Anybody who watched the 2018 US Poker Open probably remembers seeing a different version of Daniel Negreanu. Nearly six months after first sitting down with a pair of coaches who were tasked with bringing Negreanu up to speed on the game theory optimal approach to poker, the 44-year-old was sitting at the table with measured posture, checking with the same single finger all while being relatively quiet.
Skip ahead to Super High Roller Bowl V this past December and most of that was missing. Negreanu was once again chatting up his opponents, playing a looser, seemingly more aggressive game. He was once again having fun at the table and sharing that joy with the viewers back home. For all intents and purposes, ‘Kid Poker’ was back.
To the surprise of nobody who has been paying attention to Negreanu during that time, the shift all comes down to his reunion with Amanda Leatherman. The pair got engaged on New Year’s Eve. Many have noticed that Negreanu’s demeanor at the table and away from it are approaching new levels of giddiness.
“I think a lot of people have said that too, even (PokerStars Pro Talent Relations Manager) Melanie (Moser) said that to me the other day,” Negreanu said. “I think just playing poker’s been fun, but it’s funny because I bought this ring for Amanda ten years ago. When I bought it for her she was young, she was like 22, 23. She was not ready to be married.”
Negreanu says Leatherman was more interested in living life in the “fast lane” when they first dated. She had no interest in settling down, the eight-year age difference between them playing a role. The pair eventually split, but Negreanu continued to hold on to the ring. In September, Leatherman returned to Las Vegas after taking a job with Poker Central as part of the Friday Night Poker broadcast team. As Negreanu tells it, Leatherman was the one pursuing him.
“I did not take her seriously. I was like, ‘Let’s have some fun like we used to,’ but I didn’t see her as like a wife for me,” Negreanu said. “I just realized, ‘Wow, she’s really grown up and we get along,’ and then I thought to myself, ‘What’s the point of looking for somebody who looks like Amanda, has a personality like Amanda, and we have a vibe like her when I could just give her a shot?’”
Now, with a wedding happening sometime in 2019, Negreanu is talking about adding to his legacy in a way that has nothing to do with poker. He wants to start a family with Leatherman sooner rather than later.
“Our goal is to have at least one of our own. Then we’ll see from there,” said Negreanu. “I think adopting two as well as having two of our own would be a good round number, four. I’m not held to any sort of number. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Priorities are shifting for Negreanu and have less to do with poker than ever before. He’s thinking less about check-raising and GTO and more about vegan wedding menus and invite lists. One of Negreanu’s yearly traditions, his goals blog where he recaps the previous year and lays out what he intends to accomplish in the 12 months ahead, has also been pushed to the backburner.
“I do one every year, and because my priorities are just not aligned on that. I don’t have any clear ones that I feel like I need to achieve right now. This might be a year where I don’t write one and just take a year off of writing one,” Negreanu said. “I always talk about clear intention. This is diverted attention, like how much is my mind going to be on this when I’m actually thinking about the wedding and all that?”
Even if there are four or five Kid Poker kids running around the house, Negreanu isn’t thinking of retiring from the game – at least in the formal sense of the word.
“There’s no such thing with poker. The World Series of Poker is in Las Vegas, right? So I live there. I’m always going to come to Europe a couple of times a year and play some of those,” Negreanu said. “Retirement in the sense of am I where David Peters is in his life, where David is grinding every tournament, playing everyone in the world, and focusing on his game more, and things like that? I’ve been retired like that for many years now – ten plus years. My goal is to just be competitive at those levels.”
Negreanu doesn’t expect to be amongst the best players in that group anymore. He knows he can’t put in the amount of work required to stay in that group if he’s putting a good chunk of his attention into his home life too. All of that could change in the next few years as the Negreanu household eventually settles into some sort of routine and the Hall of Famer wants to again shift his focus back to poker. That being said, Negreanu looks at his career accomplishments and recognizes that there isn’t a lot left for him to do that he hasn’t already done.
“There’s not really much I have to prove. One thing that I was holding onto for most of my career was the top spot on the money list. The chances of me ever being number one again is almost nil, because every year now you have a group of kids who all get eight to ten million in winnings,” Negreanu said. “I guess one number I’m still proud of, I guess, is the (earnings list) that doesn’t count high rollers, because I’m way ahead on that one. I don’t know that anyone will ever catch me on that one, especially if I’m playing a steady diet of World Series events that are under $25K.”
That doesn’t mean Negreanu will be playing significantly less poker in 2019. He’d already scaled back his travel schedule over the past few years, focusing on events in his hometown of Las Vegas over the last two years. He’s going to continue his work with PokerStars and plans on being as much of an ambassador as he ever was for the company and the game.
“Obviously I’ll be at the World Series Poker. We’re doing vlogs again,” Negreanu said. “The next few months we’re working on wedding lists and all that kind of stuff, so that will be a little bit of a distraction. (It was) something that I was thinking about during the PokerStars Players Championship that I probably shouldn’t have been, but my priority right now is her, and waking up every morning and thinking about how I can make her happy, and make her days as joyful as possible, and have her smiling throughout the day.”
“That’s priority number one, but she’s a poker fan. She’s a poker player. She gets it.”