Being Broke but Never Quitting: The Years That Built Daniel Negreanu’s Career

When people look at players who have become household names, with gold bracelets adorning their wrists and millions in the bank, they often wonder how a player ever reached that point in their career. Whether they simply got very lucky in one big tournament, or whether they had to grind like crazy for many years. Often, the truth is somewhere in between the two, and that fact certainly rings true in the case of Daniel Negreanu.


Pool and the discovery of poker

Daniel Negreanu set out on his path to poker stardom by stepping into pool halls and out of classrooms, essentially giving up on his education by the time he was in 10th grade. His thirst to discover the intricacies of games and improve at them was evident even in these early years, where he soon started making some money from pool. During this time, he met Evelyn Ng and hung around with a group of friends who all enjoyed competing at pool, with Negreanu soon discovering a strong inner desire to win. Negreanu describes one pool session in which he played someone for $2, and the opponent kept wanting to play double or nothing each time he lost. By the end of the day he owed the 16-year old Negreanu $4,096. Nobody seemed able to match his determination to improve and to win at games, which is something Negreanu has always spoken of as a strength.

Evelyn Ng talks about her life with Daniel Negreanu at the pool


Toronto home games

Despite his hustling skills, Daniel Negreanu did not always have a comfortable bankroll to fall back on, and describes going broke on numerous occasions. The stepping stones between being bankrolled and being broke started in his hometown of Toronto. Despite being meticulous in taking notes of his wins and losses, not to mention expenses, and also grading his sessions based on how he felt he played – the fledgling pro still didn’t adhere to proper bankroll management in his early days. He built and rebuilt his bankroll playing Limit Holdem in private games, often in a club called Check&Raise. When one of the fish at that game decided to open his own poker club however, the regs followed him there, despite the place being a serious step down from their former club. However, that gave Negreanu a poker lesson, who learned that as a pro, you have to let the fish choose the game and venue.

Despite the competition to win in these card rooms, there was still a hint of friendship between those that played, as shown by the robbery that took place in a card room that Negreanu was playing in one night. With no jewellery on him and only casino chips rather than cash, he was unable to comply with the robbers who requested that all the players put their cash and valuables in front of them. The man next to him quickly skimmed some cash off his own pile and placed it in front of Negreanu before the robbers noticed, thus saving him from a possible beating.

The Vegas Experience

Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas (back)

As a young man with dreams of making it big, Las Vegas was like a dream for Negreanu, who describes his first experiences there in 1996 as giving him ‘chills’. The history surrounding the Horseshoe Casino was always important to him, and he described the place as “dungy and dirty, but it felt like poker”.

Negreanu describes going broke numerous times back then but he never took it that same way others did. He always bounced straight back to the tables the next day to try to grind up whatever small amount of money he could scrape together. He learned with every experience, and it took him quite some time to crack Vegas and make it as a top pro. While he played satellites during the WSOP, Negreanu wouldn’t compete in his first full World Series event until 1998.

The bracelet that changed everything

Nagreanu-First-Bracelet (1)While playing a satellite for a WSOP event one day in 1998, Negreanu found himself sat with Todd Brunson. Having learnt some harsh lessons about lending money and staking people in the previous months, the young Canadian was low on cash and upon winning the satellite, was going to cash the seat in rather than play it. Todd Brunson convinced him otherwise however, offering to buy a piece of his action – and after agreeing, Negreanu’s career path was forever changed. He won the $2,000 Pot Limit Holdem event for $170,000 to become the youngest bracelet winner in history, an accolade he held until 2005.

Having defeated a final table that included Johnny Chan, Erik Seidel and Dan Harrington among others, Negreanu’s journey from the pool halls to poker champion was complete. His road was never easy, and he endured a busted roll many times along the way. Even when the money ran out however, his character never faltered. He persevered, kept taking his shots and never let himself be negative after being knocked back. That attitude is something we can all learn from, and is perhaps the defining factor that helped Daniel Negreanu to become the global star he is today. 

Daniel Negreanu describes the experience of winning a first bracelet

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Article by Craig Bradshaw