie Lucky You. Is there a specific role that you feel suits you?
The one that was most fun out of all of those, for sure, was the Mr. D because I actually got to act. The episode revolved around me playing poker. It was really fun working with Gerry Dee. He’s a really funny guy and that was really fun. I like things that are a little more comedic, improv and stuff like that suits me. I’m not really looking to be like a Meryl Streep who is really stretchy. I’m not looking to play some Primal Fear Edward Norton, just something. Something more you’d see in Entourage or Ballers or the new show that I’m involved with called The Four Kings, which is kind of across all those things.
Can you tell us anything about The Four Kings?
Sure. Well we shot a few episodes already. We’ve got distribution with Sony. I think it’s going to be fun. We’ve got a lot of cameos from a lot of really cool people. The show itself is called The Four Kings and it’s about four poker players who moved East to West, kind of like Swingers. It’s not about poker though. They’re poker players but the episode is not like, this guy has KJ and the flop is Ten-x-x, there’s none of that. There’s not many poker hands that you’re ever going to see in the show. The show doesn’t revolve around poker, it’s just what they do. The show revolves around the drama they get themselves into, both in Vegas and California – the lifestyle things that are real to what the struggle is like.
I like this! I can’t wait.
Do you or your agent, Brian Balsbaugh of Poker Royalty, actively seek out opportunities like that for you to get involved in? Do you think that more players need an agent, to become ambassadors, to get their name out there?
The misconception is that an agent actively looks for things for you. That’s not what happens. If you wanted to hire a PR person, that’s what would get you those things. The agent is ultimately the one that negotiates the deals, he looks over things. Brian is a close friend of mine. I bounce things off of him. I have a very good group of people that are very smart and educated, that tackle difficult issues from poker, best way to respond to them and things like that. He’s a good sounding board in that regard, but as an agent he makes sure that he’s the buffer.
I’ll give you an example, and I don’t think that everyone needs one because there’s just not a lot out there right now. I had an offer from a French company to do a cellphone video game, and they wanted to pay me $75,000 to shoot for three days and also twelve appearances where I would have to travel and be all over the world or something like that. So if I negotiated that deal, that’s what I would get, but having Brian involved, by the time the deal was done, we negotiated and I got $350,000 and 12 appearances became 3 appearances and those appearances were in Las Vegas on my own free time. As I always explain to people, when you have an agent if you’re getting ‘X’ and you pay the agent 10-20%, if he gets you more, he gets a bigger cut himself, but you also get more.
More importantly, he protects me against being taken advantage of. He’s a lawyer, he looks at contracts and he knows the underlying meaning of what’s being said and protects me from ever getting involved in something that would be detrimental to myself or to my brand. His contracts are long, they’re big. You don’t want to see one page contracts.
You have a favorite poker player: Jennifer Tilly. Why her? How did your appreciation for her as a person develop over the years?
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) March 17, 2013
I wouldn’t say she’s my favorite poker player exactly, but I love playing with her. She’s fun. When she comes on these TV Shows for these games, she really hams it up, she makes it great tv and she really loves the game. I’ve always enjoyed her. She’s been around the poker world for a little bit now, and she’s just a breath of fresh air.
What sort of relationship do you have with her? Do you speak a lot, or go out to dinner together?
Not really. I see her at charity events occasionally and things like that. She’s got her man, Phil Laak, the unique individual that he is. For the most part I would say that I admire her from afar.
The fan boy in me has to just say this: Jennifer Tilly just tweeted at me! I love this woman! Thanks my dear. https://t.co/3KzGRIR2Pt
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) July 15, 2015
You’ve got a dog – mushu. You call him your son. You also Tweeted that you love dogs better than humans. What can you tell us about your love for dogs?
True story, not being funny: I like dogs better than humans! And it’s not close.
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) March 14, 2015
Well dogs are unconditional. They love you as long as you feed them. He’s got a personality. He can be snippy, he’s a lot like me. I call him my son because essentially, as you know I’m a vegan, and I don’t really differentiate all that much the difference between human life and animal life. I don’t know that we have earned, for any reason, to look at human life as being more valuable than the life of a dog. I don’t get the rationality behind that. We’re different species of course, but why are we better than them? I think that we can learn a lot from dogs, in terms of the fact that they are unconditionally loving. They’re not all that judgmental or hateful. I have a love for animals, obviously I don’t eat them. I’m not trying to make everyone become a vegan, although there are plenty of studies that are showing that not only are certain meats and sausages just as bad as smoking cigarettes (according to a recent study) and also the environmental impact and what’s going to happen to our world in the next 30-40 years if we continue doing that.
