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Talkative Negreanu raises players’ voice

Daniel Negreanu is a poker activist, championing any cause he believes will improve the game.

The latest hot-button issue he is speaking out against is excessive time wasting. Or, as he calls it, tanking.

“It’s becoming an epidemic with a lot of the young players,” Negreanu said. “I’m actually getting some shirts made that say, ‘Don’t be a clocksucker.’ ”

Negreanu, 38, has been campaigning for faster play throughout this year’s World Series of Poker at the Rio Convention Center. It’s his ObamaCare. He tweets about it. He blogs about it. And every time he sits at a table, he delivers the same stump speech.

“ ‘Hey, guys, this is how it’s going to be. After your first tank, I’m going to be calling the clock in two minutes,’ ” Negreanu said. “Once you call the clock, a player has 60 seconds to act. It’s funny. Just the threat of it speeds up play, and I haven’t had to call the clock on anyone.”

Thanks to his talkative style and a steady stream of WSOP final-table appearances, Negreanu was one of the biggest stars to emerge from the poker boom of the past 10 years and will be one of the most popular players during the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold ’em World Championship, which begins at noon today.

The extroverted Toronto native is also one of the poker’s most respected professionals, serving as the players’ de facto spokesperson and a bridge between the game’s old guard and the young guns. Whenever someone has a poker issue, they usually go to the five-time gold-bracelet winner first.

“There are many who helped shape the modern WSOP, but I can’t think of a player more influential than Daniel,” WSOP executive director Ty Stewart said. “From many of the events on the schedule to the structures and procedures, Negreanu’s fingerprints are all over the World Series of Poker.

“Personally, he’s my E.F. Hutton. And why not listen to a guy who’s passionate to make things better?”

Negreanu is passionate about several issues in poker — and not afraid to speak out. He thinks the game’s popularity in the United States has plateaued because of the Justice Department’s move in 2011 to shut down online poker. The son of Romanian immigrants notes that you’re free to play in Moscow but not New York.

As a result, he said, the rest of the world has surpassed the United States in producing young players.

Negreanu is an outspoken critic of poker professionals Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson, along with former Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar, three principal figures in the scandal involving online card room.

He also has carried on a long, public feud with poker pro Annie Duke, accusing the former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant of knowing the software for online card room Ultimate Bet contained a “cheat” mode, among other indiscretions.

“I’ve been one of those people that has stayed above the fray throughout my career, and every poker scandal that’s ever been in our industry, I’ve been on the right side of,” Negreanu said. “So with that comes some clout and respect and leadership opportunities where I can be a voice for our community, and I think people look to me in a lot of ways as one of the few people that can do that.

“I take that responsibility seriously … and any time I see something that’s not being handled right I’m going to speak out. I’m not afraid of conflict, that’s for sure.”

Negreanu has been one of the top performers at this year’s WSOP, ending a five-year bracelet drought in April by taking down the WSOP Asia-Pacific Main Event at Melbourne, Australia, and cashing in six more events at the Rio. The Summerlin resident reached the final table for the $2,500 triple-draw lowball on Friday night and is second in the WSOP Player of the Year standings heading into the Main Event.

The 10-day tournament begins with Day 1A and continues until nine players remain. The final table will be Nov. 4 and 5 at the Rio. Last year’s tournament, won by 24-year-old Greg Merson of Laurel, Md., drew nearly 6,600 entrants.

In preparation for the prestigious event, Negreanu has shifted into “Rocky” mode when he watches all six movies featuring the journeyman boxer. He said he is hoping the movies inspire him to make a third consecutive deep run in the Main Event.

“My confidence is very high. I call it the ‘D-Neg swagger,’ ” Negreanu said. “I’m sure there’s been years when I’ve played better than I have this year. I’m really just trusting myself, going back to trusting what I know is right and listening less to what others think about my game.”

Contact reporter David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.

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