Poker star Daniel Negreanu, a six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, gets as fired up talking about hockey as he does cards.
The 46-year-old Toronto native, who calls Las Vegas home now, relished the opportunity to watch a full NHL postseason play out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic before preparing for his "High Stakes Feud" heads-up grudge match against Doug Polk premiering on the streaming service PokerGO® Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT.
"I mean, pretty darn cool right? What'd they do like 38,000 tests and had zero positives the entire time? You're asking a lot of these players," Negreanu said over the phone on Tuesday. "I know it's not like they went to war, but they can't see their kids the entire time, it's tough mentally for a lot of these guys to feel like you're cramped up. A lot of these [players] are extroverted type personalities that want to go out, have fun. But as far as the production quality, fantastic, the way it made the arenas look. I think after a while you sort of forgot there were no fans."
Negreanu, a member of the "Founding 50" — a group who helped bring the Golden Knights to Vegas — has been a bit baffled by the Knights' goaltending situation with former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury like a lot of fans.
"I spoke with (Robin) Lehner before he came to the team and really like the guy, he's a great guy," Daniel said. "Fleury is literally the face of the franchise, so it's amazing to see how well they get along, it helps them. But the organization itself has handled this as poorly as possible.
"Starting with (coach) Gerard Gallant and firing him. You got a guy everybody loves and you get rid of him because he lost four games. Now you make [Fleury] the face of the franchise and tell him he's the No. 1, then you bring in another guy and at the same time [you're] telling him to buy a house because you're going to be our No. 1 guy. Then bringing both goalies into the offseason, assuming that you could trade Fleury and then you're left with egg on your face.
"You've lost all your leverage, you signed Lehner, we know you have to make a move, so we're going to rake you over the coals. So now they put themselves in a position where they had to lose [Paul] Stastny and Nate Schmidt to keep Fleury because they can't move him. ... It's cruel and unusual punishment for a guy who's been the face of your franchise."
In preparation for the heads-up event, Daniel has been forced to step outside his comfort zone of live traditional No Limit Texas Hold'em.
"I'm hopeful of course, but to be honest, my practice sessions have gone horribly bad," Negreanu said. "In one sense, I've actually been playing well and I know that, but I've been running really unlucky."
Daniel hopes his luck turns around and he plans on improving his game and closing the gap in the later stages of the matchup against Polk, 32, once considered the best heads-up poker player in the world, who made a name for himself online.
Polk knows that Negreanu is coming into his house and is greatly outmatched given Doug's strengths.
"I think he'll make a lot of pretty common mistakes that players make when they're new to heads up," Polk said via Zoom on Tuesday. ... "When you play in heads-up, it's one to one, it's not like there's a bunch of people. There's nowhere to hide, there's no waiting for a good hand, you can't have a few drinks and fold a few. You are in every hand. Every mistake one guy makes is money to the other guy. So it's just direct. There's no time where you can chill out a bit and have fun and be social or take a break, it's every hand."
In Doug's mind, he's able to pinpoint the moment the feud started.
"Daniel made a comment back in 2014, he said with two weeks of study he could beat 25/50 online (an ultra-competitive game). It would be the equivalent of someone who's a recreational golfer being like, 'Yeah, yeah, you give me two weeks... PGA Tour, I'm in there. Maybe I wouldn't win the event, but I'd be in the top few golfers.'
"No you wouldn't. It doesn't matter if you have two weeks or whatever, you played some golf in your home or whatever it was. You're not going to have that ability. So Daniel basically said in two weeks he could beat it, I said, 'No you can't, let's bet a bunch of money on it,' and he said he wouldn't actually go through with it because his life was too awesome. That was the moment where I was like, 'Yeah, this might not be my favorite guy.'"
Negreanu saw the feud starting a different way.
"I would look at it like this, a young kid came on the scene. He was a fan of mine, he admitted this. He started trying to make a name for himself by smearing and attacking others and I remember the first time I saw a headline and it was from a YouTube video that said, 'Jason Mercier cheating allegation', and Jason is a really well-respected young member of the community and when you read a title like that, what is your first thought? 'Jason is cheating, people are accusing Jason of cheating?' [It was] nothing of the sort. But he did that and I sort of spoke out against that behavior."
The rivals will play a total of 25,000 hands, with the option for the loser to quit after 12,500, to settle the beef.