There’s another thing too. I get it, we’ve always eaten meat and grazed cattle on farms in a very humane way, but that’s not the case in what we’re seeing today. The cruelty too. I hate to use the word Holocaust because I don’t want to demean those that suffered through that, but it’s like a holocaust on animals when we throw them in a factory with no lights and no room to move. We take pigs, that are smarter than dogs, and we put them in crates that are so small they can’t turn. They suffer. They literally live in their own crap and feces and urine, and the chickens are left outside with no light. They live horrifyingly awful existences, and these are creatures. Whether you believe in God or not, like these are God’s creatures, maybe you have dominion over all things like the Bible says, but does that mean treating them horribly?
People don’t want to watch that stuff, because it’s disgusting to see, but we grab a Big Mac and we just want to eat it. We don’t want to think about how it was made. There’s an interesting book called ‘Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows’ and really there’s no rational logic behind it outside that society said it’s okay. When we think about eating a dog, everyone says it’s disgusting, but why is that so much more disgusting than eating a pig? Because they’re cuter, or because we’ve designated them as pets, and designated them as being our friends? There’s no real logic behind it.
I’ll never eat a pig or anything like that so don’t worry.
You’ve showed the world your house a couple times before and of course you have a poker table. How often does it get used? Who comes over to play? High stakes or friendly? Do you bring in a dealer or is it self dealt?
It doesn’t. It gets used for business meetings, like when I have Brian come over and we’re discussing a new show or something like that. People come here and we sit around the roundtable. I really don’t play poker much at all.
Ah, that’s such a shame. Would you ever consider hosting something a little private at the poker table?
Yeah, for sure.
Save me a seat one day?
I know you had made it a goal to learn Spanish. So, como es su espanol? Want to add any other languages to the repertoire?
I speak a little bit of a lot of languages. It’s easy for me to pick up languages and I believe that if I lived somewhere for a couple of months I could pick up most languages. Spanish is very easy, to be honest. Right now I haven’t spoken Spanish in so long that it’s not fresh in my mind. It’s very similar to Romanian. I find it interesting. Maybe that’s a goal I’ll set again, to brush up on my Spanish again.
What excites you?
This is going to sound so embarrassing. I’m in this fantasy hockey league that I’ve been in since 1996. The same league and we have a keeper league, where we picked guys when they were 18 years old. So, watching the scores and seeing that one of my guys scored, and I have an app on my phone that tells me when one of my guys has a goal or an assist, and that excites me. That, and playing soccer. I’ve been playing soccer lately and that’s very fun.
What saddens you?
What saddens me? Several things. I wouldn’t say it makes me really sad, but I have a real concern for future generations in terms of their focus. Then again, it’s a conversation about the PC Culture and how humor, when I was young, was there to bring us together. I grew up in an environment where literally, Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, so I had black friends, Asian friends, people from all over the world, all different colors, shapes and sizes. We used to joke about our differences, stuff that people would just be appalled by with today. If people saw me and Phil Ivey on the golf course, they would call us the most racist, awful human beings of all time because of the way we needled each other.
It’s so sad because I can’t even explain to you some of the jokes that we had with each other because people would just get offended rather than just see it as us celebrating our differences. We make fun of each other, and we mock the fact that we’re different. Not mock, that’s not the right word. We celebrate it. Now I feel like it’s turned into anger. People are so good to be angry about things you say. We laugh at ourselves, sometimes it’s just funny. I tell Jewish jokes and my friends tell me the best Jewish jokes ever, like the stereotype about Jews being cheap or whatever. What do Jews and canoes have in common? You know the answer to that one?
No I don’t.
Neither of them tip. It’s just a joke right. People are like “Oh you’re stereotyping” and all this, but it’s just a stupid little joke. Don’t take it so seriously. I got a better one I’ll tell you later. Oh, I’ll tell you now, it’s so good. It’s the ten commandments joke. Ready?
Go for it.
So Moses brought down the ten commandments right? First he brought them to the Italians, and they said: “What are these?” and he said: “They’re commandments from God,” and they asked for an example of one. Moses: “Thou shall not steal.” They said: “Oh forget it, we don’t want them.”
Then Moses brought them to the French. He said that they had these commandments for them. They asked for an example and got “Thou shall not commit adultery.” They’re like: “No thank you, we don’t want them.”
Finally, they were brought to the Jews. He said: “We have these 10 commandments for you.” The Jews said: “Well how much are they?” and he said: “They’re free,” so the Jews were like: “Well, okay, we’ll take ten.”
I mean it’s just a joke, right? It’s just funny. If we can’t joke about this stuff, then what kind of world are we living in here? People are too uptight, it saddens me, it really does.
Is there anything that you consider to be “out of reach” that you wish you could do?
