Top 10 Stories of 2015, #2: Negreanu’s Run and McKeehen’s Dominance in WSOP Main Event

Daniel Negreanu

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  • Negreanu's run and McKeehen's dominance in the WSOP Main Event are PokerNews' No. 2 story from 2015.

The PokerNews Top 10 Stories of 2015 is presented by PLO QuickPro, the fastest way to learn PLO.

As far as the poker world is concerned, the 2015 calendar year has come to a close. In PokerNews tradition, our staff has scrolled through the archives and gone over the most compelling stories of the year to determine what we feel are the top 10 of the year. Our list was generated based upon a vote from staff members and audience feedback. Over the next 10 days, we'll count down what we believe are the biggest and most interesting stories from 2015.

Coming in at No. 2 on this year's list is a group of two spectacular stories from the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event.

Mainstream media coverage of the insular and idiosyncratic poker world peaks for one distinct event every year — the World Series of Poker Main Event.

No other tournament inspires close to the level of interest that the Main Event does, as the massive prize money and the phrase "world champion of poker" play well in headlines and can capture the interest of a wide audience. The quality and depth of coverage the winner receives has varied over the years, from appearances on The Tonight Show to featured ESPN multimedia coverage during the booming years of poker.

The dominant victory of Joe McKeehen at the 46th annual WSOP in 2015 was a huge story, but for those within the game, an equally massive one grabbed just as much — if not more — attention. Aside from a satellite tournament, the only time 11th place can be as big a deal as first in poker is when that 11th-place finisher is one of the game's true immortals like Daniel Negreanu.

Daniel Negreanu Makes a Run for the November Nine

When Phil Ivey made the November Nine in 2009, it set the poker world abuzz with the possibility that arguably its biggest star would reach the pinnacle of the game. Negreanu's deep run rekindled that same fervor, as the poker world waited with bated breath to see if he would accomplish the improbable.

On his journey, he would cross paths with McKeehen, and their final interaction would be a major turning point in the Main Event, one that would capture the eyeballs of the entire poker world as both men weaved stories worthy of inclusion on this list.

The dawn of Day 7, the final day of the summer for the WSOP that would see the November Nine emerge from a field of 27, saw both Negreanu and McKeehen sit down to comfortable stacks. The Canadian superstar had just shy of 8.5 million, while the East Coast grinder had just south of 12 million at blinds of 60,000/120,000/15,000.

Negreanu, of course, had dominated media coverage leading up to that point, spending a huge portion of his tournament at the televised table. It helps to be seated with a fellow vocal superstar, and Negreanu found himself sitting opposite Phil Hellmuth on Day 4, which climaxed when Negreanu busted Hellmuth in a race with the {a-Clubs}{k-Clubs} against the {q-Spades}{q-Hearts}.

Foreshadowing things to come, while the media fawned over Negreanu, McKeehen quietly bagged the chip lead that day. His only fanfare came from a short interview with PokerNews' Chad Holloway.

Negreanu started out on fire on Day 7 and quickly moved into the eight-figure range, but things took a downhill turn from there. Not much seemed to go right for the Canadian besides survival, and he limped to the 18-player redraw with just 5.415 million as an hour remained of Level 32 (100,000/200,000/30,000). McKeehen had slightly increased his stack to just over 12 million, and the two drew their fateful seats facing each other on the main stage, with McKeehen in Seat 6 and Negreanu in Seat 9.

The new situation initially suited Negreanu just fine, as he began to work his magic and doubled his stack in just a few hands without a showdown. His surge hit its apex when he won a flip with the {a-Clubs}{j-Hearts} against the {7-Hearts}{7-Diamonds} of a short-stacked David Peters, pushing Negreanu to 13.41 million. With 67 big blinds, the crowd going wild for him, and a group of opponents whose poker accomplishments combined couldn't sniff Negreanu's legend, the Canadian seemed poised to make history.

McKeehen, though, had other ideas. He knocked Negreanu down a peg shortly thereafter when the two got in a preflop raising war, with Negreanu cold four-betting to 2.6 million in the blinds after McKeehen three-bet a Matt Guan open to 1.125 million. McKeehen shoved all in after some thought for nearly 10 million, and Negreanu eventually lifted his cards up and stared at the {a-Spades}{k-Diamonds} as if they had betrayed his deepest trust. He sent them into the muck, and the McKeehen Era had dawned.

