I'd like to do this, but...
Daniel Negreanu (pronounced neh-GRAH-noo) is a small, slightly built man of 30. His job in Las Vegas, where he has bought a house for Mommy, is playing poker for eight hours a night or more, for pots as high as a million dollars, with older men named Eskimo Clark, Jesus Ferguson and Texas Dolly Brunson. Negreanu looks small, boyish, defenseless, with his bottle of water and Mommy's brown-bag lunch at his feet. Often during his poker games, Mommy calls from home. If he's winning, she says: ''Good. That's enough. Come here, I made some cabbage rolls.'' If he's losing, she says: ''Today is not your day. Come home, I'll make you some mamaliga.'' If he's breaking even, she says: ''Nothing is happening. Come home, I made some fresh vinete.''
Negreanu claims not to have much interest in money, except as a means of keeping score. After he won that $1.8 million at the Bellagio, he bought six videos and put the rest of the money in poker chips in a lockbox at the casino as if it were a bus-station locker. The chips are still there. The $1.1 million Negreanu won in Atlantic City was converted into $300,000 in cash and an $800,000 check. Back home in Las Vegas, he discovered that he left the check in his hotel room; the maid threw it out, and Negreanu had to fly back for another check. ''I don't believe much in banks,'' he says. ''Although I do have one bank account with not much in it, just a couple hundred thousand.'' He also doesn't believe in credit cards, or buying anything he can't afford to pay cash for, which is why he always travels with a wad of $100 bills held together with an elastic band.
Negreanu has two basic rules for playing poker. First, maximize your best hand and minimize a mediocre hand. Too many novices play too many mediocre hands when not bluffing, which increases their chances of losing. Great players only play hands when they have ''the nuts,'' or unbeatable cards; otherwise they fold hand after hand. Second, play hours, not results. Negreanu sets a time limit for his play and sticks to it, whether he's winning or losing. If he goes beyond his time limit, he risks playing ''tired hands'' when he is not sharp. (Before a tournament, Negreanu gives up alcohol and caffeine. ''I do nothing, to numb my brain,'' he says, ''except watch poker film -- just like an N.F.L. team before the Super Bowl.'')
Negreanu says that most great players are geniuses, then lists the kinds of genius they must have: 1) a thorough knowledge of poker; 2) a mathematical understanding of the probabilities of a card being dealt, given the cards visible; 3) a psychological understanding of an opponent; 4) an understanding of an opponent's betting patterns -- that is, how he bets with the nuts and how he bets when bluffing; and 5) the ability to read ''tells,'' or a player's physical reactions to the cards he is dealt. Negreanu is a master at reading tells, although he claims it is an overrated gift, since only mediocre players have obvious tells. The best players, of course, have poker faces.
Negreanu says he can break down opponents' hands into a range of 20 possibilities after two cards are dealt. After the next three cards are dealt, he says, he can narrow the possible hands to five, and after the last two cards are dealt, to two. ''It's not an exact science,'' he admits, ''but I can reduce the possibilities based on the cards showing, his betting pattern, tells, his personality and my pure instinct.''