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With the 50th World Series of Poker (WSOP) just weeks away, there has been a lot of buzz within the domestic circuit with many new Indian faces expected to attend the series, as India prepares to send her largest-ever contingent to the ‘World’s Biggest Poker Festival.’ But no talk about the WSOP is ever complete without mentioning the country’s poker pioneer and one of the most experienced Indians at the WSOP – PokerStars India Ambassador Aditya Agarwal.
Agarwal’s association with the WSOP began back in 2006 when he was just a 21-year-old up-and-coming poker player. He was also one of the first Indians to cash at the series, along with Vivek Rajkumar, in 2007 and the first Indian to make it in the money at the prestigious WSOP Main Event the same year. For over 13 years now, the poker maestro has been chasing his dream of winning the coveted WSOP gold bracelet and is in the real sense of the word a “regular” at the most prestigious tournament series in poker.
A stalwart in the domestic poker scene, Agarwal’s list of achievements is innumerable. From being the first Indian to cash at a PokerStars European Poker Tour (EPT) event to becoming the first PokerStars Ambassador to be recruited from India, Agarwal also boasts a most impressive track record in online MTT’s. With over 80 live cashes on his poker resume, Agarwal aka ‘Intervention’ is ranked third on India’s All-Time Money List with over ₹7 Crores in total live earnings. But Agarwal’s success is not limited to the live scene as he is a beast on the virtual felts as well, with several deep runs and wins, amassing over ₹15 Crores in winnings.
However, being a successful poker player is one half of Agarwal’s poker persona. The other half is that of a dedicated mentor and poker coach. His well-honed poker instincts and strong fundamental knowledge of the sport has helped him shape the minds of many rising poker talents, many of whom will be making their WSOP debut this year, while several others have already made a name for themselves in the international circuit.
“It’s time for Indians to showcase their skill and a lot of us are capable of making some noise this year,” says Agarwal sounding pumped for the upcoming WSOP. As Agarwal prepares for his 14th consecutive pilgrimage to the Mecca of poker along with his better half Shuchi Chamaria, PokerGuru caught up with the poker maestro and in a candid interview, Agarwal talks about his latest win at the Deltin Poker Tournament (DPT) Colossus ₹200K Main Event, his past WSOP experiences and expectations from the upcoming series.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Congratulations on winning the DPT Colossus ₹200K Main Event! The DPT series has been considered by many as a good pre-runner to the upcoming WSOP. How does this win help you for what promises to be a long and very hectic summer in Las Vegas?
Thanks, it does feel good to win a live tournament. As far as it being a pre-runner to the upcoming WSOP, I don’t get to play many live events. Mostly, I play online. Even when I live in Goa, there aren’t many quality live events with big guarantees which I would want to go and play. It was good that this was a ₹200K buy-in, with ₹1 Crore guaranteed event. I saw it as a good practice to play some live tournaments before the big grind in Las Vegas. I was happy with the result. I have been working very hard on the game, and obviously, I ran pretty good to win the tournament. Feels good and this definitely prepares me for the WSOP in Vegas.
In your post-event interview, you spoke about good guarantees attracting bigger playing fields, and as you pointed out, there are not many ₹1 Crore guarantee tournaments being hosted in India at present. We are all well aware of the brewing competition in Goa with three big ships now competing against each other. Do you think the possibility of ₹1 Crore or more guarantee events becoming a frequent part of the domestic circuit is in the offing?
I believe the Casino Royale hosted the World Gaming Festival with ₹1 crore GTD a while back. Besides that, there aren’t too many tournaments except maybe the WPT India Main Event that had such a big guarantee. It’s also tough with the TDS, even though I would like to see more big guarantee events in India. If that happens, I see us hosting even a ₹5 Crore guarantee event.
You also said in the interview that you and Jasven Saigal are good friends, which resulted in the heads-up ending quickly. You have mentored Jasven on his online play in the past – did that help you in the heads-up?
The only thing it helped me was getting a quick deal with Jasven [Saigal] who was really playing well. I was happy to get a deal and end it right there.
You two took a break to discuss the possibilities of a heads-up deal, but the tournament organizers have not officially declared the details of the deal. Could you shed some light on the matter?
Well, yeah, we did an even chop off the table, and we decided to flip for the trophy. And I ran really good so worked out well.
You are arguably the most experienced Indian player at the WSOP, and this is going to be your 14th consecutive year at the series. You have seen the Indian participation growing from you as the only player at the series to over 100 players last year. This year promises to be even bigger. What are your views and predictions for WSOP 2019 – especially with regards to Team India’s performance?