McKeehen had already moved into the lead when one of the most crucial pots of the tournament occurred with 14 players left. Three players saw a {6-Hearts}{3-Diamonds}{2-Diamonds} flop for the minimum at Level 33 (120,000/240,000/40,000). McKeehen had flopped top set while fellow tough East Coast pro Justin Schwartz had middle set, and that was only going to play out one way, with McKeehen collecting Schwartz's entire stack of about 9.5 million.

That pushed McKeehen to 37.9 million, more than 150 big blinds, and the Philadelphia sports superfan suddenly found himself on an island, worlds apart from his competitors in terms of chip count. Realizing he was in an incredibly advantageous situation with chips to burn against opponents under the pressure of the biggest bubble in poker, McKeehen switched into hyper-aggressive mode and began playing seemingly every pot, daring his foes to do something about it.

Negreanu Takes On Joe McKeehen

One player who chose to fight back was Negreanu, who declared to PokerNews in an interview earlier in the WSOP that the only spot he cared about in every tournament was first. Unconcerned about McKeehen's ability to bust him at any moment, Negreanu tangled with McKeehen on numerous occasions but just couldn't get the better of the American, who continued to show down strong hands like sets and big pocket pairs.

A confounded Negreanu found himself walking a razor's edge at the bottom of the chip counts, shoving just to stay afloat as shorter stacks fell around him, leaving him at the five-handed table with 11 left and McKeehen raising almost every pot. It was clear the two were bound for a confrontation for Negreanu's stack since he wasn't willing to try to fold his way to the November Nine even with the presence of two shorter stacks.

The tension in the Amazon Room was palpable as the packed house cheered every Negreanu shoved and groaned at every lost chip. The entire poker world waited nervously to see who would emerge in the Canadian's inevitable all-in moment against McKeehen, as a double would almost assure Negreanu of a November Nine seat given his skill level and hypothetical stack.

Negreanu making the November Nine would be a bigger deal than even Ivey's legendary run. Poker was at a critical juncture, attempting to make political inroads in the United States with the long-term goal being the return of regulated online poker nation-wide. Poker fans and players everywhere envisioned Negreanu, with his charisma and tireless willingness to promote the game, leading the charge to return poker to its glory years.

So when the moment finally came, and Negreanu check-raised all in from the big blind on a {10-Diamonds}{k-Clubs}{a-Diamonds} flop and McKeehen called from the button, everyone watched intently as hands were tabled. Negreanu held {a-Spades}{4-Diamonds} for top pair, while McKeehen had flopped a combo draw with raggedy {j-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds}. He picked up more outs on the {3-Hearts} turn, and perhaps no river card in history has been sweated harder.

Would a jack, three, queen, or diamond fall to bust the hero, or would the people's champion make history?

When the dealer peeled the {q-Hearts} off the top of the deck, Negreanu's legs gave way and he collapsed to his back in despair, shielding his face as the bright lights of poker's biggest stage bored into him. Disappointment flooded the Amazon Room as the majority of the crowd filtered out, left without a horse in a now far less interesting race.

After the initial shock wore off, Negreanu gave a gracious exit interview in which he acknowledged the enormity of the moment.

"It was electric," he said. 'The thunderdome was rocking, and I had a lot of people in there that were very excited for me. I felt the energy, I felt like it was bigger than me."

McKeehen Never Looks Back

Though Negreanu's story was finished, his conqueror's still needed an ending. Entering the final table with 32.8 percent of chips in play, the greatest percentage since chip counts were recorded in 2004, anything less than first would have been a colossal disappointment for McKeehen. Only four players since 2004 had entered with comparable leads, and all had finished the job with the exception of Darvin Moon, who fell in second to Joe Cada.

Relaxed and ready, McKeehen came into November and picked up right where he left off. He sucked all drama from the proceedings as he ruthlessly crushed the opposition, never allowing a rival within a stone's throw of ever-increasing stack. McKeehen took out six of his eight opponents at the final table, busting three on the first day, one on the second, and then finishing things off with the final two on the third day of the finale. He never fell out of first place on the leaderboard, and there wasn't one moment where it felt like anyone other than McKeehen was walking away with the $7,683,346 top prize.

When it was all said and done, the bracelet landing in the hands of McKeehen seemed like a formality, and the poker world could only tip its collective cap to one of the most dominant performances ever witnessed on the felt.

Be sure to stay tuned to PokerNews as we continue to count down the top stories from 2015.

PokerNews Top 10 Stories of 2015:

Be sure to stay tuned to PokerNews as we continue to count down the top stories from 2015.

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