The Common Bond Between Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson
A reporter recently asked me, “who’s the greatest poker player of all time?”
My answer was — it depends on how we define “greatest.”
Are we judging raw talent? Are we counting the most money won over a lifetime? Are we comparing the most accomplishments and accolades? Are we measuring longevity? Are we weighing popularity? Or, should we define “greatest” by all these things?
Bingo. That’s my final answer. All these things — talent, money, accomplishments, accolades, popularity, and longevity — should merit consideration.
By these criteria, when it comes to determining the greatest ever, I don’t know how anyone could argue any poker player, past or present, other than Doyle Brunson.
The documentation in support of Brunson from the mid-1950s to the present is so self-evident, that the far more interesting debate should be — who is the poker player most likely to follow in “Texas Dolly’s” footsteps and eventually match his legacy?
My vote would go to Daniel Negreanu.
There’s a certain irony to the fact that just this past summer, both of these iconic poker players celebrated a landmark birthday. On July 26th, Negreanu reached his 40th birthday. Two weeks later on August 10th, Brunson turned 80. In other words, Negreanu is half of Brunson’s age right now.
Age is important here because given that Brunson remains somewhat active, it proves that a financially secure poker player can remain competitive at high stakes into his 80s. Of course, Brunson would be the first to concede that he doesn’t have as much energy as when he was 40, and might even admit he’s slowed down a bit. But even at the age of 73, Brunson won a World Poker Tour Championship. He still sits down in big cash games and plays an occasional tournament here and there.
What this means is, Negreanu should have at least another four decades ahead to pad his resume. That’s a shuddering thought.
Nineteen years into the game as a bona fide professional poker player when he turned 21, Negreanu already ranks first as the biggest money winner in tournament history. That figure now stands at $30 million (coincidentally, the estimated lifetime winnings I once calculated for the late Stu Ungar which was documented in his biography “One of a Kind”). Negreanu’s winnings are certain to skyrocket even higher as he enters more high-profile events and continues to acquire future earnings.
Negreanu also holds six World Series of Poker gold bracelets, plus two World Poker Tour titles. Yet, although he’s made five European Poker Tour championship final tables, he’s yet to win a title. That’s one of the few voids on an otherwise stellar tournament resume.
There’s plenty of additional evidence in support of Negreanu as the poker player most likely to go down as the greatest ever, including an impressive diary of cash game winnings, multiple “Player of the Year” titles awarded by various organizations and media, and a celebrity status that’s unequaled by just about anyone other than Phil Ivey and perhaps Phil Hellmuth. Negreanu may also be the game’s most influential player, given his longtime association with both the online and land-based communities, as well as his outspoken beliefs were being shared privately with the movers and shakers in poker and the public at large via his constant writings and videos. He’s even altered the game strategically speaking, by coming up with an alternative playing style, called “Small Ball.”
Yet, my vote for Negreanu rests not so much in what he’s already done, as impressive as that record is, but the direction he’s now headed. Here’s a man with a single-minded purpose and sense of determination that’s almost entirely projected through the prism of the game of poker. Yes, Negreanu has plenty of other interests, too. But virtually all of them accentuate his position within poker and make him a better player. Whether it’s his lucrative multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with PokerStars, which is guaranteed to provide a lifetime of opportunity to participate in any poker event for any stakes for probably the rest of his life, or his continual journey of self-discovery via the Choice Center, Negreanu is primed to be a force in the game for perhaps four more decades.
Money and fame and probably poker too will be quite different in the year 2054, assuming that we make it that far. That’s when Negreanu will be Brunson’s age. Looking back then, Brunson will be remembered as some kind of George Washington figure in poker history. He is and will always be “the first.” He set the standard. But as history shows us in a variety of disciplines, once certain benchmarks of accomplishment are established by legends, the goal of all those who follow is to reach that pinnacle and then surpass it.
I predict that Negreanu will do precisely that.
And right now, somewhere in the world, a child is being born who might eventually surpass Negreanu, as well. Mark it down and look it up — in the year 2094.
Note: One could also make a very strong case for Phil Ivey as the (eventual) “greatest” player. If someone out there wants to take on that argument, I wouldn’t dispute it. However, I believe Negreanu is probably in a better position to do more in poker over a longer period of time, than Ivey.
PHOTO CREDIT: Toronto Sun / IfPress.com