Oh, Danny boy!

Feb 6, 2006 3:59 AM

Last year by his own admission, Daniel Negreanu lost more money than he won on the 2005 tournament circuit. He did not make it to a single final table at last year’s World Series of Poker. While "Kid Poker" did manage to do quite well in side games over the course of the year, his poor showing in 2005 illustrates the perilous financial swings of tournament poker.

In other words, busting out of $10,000 buy-in tournaments repeatedly does eventually add up. Ten-thousand here and ten-thousand there, and pretty soon you are talking about big money.

This is the preamble to Daniel Negreanu’s arrival in rainy Tunica, Mississippi during the first week of the 2006 tournament season. When he stepped off an airplane in the nearby Memphis fog two weeks ago, Negreanu must have wondered if his tournament future was as cloudy as the overcast skies. The days since a big win had stretched from weeks, to months, to over a full year.

The World Series of Poker Circuit’s feature attraction — the $10,000 buy-in championship event — ran four days and attracted 241 entries to the Tunica Grand Casino-Resort. The total prize pool amounted to $2,289,500.

The large field was gradually eliminated down to the nine finalists, which took their seats inside the Tunica Grand Events Center. In an arena specifically designed for boxing matches, it was fitting that the final table would resemble a heavyweight prize fight. The early chip leader was Brian Lamkin, from Austin, Texas. But from the very start, all eyes were on the Las Vegas wonderkid, Daniel Negreanu.

Expectations were high. Nothing short of a first-place finish would be acceptable. In the end, Negreanu, nor his legions of fans, would be disappointed.

Robert Schulz was the final table’s local favorite. He arrived as the only player from the Memphis area. Schulz brought a large cheering section with him, which unfortunately left disappointed when their favorite player busted out in eighth place. Schulz was getting low on chips and moved ”˜all in’ with 7-7. Daniel Negreanu, sensing his opponent was probably hoping not to get called, made the call instantly with 9-9. Neither player improved, which meant Negreanu’s pocket nines dragged the big pot.
The "The Daniel Negreanu Show" had only just begun. The supporting cast was not pleased. Negreanu completely altered the balance of the final table when he cracked two players in succession. His first victim was Wendell Barnes, a welder from Massachusetts. Barnes was torched when he was flopped two pair and moved ”˜all in’ against Negreanu. Barnes initially looked delighted to see Negreanu call the large bet. But Barnes might as well have been standing on the railroad tracks waving at an oncoming freight train. Negreanu had been dealt pocket aces and flopped an ace — good for trips. Barnes was essentially drawing dead and exited in seventh place with a purse of $91,580.

A short time later, Negreanu won the biggest pot of the tournament up to that point when he moved up to 1,240,000 in chips when his two pair (aces and queens) crushed Brian Lamkin (his hand was not shown). It was a devastating pot for Lamkin to lose. Lamkin had arrived at the final table with a solid chip lead, but most of those chips vanished on the ill-advised confrontation. In one single hand, Lamkin went from chip leader to the shortest stack, with only about 100,000 remaining.

When heads-up play began, Negreanu held slightly better than a 2-1 chip advantage — Negreanu with approximately 1.7 million to King’s 700,000. Most interesting of all, King had predicted he would get heads-up with Negreanu. During breaks, King confidently told everyone around him that he planned to take on Negreanu and play for the championship. Ultimately, he got exactly what he wanted.

Heads-up play lasted just six hands. King knew he had to make a move fast because Negreanu was certain to keep putting pressure on and would slowly peck away at King’s stack with ceaseless raises. Nearing the 200th hand of the final table King was dealt K-3 against Negreanu’s K-9. The flop came K-Q-4. Both players had top pair. Negreanu bet out. "I thought that was a dream flop for me (with top pair)," King said afterward. "I figured that if he really had top pair he would check-raise me. I really liked it when he bet into me." As it turned out, Negreanu had the best hand all along. King re-raised ”˜all in’ and Negreanu called. The nine outkicked the three, which meant King needed help. The final board showed K-Q-4-5-7. The nine-kicker played and Negreanu had ended the longest cold spell of his poker career.

This was Negreanu’s first win on the WSOP Circuit. The victory paid $755,525. He won his three WSOP gold bracelets in 1998, 2003, and 2004. However, he is perhaps poker’s most honest and open player about his ups and downs, providing some unique insights into this victory:

I had a strategy designed for each individual player and pretty much followed it at the final table. The key to winning for me is that I stayed out of marginal situations. I don’t want to get into a race with 6-6 against A-K and hope to stay alive. I think what I am best at is playing after the flop, and I wanted to get as many situations as I could where I was up against (an opponent) and could take them on after the flop. My goal is to see the most flops I can. I like to set traps. I let (opponents) get involved, and then trap then. If I get them drawing dead (which happened twice at the final table in big pots) — that’s always the plan.