As a teenager, Daniel Negreanu would visit the mall in his hometown of Toronto – but he wasn’t there to buy clothes.
Instead, he was there simply to watch people walk by.
It was, in part, the making of a genius. He wouldn’t realise it at the time, but by studying anyone and everyone who happened to enter his vision, Negreanu was mastering his craft.
When he took to the poker tables, it became his forte. He developed an almost subhuman ability to call his opponent’s hand, as he assessed his opponent’s body language on top of their betting patterns.
It would win him championships – six World Series of Poker bracelets, two World Poker Tour titles and over £32million in tournament winnings – and coupled with his quirky and bubbly personality which perfectly lent itself to the televised game, he soon became a true superstar of the felt.
“When I was learning the game as a teenager, I just noticed patterns,” Negreanu said.
“To some people, it may sound a bit silly. I’d sit on a bench for like an hour and I wouldn’t say anything, and I’d watch people walk by.
“I would make up stories in my head about who they are. What they were like in high school, whether I liked them, whether I could trust them, would they be honest.
“It wouldn’t matter if I was wrong, it was just the case of seeing what I could pick up.”
Negreanu ended up becoming a blockbuster star of the game he was introduced to by friends at his local snooker centre. He soon got the poker bug and would host private games in his basement, or even play in the cafeteria at school.
Those games were funded by a modest early working life: he was a telemarketer, but didn’t like people hanging up on him so quit after one day, and had spells working in Subway sandwiches, as a dishwasher and as a bus boy.
“I did a lot of those things in high school, just so I could have enough money to gamble at pool, or go to the pool hall, and eat and have a life,” he said.
“Those were the only jobs that I had but then as soon as poker took off for me, no more jobs existed.”
Ultimately, Negreanu knew he was destined for the big time when he made his debut at the World Series of Poker in 1998. In his very first event, he took home over £130,000 and won a coveted bracelet, which remains the holy grail for players learning the game today.
While it was confirmation that he could compete at the very highest level, it would also prove to be a steep learning curve.
“I was like ‘woah, I have so much money, I could never lose this money ever’ and the two months’ later, it disappeared,” he said.
“I think the first one was when I won my bracelet in my first-ever event at the World Series of Poker in 1998. My bankroll went from like $2,000 to $150,000.
“But then I started to stake the wrong people, I lent the wrong people money, a few of those things and then it was all gone.
“So that was a life lesson of understanding that I had to treat this more like a business, I can’t just do this loosey-goosey.”
Fast forward 22 years and Negreanu is now content that he has achieved all of his early life’s goals. Primarily, he wanted enough money so he would never have to work by the time he was 30.
He lives with his wife, Amanda, on the outskirts of Las Vegas, in a house built to his dream specifications. He has a pool, a golf simulator, a state-of-the-art TV multi-screen system, video games, everything he needs.
He actively avoids going on lavish holidays and visiting the world’s flashiest places in favour of kicking back on the sofa.
And despite appearing to be a natural showman on the televised poker tables, Negreanu says that he prefers playing online poker in the comfort of his own company – and is currently playing this year’s World Series of Poker, which is being hosted online on GGPoker.
“Contrary to popular belief, people make the assumption about me that I am an extrovert,” he explained. “I would say it’s the opposite. I’m very introverted and so is my wife.
“Introvert doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun and be socially engaging when you are out, it just means that when you are doing that, you are spending energy and it drains you.
“When I am home and relaxed, that is my favourite thing in the world, I feel energised.
“I find that a lot of people judge if you don’t go out hiking and seeing nature, travel and all that stuff, people think you’re not living,” he said. “If that’s what you like to do, more power to you, go out on a hike, go travel.
“Me and my wife love staying home. We love watching TV together, we love reading. What are you judging me for, because I am not living my life how you would do if you had money?
“We’re living a life as we designed it and as we want. Guess what, if we wanted to go out and go hiking, I can do that!
“Throughout my career, I travelled so much for poker. I would travel to Atlantic City, LA, whatever for months at a time.
“I would go to Europe for two straight months and I would see all these beautiful places, but they were always related to work. They were work trips.
“I remember I would go to say, Barcelona, and people would ask me what it is like there and I would say ‘I don’t know, the hotel was nice and the room service was good’ because I didn’t really experience it.
“The truth is that the only two vacations I’ve taken that were not poker related were my first honeymoon… and my second honeymoon!
“I am not a traveller. I much prefer staying at home. I feel that when I’m at home, I’m on a regular routine. I thoroughly enjoy that.”
Vegas has proven the ideal base for Negreanu, because while the outskirts of the city overlooking the desert provide him the peace and quiet he craves, he does remain just a 15 minute drive from the strip.
It is down the famous Las Vegas Boulevard in the world famous Bellagio where you might be most likely to spot him.
The Bellagio is the venue of poker’s most iconic high stakes environment: Bobby’s Room. And that’s the place where Negreanu’s world renowned status counts for nothing.
“When you enter Bobby’s Room, they don’t care if you are Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama. You’re just a person with money. So let’s sit down, put your money down on the table and let’s shoot the s*** as they would say!
“There is no sense of awe with these guys. They are all killers themselves.”
Negreanu came through a generation of iconic poker players. He would often brush shoulders with legends such as Phil Hellmuth, Tony G, Sammy Farha, Scotty Nguyen and Doyle Brunson.
But over the years, those names began to disappear from the limelight as they couldn’t keep pace with the younger, online-centred generation who were rapidly evolving the game.
The secret to success? Mindset.
“If you get to the point where you think you’re the best, and you’ve stopped learning and you’ve stopped working on your game – everyone else is still working really hard.
“I have watched the Rocky movies a lot and there is this montage where Rocky Balboa is doing commercials, doing ads, but Clubber Lang is in the gym, he’s working hard, sweat, blood and tears. What happens when Rocky fights him? Clubber Lang knocks him cold – because he was not prepared and not ready.
“I always look at these young and up-and-comers and rather than think ‘these kids have got nothing on me’, I think ‘what are these kids doing well? Is he better than me? And if he is, what is he doing so I can learn and be better?’
“I am constantly looking at my game, every six months to a year, looking if I am good enough and what do I need to be doing differently.
“I think a lot of my generation has fallen off, because of an unwillingness to learn from them and they just chastise themselves.”
So, what next for Negreanu? He actively admits that until this year’s World Series of Poker, he’s playing less than ever before – and his goal is now to create a version of himself that he is happier with.
“I have done everything in my life and now I want to look the part,” he explained as he talked through his decision to go through an extreme body transformation.
“I have tried different things at different times, with varying degrees of success, but I found a really good coach, who is vegan and he put me on a good meal plan, a good workout plan, with a good mindset.
“We went from 176lbs to 138lbs, which is a huge swing for someone of my size, but I feel great. Right now I’m at 140 and the plan is to gain muscle over the next year.
“I have always been someone who has been about self-improvement. I have always enjoyed working out, being on a plan, so it goes well with my way of thinking in life.”
As for poker? “When I was young, I had a clear goal in life in my early 20s, so that when I’m in my 30s, I don’t have to work, I can do whatever I want because I have enough money. And I’ve accomplished that goal.
“I play when I am inspired to play. I will play the high rollers, I will play the big tournaments, but outside of that, I have a pretty balanced life and it is not a case of burn out, because I still enjoy the game, but it’s just a case that I don’t have to do it to put food on the table.”