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November has been an eventful month for Indian poker. While the online front has been teeming with nail-biting action, the mood for the month was set when Team India championed the International Federation of Match Poker (IFMP) Asian Nations Cup on November 7. And at the forefront of that victory was one of India’s most prominent poker players – Gaurav Gala (cover image).
A renowned PLO specialist who is equally proficient in the NLHE format, Gala is an easily recognized face in the domestic circuit. He boasts of multiple scores in the international circuit that include deep runs in the WPT Barcelona Event #6 – €1,100 PLO (8th for €3,000 – ₹2.34 Lakhs) and The Big Wrap PLO €550 Warmup PLO (42nd for €1,326 – ₹1.03 Lakhs). He most recently final tabled the ₹20K PLO event at the Baazi Poker Tour (BPT) comeback series, where he finished ninth for ₹75,400.
Hailing from Mumbai, this MBA in Finance had his first brush with the mind sport way back in 2006. Initially, an investment banker by profession, Gala quit his job to join the family business of fast-food restaurants in 2008. He now runs the business with his partner, Hemang Joshi, and has even dabbled in pharmaceuticals, real estate, as well as the retail sector. The 35-year-old has recently opened a laundromat, ‘laundry360,’ with plans to establish a chain across the financial capital of India.
Even with other business interests on the side, Gala pursues his passion for poker like a full-time professional. With such zeal for the sport, it is understandable why he was able to lead Team India to victory in the Asian Nations Cup.
Supported by an equally enthusiastic team of established pros, Aditya ‘Bitti’ Agarwal, Tanmay Bagga, and Rishab Jain, along with up-and-coming players, Prateek Mishra, Krina Gala, and Taran Mundkar, Gala magnificently captained his team, despite starting the last day of the competition on the back foot.
The Indian squad’s performance in the three-day-long event was truly spectacular. The team topped the leaderboard on Day 1 and Day 2. Even after they lost the lead on Day 3, the team managed to bounce back in time to claim the trophy to become first-time winners of the Asian Nations Cup!
I had a chance to connect with the Indian Team Captain recently, and we spoke about his experience at the Asian Nations Cup, his preparations for the upcoming World Championship in February 2020, his views on the emerging poker leagues in the country, and a lot more! Here are the excerpts.
Congratulations on becoming the new Asian Nations Cup champions! It was a dominating performance by Team India through all three days. When we spoke last, you told me about the ‘horses for courses’ strategy that the team had implemented. Care to elaborate on the same?
Firstly, I would like to thank everyone for the love and wishes. Our initial plan was to finish in the top four and qualify for the world championships. Match Poker is a Team sport, one needs to follow a team strategy with discipline to succeed. To select the player with the right skill set who fits perfectly into the team strategy, that is what a ‘horses for courses’ strategy is.
The final day saw Team India on the back foot in the first two sessions. Following the third session, Aditya Agarwal was substituted with Prateek Mishra. Any particular reason for the substitution?
We were definitely taken aback. Taiwan’s change in approach caught us on the wrong foot. Bitti [Aditya Agarwal] played well but faced the wrong side of variance, and we slipped to the third position. Prateek [Mishra] and I were following every team and their player’s gameplay, we had to counter Taiwan’s play and target the Singapore team who were playing kinda passive. The change bore fruit as we knocked off 20 points from the top.
Aditya, Rishab, Tanmay, and you are well-known names within the domestic circuit, but not much is known about Krina, Prateek, and Tarun. We’d love to know more about them.
Prateek Mishra is a solid, technically sound cash game player with a calm mind and a practical approach towards any situation. He fits the bill perfectly for a great Match Poker player.
Tarun Mundkar is a lesser-known online crusher, with a silently aggressive game-style, mastering in heads-up/short-handed play. He is a 22-year-old dynamic fellow with a bright future ahead of him.
Krina Gala was a natural choice, she has been following my game since day 1 and has a great hang of the game. She thrives in adverse situations, which makes her an asset to any team, in addition to her military-style discipline and never-say-die attitude. With our son Krishiv Gala watching her closely, she had the right motivation to perform.
This was your second time captaining the Indian Team. In March, you had led the team comprising of Tanmay Bagga, Shuchi Chamaria, Tanay Hargunaney, Akshay Nasa, and Rishab Jain in Ireland, where the team had finished fifth. What key learnings did you take away from this edition that you later implemented during the Asian Nations Cup?
The fifth-place finish in Ireland was an eye-opener. We were on cloud nine post our win in MIPL 3, it being our first time playing Match Poker with a new set of players. We had a well-worked plan in place, but lack of application and deviation from team strategy caused our befall. Although special mention must be made of Tanmay Bagga (3rd overall ranking) and Shuchi Chamaria. They were our standout performers. Teamwork is the key.
The last two sessions during the Asian Nations Cup were played in the dark. What was going through your mind then?
It creates excitement for the viewers. As a player, it is a challenge because you really don’t know how your team is performing. One just needs to keep doing the right things.
The World Championship is less than a month away. How are the preparations coming along? Have you had a chance to look up the other teams who will be attending? Who do you feel would be your toughest competitor?
The World Championship has been postponed to February 2020 due to the political turmoil in Peru. We are motivated and egging to give it our best shot. Ukraine is the team to watch out for, though. Every team is competitive at this stage with so much at stake.
You have been part of the two biggest poker leagues in the country – Match IPL and Global Poker League. What are your views on the emerging trend of poker leagues in India? How would you say this format benefits the game in the long run?
Poker is gaining its reputation as a skill-sport, and these leagues are adding to it. It gets fame and TV time, encouraging new players to take a shot. It will only get bigger and better from here with corporates and professionals participating/sponsoring in these leagues.
You are one of the most renowned PLO experts in India today. However, MIPL and even GPL are played in the NLHE format. Your success ratio in both these leagues is through the roof. Your GPL India team Chennai Sharks finished runner-up in the inaugural edition, whereas in MIPL you have captained Team India not once but twice, and have brought the Asian Nations Cup home as well. So, what’s the secret behind such phenomenal success?
God has been kind, truly humbled by the success of Team India. The entire credit goes to my team, there is no substitute for hard work (clichéd but true). GPL was a great learning experience with pro-player Ashish Munot and my dear friend Vikram Kumar.
You seem to prefer PLO to NLHE, any particular reason for that?
Being a cash game specialist, it was a natural progression, with a majority of amateurs taking to Pot-limit Omaha, especially in higher stakes. The equities run pretty close in PLO i.e., marginal cards aren’t as far off the leader as they are in Texas Hold’em. The variance is higher, but skilled players will always win in the long run.
You’ve played and scored in WPT Barcelona and The Big Wrap PLO in Rozvadov. What was the experience like?
I went to Barcelona mainly to play the €25-€50 and €50-€100 PLO cash games which are quite juicy during WPT. I got good scores in the first few days, so I decided to book the profits. I saw the PLO event registration was open, so I thought to register to idle some time away. Three Indians played – Abhishek Goindi, Jagdeep Singh, and myself, and all of us made the final table. I am a regular at Big Wrap, with 15+ PLO tables running with blinds ranging from €5-€5 till €100-€200, attracting the right mix amateurs and pros across Europe.
Do you plan on playing at next year’s WSOP?
I have some personal goals and set targets that I need to fulfill in order to go to Vegas in 2020.
Any parting words?
Poker is like sex, everyone thinks they are the best, but most don’t have a clue what they are doing.
And with these pearls of wisdom, Gala signs off!