Yes, I would say so. Like, play professional soccer or hockey and be on that stage. I was actually watching an indoor soccer game the other day and as I was sitting there I said to myself: “I wonder if I could put in 8 hours a day, at 41, and grind and learn how to play well enough to be on this team.” The oldest guy on the team is 36, and I was never good as a kid, so the odds of that are slim, but I have this crazy belief in my head that I could probably do almost anything. I have fantasies sometimes of being able to play in the NBA right now.
Oh, come on.
No really! I have these fantasies where I’m the guy who has deadeye aim from half-court, and i can shoot from half-court and hit 89%. I have these fantasies all the time, these elaborate dreams of me in ice hockey on the left wing and scoring 180 goals in a season.
What’s your Kryptonite in life (not at the poker tables)?
I would say the thing that triggers my weaknesses, in terms of parts of my personality that I don’t love but obviously have, is when people are condescending or arrogant towards me, it triggers me to be even more condescending and arrogant towards them. I don’t like being spoken down to. I don’t like when people talk down to me. I’m all for discussion and civil debates. Like I said, I talk to Vanessa Selbst often about different issues that we disagree on, but when a kid like Justin Bonomo, who’s in his 20s or close to 30, talks to me like I’m a child and that he knows everything and speaks down to me – especially paraphrasing the way that he did – I can easily be offended by it.
Initially I wanted to rage on him, but then I figured that’s not responsible. I decided to handle it like a responsible person, so I reached out to him privately and discussed my views on what he said and how he said it, and that I found it to be unfair and unjust considering the way it was phrased. i definitely don’t appreciate, and I know I’m guilty of this at times, someone being arrogant and condescending. It’s a thing where it takes one to know one. I wouldn’t recognize those traits in other people if I didn’t recognize them in myself. I try to keep those traits to a minimum and focus on being as humble as possible, and be as understanding and as passionate as I can be, but definitely my kryptonite is when I see people do that it triggers me to be like, literally, “who the hell do you think you are bi*tch?” and I go all gangster on them.
We’ve just learned that your PokerStars-produced documentary will premier on December 1st, 2015 in Canada. Obviously, poker fans all over the world will want to see it. There are plenty of people out there, however, who aren’t poker fans or who haven’t heard of you. How would you pitch the documentary about yourself to someone who doesn’t know anything about poker? Why would they want to see it?
There’s documentaries about a guy who walked a tightrope across one building to another, and that became a movie. It’s not necessarily that people are interested in tightrope walking but they’re interested in the story behind how this guy got from where he was to just decide to do this and accomplish it. So I think, the story of Kid Poker (the documentary) is more a question of setting your mind to something and accomplishing things that would be way against what people would consider reasonable. A picture into the life of someone, myself, who has succeeded in an environment that’s very cut-throat and competitive, and have done so in such a way that I have made integrity the most important thing about being who I am.
The Daniel Negreanu autobiography will get written some day. Tell us what we can expect. Do you hope that it would get made into a movie?
I don’t know, maybe. What people can expect is that they will be surprised about a lot of things. Yeah, you know what, if I was going to do one, I’ll tell it all – and that includes the good, the bad, the ugly. It might include some 6am, leaving Spearmint Rhino wasted, doing some stuff, a little bit of living the Vegas life. Obviously I was here living in my early twenties so I was living a different life than I am now, which was somewhat the underbelly of Las Vegas. I think people would be surprised to see what my personal life is like with women and stuff like that. I’d probably put some of that stuff in there.
Last question: You’ve given hundreds, if not thousands of interviews over the years. Let’s pretend this is the last one you’ll ever give. How do you want to go out? You’ve got the chance to script it now. What do you want to say?
I think the most important thing that I would add, or would want to send as a message to people, is that the reason that I have done all these interviews over the years is partly to promote the game of poker but mostly to be an inspiration for people to see that they can achieve bigger and better things in their own life and I hope the ways in which I’ve lived my life is a model for how it can be done.
Maybe not the only way it can be done, but if you set lofty goals, set them a little higher and reach a little higher and even if you fall a little short you’re going to end up further than you would if you didn’t set any at all. Look to how you can make a difference in the world for the people around you, for yourself and realize the crux of what it means to be a contributing member to society. It doesn’t have anything to do with your accolades, your own personal wealth, it’s the kind of person you were to the people around you and the difference you made for society as a whole.
Before we go, I want to let everyone know that interviewing Daniel was one of the 10 poker goals I made for myself this year. I’m going to quote from that blog post I wrote “the opportunity to work with him on an interview will be a career highlight for me”, so thank you very much Daniel for encouraging me to dream and declare as well as enabling me to deliver. I do hope that everyone who’s watched it and gotten to the end here, will also be able to grow, to learn and to take some of those positive messages from you. So really, thank you so much for everything.
It was fun, man. Time for food and then soccer.
Okay, sounds great! Thank you.