Bluffing on the Flops

Gamesmanship rules at a poker star's fantasy auction
September 02, 2007

FANTASY FOOTBALL, says Daniel Negreanu, is "very much like poker." He should know. Negreanu is both a three-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, most recently in 2004, and a fantasy sports junkie. Asked to expound on the similarities, he grins and says, "Watch me. You'll see."

On this night Negreanu is participating in the fifth annual Blue-Eyed Invitational, an auction-style football draft with a $200 entry fee. The 14 men gathered at a dank bar off the Las Vegas strip are a cross section of Sin City life: bartenders, blackjack dealers and World Poker Tour champions Negreanu, Gavin Smith and Erick Lindgren. Negreanu begins the evening with a personal announcement: This is his second wedding anniversary. "How'd you get off the hook?" someone asks. Negreanu replies, "As far as she knows, I'm on my way to the airport."

The bidding kicks off with a bang. LaDainian Tomlinson goes for $49--almost half the $100 allotted for the purchase of 14 players.

Ten minutes later it's Negreanu's turn to nominate a player for bidding. "Two dollars for . . . Mar-wan Lynch," he says, as if he'd never heard of the Bills rookie running back.

Poker 101 encourages the creation of fake personas, like Naive Guy--which is what Negreanu is doing here. (Later Negreanu will also bid on Wes "Walker" and "Maurice" Colston.) A glance over his shoulder at his laptop screen reveals that Marshawn Lynch--correctly spelled--is atop his list of rb don'ts.

Smith jumps in on the bidding for Lynch. Negreanu drives the price up to $14 and then throws in the towel: "He's yours." Gotcha. That's $14 Smith won't be able to use later to bid on a player Negreanu actually wants. "There's more fake bidding in this league than in any other in the universe," says Lindgren.

Over the draft's three hours, Negreanu hangs back and observes the room. "Everyone has a tell," he explains. "I watch for the guy who wants you to think he's uninterested. When he bids, he'll act like, Ohhh, why not? That's the same guy who slow-plays a hand in poker." And then there's the bluffer. "The second a guy stands and yells, 'Twenty-six!' I know that's b.s. He's driving the bids."

By 10 p.m. most players have filled their rosters, but Negreanu has four empty spots and is weak at wide receiver. He grabs Dwayne Bowe, Tab Perry, Reggie Williams and Antwaan Randle El for $1 each. That's O.K., he says. "There's no weight in receivers. I go week by week off waivers and do just fine."

Lindgren overhears that claim and is ready to hold Negreanu to it. He proposes a $25,000, seasonlong side bet: Negreanu's top two receivers against his own. Negreanu balks, to Lindgren's dismay. Lindgren holds up a page of unruled paper on which he has scribbled more than $250,000 in side bets, ranging from win totals to whether someone in the room will throw a punch over fantasy football by season's end. He tallies his expected winnings for the year and says to Negreanu, "See? Just like poker."--A.D.

Negreanu's draft-day strategy is built on deception.
That's what Negreanu, playing dumb, called Marshawn Lynch (left).

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)