Daniel Negreanu talks about playing more of a GTO style of play in no-limit hold'em tournaments
Las Vegas, NV (1 June 2018) - The 2018 World Series of Poker is only a few days old, but some of the best no-limit hold’em players in the world are making their way to the Rio on Friday afternoon for the kickoff of one of the biggest buy-ins on the schedule.
The $100,000 no-limit hold’em high roller event started at 3 p.m. on Friday and the Amazon room is filled with some of poker’s biggest names. Daniel Negreanu is among them, and over the last year, has touted the changes he’s made to his no-limit hold’em game.
It’s the crux of the strategy debate of the poker world – Game Theory Optimal (GTO) vs. an exploitative strategy.
Negreanu, and many of some of what would call ‘Old School Pros,’ came up playing an exploitable style of no-limit hold’em. Some of the newer pros, who litter the high roller fields, put more faith into a GTO style of play. After putting in countless hours battling in those types of fields, the Canadian pro thought it was time for a change in his fundamental strategy.
“It was the Poker Masters in September,” said the six-time bracelet winner about when he knew it was time to make a change. “I played against Steffen Sontheimer and some of the other players. I felt like I got outplayed in a few hands and they mentioned a few things that sounded really interesting to me that I didn’t even really understand.”
After being on top of the poker world for so long, feeling outplayed was a new experience for Negreanu. He enlisted some help and got to work.
“I started working with a couple guys and it was really intimidating at first,” said Negreanu. “But by the end, after a while, I really got it.”
The work paid off. Since last September, Negreanu’s results in no-limit hold’em tournaments have been as good as nearly anybody on the planet. He’s fresh off a runner-up finish in PokerGO’s Super High Roller Bowl for $3 million and cashed for just shy of $5 million over the last eight months, exclusively in no-limit hold’em events with buy-ins of $25,000 or more.
In an era where many of the pros on top of the game in the pre-Moneymaker boom aren’t on top of the no-limit hold’em world anymore, Negeranu worked hard to get back on top. With a solid understanding of GTO fundamentals, the game is getting easier for him.
“The game is easier again and it was easier for me back in 2004,” said Negreanu. “But it’s easier now in the sense that I understand relatively quickly what is my standard, baseline bet and that’s what I’m going to go with unless I have some information or some reasons to deviate from that. That’s kind of how I’m thinking about it.”
Doing something a certain way for over two decades with massive success, and then coming to the realization that what you’ve been doing for so long is no longer going to work is a tough pill to swallow. He went into his coaching sessions with an open mind, but also wanted to question things that he thought might not be correct.
“You’re instill with 20 years of experience playing a certain way and then there are some bet sizing things where you go ‘Really? That’s interesting.’ I wasn’t resistant in the sense that I will not listen, but I am going to come back with some counter arguments,” said Negreanu. “That didn’t happen very often, honestly.”
Some other pros, on the other hand, aren’t so receptive to the new strategies and have been outspoken in their critiques of the idea. Negreanu thinks these players are simply sacrificing their own improvement as a poker player to prove that their way of playing the game is correct.
“Ego,” said Negreanu when asked why other players aren’t as receptive. “If you think you know everything, why would you spend time learning something new? In order to improve, it requires humility, hard work and focus. If you lack the humility to realize that maybe there are some things that I can improve upon, then you stunt your own growth.”
In theory, GTO strategy isn’t just confined to no-limit hold’em. Coming up with a mathematically sound baseline strategy to play unexploitable can be calculated and used in other games. Negreanu sees this trend slowly starting to take hold in some of the mixed games.
“Definitely. You can use a lot of similar tools in terms of the way you break down hands,” said Negreanu. “Before, I would look at a guy and go ‘I think he’s got nines.’ But now, I can actually break down, from a different perspective, what type of hands does he have here, what type of range does he have here. And that is going to be true in all games.”
Unlike no-limit hold’em, Negreanu is in no hurry to start overhauling his strategy in some of the other games.
“I understand those games pretty darn good,” said Negreanu. “I don’t expect to be changing things too much of how I play the other games.”