There were just six players left and Darius Neagoe rejected the deal.
It was just last week that the 28-year old Romanian poker pro found himself at the final table of the 2019 888poker LIVE Bucharest Festival Main Event with an overwhelming chip lead and only five players standing in his path to taking home the title. He was on the verge of booking a career-defining score, one that he never could have imagined 10 years ago when he, admittedly, didn’t know anything about the game.
“The way I started playing poker is a bit funny,” Neagoe recalled. “One of my college friends approached me one day with a bit of a hustle. If I made an account on a certain online site they would give me $50 to play. Obviously, I didn’t know anything about poker but I made an account.”
What started out as friends playing some online poker quickly turned into a new path for Neagoe. He went from clicking buttons in some Double or Nothing Sit & Gos “with zero knowledge and some purely mega fishy luck” to running his bankroll up to $400, which he promptly cashed out, only to run it up again.
“At that time, the games were very easy. There were lots of weak players splashing around so with a little bit of studying it became effortless to make money. So, for a long time, I didn’t take poker very seriously. I was calling myself a ‘professional poker player’ but nothing was professional about what I was doing or how I approached the game.
“I was making money and for a 19-year old kid that was enough.”
However as the games got tougher, Neagoe struggled to find his way into taking the game more seriously and pushing himself. It took him almost five years of trying to navigate the game before he found a group that could take him to the next level.
“I discovered an amazing group of friends, found my role models and somebody to show me the path I needed to follow. I moved to Bucharest to be close to them and that’s when the change really started and I started treating poker very seriously, finally becoming a pro.”
Neagoe knows that turning pro after college wasn’t exactly a road well-traveled. Poker in Romania still has some room to grow in both stature and acceptance.
“Romania is a very traditional state,” Neagoe admitted. “Poker is still frowned upon. It’s mainly played by the young. We do have lots of great players who are making waves in live and online poker and its popularity is growing. Every other week some Romanian is at the Sunday Million final table or another Sunday Major. We have had some legislation problems but things are getting better.”
Neagoe is one of those players making waves. Neagoe took a shot at in the 888poker LIVE festival in 2018 but quickly busted out. Soon thereafter, he actually became ill, which took him away from poker for nearly six months. So earlier this year, as his health returned, he was ready to get back at it.
“I was itching to play online and kick some ass! It all started on March 1 at a party with my poker friends. I was telling them that I was planning on returning to the tables and I was going to play until I burned out. When they told me about 888poker’s Bucharest Festival returning I thought, after this grind, it would be a way to relax a little bit and gain some more experience at the live tables.”
It turned out that he got more than he bargained for. He registered for the Main Event and for the next three days he fought every step of the way to make a deep run.
“I had lots of top players at my first table and my friends were in heaven with their tables. I had to push through…I won some chips, played solid and made it to Day 2 with a top 20 stack.”
After grinding it out on Day 1, he was ready for a new seat assignment on Day 2.
“The 2nd day…same story! It was a tough table with lots of solid players. I tried to play my game, never getting out of line and putting constant calculated pressure while trying to build my stack. But it’s poker, some plans come together and others fall apart in a matter of seconds.”
Late in Day 2, he was short but he didn’t give up. He doubled. And again. By the end of the Day Neagoe was second in chips heading into Day 3.
However, once again, his plans of wielding a big stack to the final table fell apart and he entered the final table with under 10 big blinds. As he had all tournament, he fought his way back, picked off a bluff and once again began to put his opponents in tough situations.
With six players left he was, once again, the big stack and after everything he’d been through in the tournament, when he was asked about a chop, Neagoe was not ready to make a deal.
The battle continued and eventually, Neagoe got heads up with Bogdan Nicolae for the €75,000 first-place prize, the title and a trip to Las Vegas to play in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker.
With stacks nearly even, Nicolae offered Neagoe a deal. This time, he took it.
“I had the misfortune of getting heads up with one of the best poker players in Romania. He has massive experience both live and online so when the stacked were even he asked again, I accepted. The difference between first and second was about €28K, a massive gap for both of us, we chip-chopped the money and played for the Vegas package.”
Neagoe secured €62,300, the largest payday of the festival. With the burden of the money behind them, they played it out for the trip to the WSOP. Neagoe came out on top and now, ten years after making his first online deposit of $50, he’s going to be playing in the biggest tournament in poker.
“I’ve never played the WSOP. This is only the eighth or ninth live tournament I’ve played. I’m looking forward to just having fun. I’m lucky that my job is something that I love to do and have fun with. I’m going to go there and give it my best.”
With a signature win on his resume, Neagoe is looking forward to the summer in Las Vegas as well as his future in poker.
“I’m happy that I’m not going to Las Vegas alone, I’ll be with my friends so it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ll play some of the smaller events and also gain experience. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll make some money.
“I hope 888poker comes back next year, they have a great team and they are doing a great job. If so, I’ll be there to take it down again for sure.”