Ten years ago, with Chris Moneymaker's improbable victory shown repeatedly on ESPN and weekly must-see World Poker Tour shows on the Travel Channel, poker truly became mainstream. It seemed that every day another poker show would air on television -- often on multiple channels -- and on each of those shows, players became superstars. Even today, players like Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Erik Seidel, John Juanda, Mike Matusow and Michael Mizrachi resonate with the general public.
Perhaps the most well-known star from those shows is Daniel Negreanu, who was recently named the Global Poker Index's top player of the past decade. What does this really mean? Since the boom, "Kid Poker" has simply been dominant.
"It's a great honor and definitely something I'm proud of," Negreanu said of the ranking. "I've been putting consistent results for over a decade and it's nice to be acknowledged for all the hard work that goes into that."
It's no surprise that with the flourishing online game, the young guard has taken over the poker world over the past few years. Playing millions of hands and carefully analyzing every possible scenario through a variety of resources, these 20-somethings, which include 2012 WSOP champion Greg Merson, Ben Lamb, Joe Cada, Shannon Shorr, Scott Seiver and Tom Marchese, dominated the victory stand time and time again. However, in 2013, Negreanu was the one to chase.
With 14 cashes, seven final tables and two World Series of Poker bracelets, Negreanu's 2013 was astounding. It began with a near final table at the $125,000 PartyPoker Premier League in London and continued with four final appearances, including two at WSOP Asia-Pacific. One of those in Australia led to his fifth WSOP bracelet in the inaugural main event, besting a stellar field. Although leading the WSOP Player of the Year race heading into the WSOP in Las Vegas, Negreanu knew he still had plenty of work left to achieve this goal for the second time (he captured the title in 2004). Cashing in six more events, including a runner-up finish in Event 59 ($2,500 2-7 triple draw lowball), Negreanu owned the second spot in the race heading into WSOP Europe. After a runner-up finish in the 10,300 euro EPT High Roller in Barcelona, Negreanu finished 25th in the WSOP Europe main event and needed an eighth-place finish or better in the 25,600 euro high roller event to capture the WSOP Player of the Year title. As he held up his sixth bracelet at the end of the night, Negreanu had reached the pinnacle once again.
Negreanu finished 2013 with an unprecedented POY Trifecta: WSOP, CardPlayer and Bluff (and, of course, ESPN.com latest edition of The Nuts). He would also finish the year No. 2 according to the Global Poker Index (GPI).
"This is obviously a big deal for me," he said. "Since 2004, when I won basically every award you could then: WPT, WSOP, CardPlayer [GPI and Bluff did not exist back then], I have put some years together where I have been amongst the top 20 or top 10. But to really come back with putting together a solid year; it's definitely an accomplishment I think is more meaningful in 2013 than 2004."
Although Negreanu wrapped up the first post-boom decade with an extraordinary year, to his own admission, he had lost some confidence, stemming from a broken relationship.
"I was in love with a woman a few years ago, and I suffered heartbreak through that," Negreanu said. "I did not realize that there was a connection to that and to my confidence in general and in my own ability. So when people started telling me, 'You can't win anymore, these kids are younger, smarter, better,' I started to believe it a little bit."
Earlier in 2013, Negreanu had the intention of overcoming this self-doubt and regaining his confidence, and decided to study at ChoiceCenter Leadership University, which offers personal development and leadership courses.
"The course is about Emotional Intelligence," offered Negreanu, who has become one of the Center's most vocal supporters. "You can be as talented and skilled in different areas and be good at what you do, but to really get to the top of any type of industry, the emotional intelligence aspect is equally or more important than all the other ones combined. And that's what ChoiceCenter is about. So I attribute my year to the whole experience I had with the Center."
By utilizing these teachings, Negreanu focused on the ideology of "Clear Intention," incorporating that into the world of poker. He realized that he needed to make clear choices to return to the top of the poker world. By allowing him to have the right mindset and confidence heading into 2013, Negreanu had one of the best years of his career.
"I realized that I was being sloppy with my language. I don't anymore say things like 'Well, if I get knocked out, we can go to a movie.' I don't put that out into the universe, if you will. I just focus on what my intention is, and that's to win. I set myself up in such a way where I plan on winning."
Having regularly played 35 to 40 events during the summer WSOP, Negreanu had to change his initial schedule due to his shift in mindset.
"My schedule was significantly different [during the 2013 WSOP] than I have had in the past," he said. "For one, when I actually wrote up my schedule of events, people were shocked because I wrote that I was playing only 17 events. I set up my schedule in such a way, assuming and with my intention of making the final table of these three- to four-day events which takes me out of playing these other ones."
Of course, Negreanu realized that he could not win every event, so if he was unfortunately eliminated from one, he planned on revising his schedule accordingly. However, he never altered his strategy and not once double dipped.
After exiting the summer in second in the WSOP Player of the Year race, Negreanu clearly had his sights on becoming the only player ever to win the title twice. Thus, he had some interesting revisions to his winning intentions due to this lofty, yet attainable goal.
"WSOP Player of the Year was a big goal for me," said Negreanu. "I knew that coming in eighth place in the [WSOP Europe] High Roller was going to lock that up. But then I thought there was also a bracelet on the line here. So I set a benchmark. Obviously my intention was still to win the tournament, but I also set a benchmark, which was eighth. Once I got the eighth, it freed me up to just really go with it. I already accomplished that goal and now it's time to focus on winning the bracelet."
Negreanu feels that he has regained his confidence and advantage over opposing players by returning to his poker roots that originally made him famous.
"My strengths are table talk and people-reading skills," he said. "So, just going back to what I'm good at, and realizing that when I put them on my turf, and I talk to them, the more I can talk, the more uncomfortable they are. That's when I feel like I've regained an advantage. Because they are out of their comfort zone and I'm about as comfortable as I could ever be."
Now with six career bracelets, Negreanu is tied for ninth place all time, trailing the leader, Phil Hellmuth, who owns 13 pieces of WSOP gold. Kid Poker feels like he is back in the race and could more than triple his current number of bracelets before all is said and done.
"My intermediate goal is very aggressive. I feel like at six, I am starting to feel like I'm actually back in the race a little bit. My goal in the next 10 years is to pick up eight bracelets, and get to 14 by the time I'm 49," he said. "And that still gives me 20 more years of playing to get to 20. I think 20 is a good number."
The past 10 years have been filled with tremendous accomplishments, so what does the next decade have in store for Negreanu? Whatever the poker gods deal him, Negreanu will continue to be confident and adapt to the ever-changing game of poker.
"The game has changed a lot over the past decade, and I expect it to keep evolving, but as I have been able to do the past decade, I'm confident I will be able to adjust and keep up for decades to come."
While change may be coming, the reality is that as the calendar turned to 2014, nothing has changed for one of the best in the world. Negreanu, in one of his first tournaments of the year, finished 14th in the $25,000 High Roller at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. It was just another day at the office.