Yes, the Indian contingent has been increasing. In January we had the PokerStars Players Championship in the Bahamas, and eight people won prestigious platinum passes to that, so we have a lot of players participating in these big events. Lots of people are winning their way to Las Vegas, and lots of regulars are just buying in. I feel that with a lot of these stables, the coaching that players get and the fact that poker has been in the country for a few years now, as well as the online MTT scene thriving, a lot of people got pretty good. My fellow PokerStars Ambassador Muskan Sethi has also got a big following. This year we could have a breakout year. If not this year, I am sure next year we are going to have a breakout. It’s time for Indians to showcase their skill, and a lot of us are capable of making some noise this year.
You have been bracelet hunting for 14 years now and have 1 FT and 2 top 100 finishes in the WSOP Main Event. What are your Vegas plans this year?
Yes, I have been trying for quite a few years but the main attraction at WSOP, more than the bracelet events, is the Main Event. I always try and be there for the Main Event, since I am not going to be traveling much and Vegas is a nice place to be in; you might as well go and play as many events as possible. WSOP is an excellent opportunity to play a bunch of live events. The fields are good, buy-ins are reasonable. I mean there’s plenty to choose from. I have planned my schedule for six weeks and will play as many NLHE events at the World Series. I generally don’t play much outside of the World Series but might play some of the bigger stuff this year in the different casinos.
You have cashed the WSOP Main Event an impressive 7 times – Berry Johnston is the record-holder at 10 WSOP cashes. What is your plan for the Main Event this year?
I cashed last year but not the year before  that. You can’t really chase and think too much about these things. I have been fortunate to have cashed 7 times, but that doesn’t mean that the record is going to sustain over a more extended sample. It’s not like I am going to cash every year. I may cash 50% of times, and even in the sample size of 14, I have cashed 7 times, but by the time we reach 20 or 30, it may drop to 40%.
Your better half, Shuchi Chamaria has been crushing online lately, and in an interview with us last month, she had said that she will be making her WSOP Main Event debut this year. What are your thoughts on that?
Shuchi [Chamaria] really works hard on her game; she plays really well and puts in a lot of time and effort. She takes it seriously and represented India in the Match IPL in Dublin. I think I have been encouraging her to play the Main Event for two years now and this year she is finally going to play. I think she’s still going to sell some action, but she is more than prepared, and hopefully, if I don’t make a deep run, she does [smiles].
You were the first PokerStars Indian Team pro to be signed up by the brand, even much before the launch of the ring-fenced PokerStars IN site. It has been a year since PokerStars India’s launched, how do you feel the site has done so far? Where do you see PokerStars India in say 1 year from now?
PokerStars has come in with a long-term plan. They’re not just looking to make noise. If you look at the way we progressed, everything has improved, and the guarantees are increasing. I feel that we are on the right track. The selection of games, the software, and security, are unparalleled.
There is the first Indian iteration of the SCOOP – the INSCOOP that is currently underway at PokerStars IN. What are your expectations from the series – especially when other domestic operators are equally, if not more aggressive in their MTT offerings? Do you think there is a possibility of the TCOOP and WCOOP also coming to PokerStars India soon?
INSCOOP is one of PokerStars India’s biggest series. I think a lot of other operators are making noise, but I like the route PokerStars is taking, and most of our growth is organic. It’s better to increase guarantees steadily rather than jumping immediately into big buy-ins. There are exciting times ahead for PokerStars in India, so we’ll have to see for TCOOP and WCOOP, but it would be great to see.
You are also a poker coach with PokerGuru Staking, and a lot of your mentees have been winning consistently – both live and online. A few of them will also be making their WSOP debut’s this year. Who according to you will be the players to watch out for?
Kartik Ved and Ashish Ahuja are going there for the entire series this time, and both of them are very well prepared and should perform pretty well. For online, Vivek Singh, Ashish Munot and Jayjit Ray are going to shine and are very good. We have some excellent prospects in batch 2 too. I have two batches. Batch 1 has been with me for over a year, and batch 2 has just started. Overall, I am very happy with how everyone has progressed, and we should get some good results. Madhav Gupta from Casino Pride has also been one of my students and has been one of the hardest working and dedicated students. I have huge expectations from him, and with him going for 3-4 weeks; we can expect some deep runs from him specifically.
With that, Agarwal signs off.