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|The Kid is Back:
Anyone who is considering playing poker tournaments for a living should take
a long hard look at Daniel Negreanu's earnings in 2005. Consider the fact
that at age 31, Negreanu is already one of poker's icons. He has won three
World Series of Poker gold bracelets. He plays regularly in the biggest cash
games in the world (he's both won and lost over a million dollars in a single
session). And, Negreanu is one of poker's most dedicated students and most
creative strategists. Given his numerous advantages in skill, experience, and
dedication -- one would expect him to win lots of money playing in poker
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 - began four days and and attracted 241 entries to the
Tunica Grand Casino-Resort. The total prize pool amounted to $2,289,500.
With ESPN cameras on site to cover the competition, 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, TX. 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
The nine players took their seats at the final table and were eliminated as
9th Place - It took nearly an hour for the first player to bust out. Brandon
Adams and Chad Brown arrived with the two lowest stacks, so it was
expected they might spar in the first major confrontation. That's exactly what
happened when Adams was dealt J-J and raised pre-flop. Brown re-raised 'all
in' with A-Q. Adams called quickly. It was the classic hold'em confrontation,
with an underpair versus two overcards. Adams' pocket jacks held up and
Brown was the first player to exit. Chad Brown, the former actor turned
professional poker player accepted his defeat gracefully. "I played very well
just to get here," he said afterward. "With just 100,000 left, I had to move in
with a coin flip at that point and I just didn't get lucky. I have no regrets about
my decision." Ninth-place paid $45,790.
8th Place - Robert Schulz was the final table's local favorite. He arrived as the
only player from the Memphis area (Southaven, MS is about ten miles north of
the Grand Casino). 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. Schulz vanished. "It was a very exciting four
days," Schulz told ESPN cameras following his exit. "I was hoping to finish a
little higher for the home crowd since everyone came out to support me. But,
I'll be back here at a final table again sometime." Eighth place paid $68,685.
7th Place - 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 was Negreanu's second road kill of
the night. "That's poker," Barnes said in a post-tournament interview. "It's a
long drive back (home to Massachusetts) but I'm leaving with some cash. It's
all good." Seventh-place paid $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.
6th Place - Brandon Adams started off the day as the lowest stack at the
table. He managed to leap up three places on the money ladder. However, he
finally ran out of punches when he was short on chips and made a raise with
K-9 and was re-raised 'all in' by Brian Lamkin - holding A-Q. Neither player
made a pair and the ace-high played. Adams was eliminated. Brandon Adams
will earn his PhD in Finance from Harvard University later this year. This is his
second big-time final table appearance in just three months. Adams also
appeared at the final table at the 2005 Tournament of Champions (finishing
ninth). "My strategy during this tournament was to be the aggressor, don't be
a caller," Adams said later. "I went as far as I did because I followed that
strategy most of the way...I will be teaching (college courses) this spring, but I
plan to play in the main event at the World Series of Poker," Adams stated,
already optimistic about his future as a part-time tournament player and
college instructor. Sixth place paid $114,475.
5th Place - After Brian Lamkin doubled up from his devastating defeat to
Negreanu (besting Brandon Adams), he then found himself having to commit to
a coin flip situation when dealt 8-8. Kia Mohajeri had not played many pots up
to that point but decided to take a stand with A-K. The final board showed
K-7-2-2-10 giving Mohajeri top pair with top kicker. Lamkin was out in fifth
place, good for $137,370 in prize money. "I'll take some of this experience and
keep moving forward," Lamkin said following his exit. "This is the farthest I
have ever gone in a field this tough. There are so many world-class players
here. I learned a lot and hopefully, there will be a next time."
4th Place - With Negreanu still holding a decisive chip lead, Lee Markholt got
into a tough jam when he picked the wrong time to make a move. Markholt,
who had survived with selective aggression most of the day, made a move at
the pot before the flop with J-8. He could not have picked a worse time to try
and move his opponent off a hand. Kia Mohajeri looked down and saw two
aces, and he moved over the top with an 'all in' re-raise. At that point,
Markholt was pot committed. He called. The flop brought Markholt some
interesting possibilities - as 10-7-6 opened up an inside straight draw. A five
on the turn gave Markholt eight outs on the river to double up. But a harmless
deuce fell on the fifth and final card, sealing Markholt's fate. Lee Markholt, a
former professional bull rider turned poker player from Washington State was
bucked off the final table and received $183,160 for fourth place. "It's always
disappointing when you don't win. But I'm happy with my play and that's all
the matters," he said.
3rd Place - The two shortest stacks battled a few times and traded chips back
and forth. Then a major turning point occurred when Kia Mohajeri was dealt
A-J and raised pre-flop. Bryant "B.K." King moved 'all in' with his last 227,000 --
holding K-K. Mohajeri called and lost the big hand. That left Mohajeri on life
support. A few minutes later, Mohajeri made his final stand with K-J, moving 'all
in.' King was delighted to call the raise with A-J. The flop provided some hope
for underdog Mohajeri (10-9-8). But two blanks on the turn and river ended
the night for the Floridian. This will likely not be the final time we see Mohajeri.
Encouraged by his recent poker success, Mohajeri is seriously considering
making a career move which might include playing full-time. "I'm thinking of
turning pro," Mohajeri said later. "Whatever my decision is, poker will be a part
of it." Perhaps $228,950 in prize money will make his decision a little easier.
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.
2nd Place - 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.
The runner up was Bryant "BK" King. He was no stranger to final tables here in
Tunica. This was King's second final table appearance in a major event here,
as he also made it to the final table at the first WSOP Circuit event of the
season, last August. "How can I feel bad?" King later asked. "I started off the
day with just 200,000 and I went as far as I could. I was really happy with the
way I played and I certainly think Daniel played his best game." Second place
1st Place - This was Daniel 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. In fact, Negreanu is becoming just was well-known for his
poker writing as much as playing. He began writing a weekly newspaper
column syndicated by Card Shark Media which is published in 40 newspapers
in North America and is read by an estimated 4 million readers.
Negreanu was in top form in a post tournament interview. He provided 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."
Negreanu reflected on what this particular win meant at this stage in his poker
career. "Poker has changed so much since I first came into the game," he said.
"I'm 31 now, and ten years ago there were just a few good young players -
such as John Juanda, Allen Cunningham, Phil Ivey, and myself. Now, the young
guys in their 20s can really play. You see it all the time. They come in with
years of experience playing on the Internet and they are super tough."
"I consider myself like a bridge between the old poker world and the new. I
saw the way it used to be. But I also see where it is going, with computers
and lots of new young players. So, I guess I'm not really a kid anymore."
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|Daniel Negreanu wins the
Tunica Grand's WSOP Circuit
The kid is Back, Daniel