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In the past, we have canvassed top domestic players, industry veterans, and emerging talents. For a change, we decided to bring you a recent conversation with a prominent Indo-American poker player, the four-time WSOP Circuit ring winner Jasthi Kumar (cover image)!
Kumar is a resident of San Ramon, California, and has made quite a name for himself in the US poker circuit. Originally from Hyderabad, Kumar moved to the US almost 20 years ago. The MBA graduate from Osmania University began his career in the FMCG industry in India before switching to the IT sector. He moved to the US in 1999 and presently works as an IT Manager in one of the country’s leading telecommunication companies.
A passionate poker player, Kumar has an impressive $1.13 Million in live tournament winnings to his name.
His poker journey began about nine years ago, in 2011 when a colleague introduced him to poker at a home game. With a chess background, Kumar took quickly to poker, given the game’s similar strategic and analytical nature. The 54-year old claims that he is neither a pro nor a recreational player, but rather a ‘competitive player’.
Kumar’s poker portfolio boasts of numerous titles, including the 2018 San Francisco Gold Rush, the 2017 DeepStack Extravaganza IV, the 2016 WPT Deepstacks Thunder Valley Main Event, the 2015 Summer Madness, and two HPT titles in 2016 and 2013, respectively, and also a very commendable GPI ranking of under 300.
Of all his accomplishments, it’s at the WSOP Circuit that Kumar has really left a mark! He has accumulated $302,209 in winnings at the WSOPC with an impressive 11 final table finishes and four circuit ring titles! Three out of his four WSOPC rings, he won at the WSOPC Harvey’s Lake Tahoe. He shipped his last gold ring at the WSOPC Thunder Valley (Sacramento area).
Even though he is not a professional poker player, there is little doubt that Kumar is an avid player who has acquired the skills to compete at the top level by putting in consistent and sincere hard work. In this candid chat with PokerGuru, Kumar talks about his poker journey, the US poker circuit’s growth, and the present live poker scenario during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
You are perhaps one of the most easily recognizable Indian names in the US WSOP Circuit, but we don’t really know much about you. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I came to the US about 20 years ago from Hyderabad, India. I have been working in IT all along in California. I live with my family, i.e., wife, Madhavi, and son, Sreekar. My wife is a middle school mathematics teacher, and my son works for a startup tech company in the Bay area. When I don’t play poker, I like to read books and watch movies during my leisure time.
Would you consider yourself a professional poker player?
I am not a professional poker player. I’m an IT manager and work for one of the top telecom companies here in the US. However, I don’t consider myself a recreational player either. I think I can claim to be a ‘competitive player.’
Can you tell us how you first came to know of poker and what attracted you to the game?
A colleague introduced me to poker in 2011 as part of home games. I was intrigued by the strategy aspect of poker as I am basically a chess player and usually like strategy and mind games. Initially, I saw good results in home games and pursued it further by studying the game and playing in casinos and card rooms around. As I started seeing good results, I put more effort into studying the game and playing it, specifically, I started playing tournaments.
Tell us a little about your poker journey and accomplishments?
As I said earlier, I started playing poker in 2011 as home games with friends and colleagues and never looked back after that. I had a deep run in the very second tournament that I played, which motivated me to study tournament poker more and play more. I usually play the tournaments in and around northern California. I do not travel much because of my employment, except a couple of times a year to (Las) Vegas, especially during the WSOP series.
All these years, I have won many tournaments such as WPT DeepStack, four WSOP circuit events, and local premier tournaments in addition to several deep runs, including the 2016 WSOP Main Event in which I finished in 58th place for $116K. I have numerous other cashes leading cumulatively to over $1.1 Million in winnings. Overall, I have been doing well, particularly for the last 4-5 years, and I am happy with my performance and accomplishments.
You have secured 34 cashes at the WSOPC, and this includes four gold rings and many final table finishes. What is the secret behind your consistent performance?
I would say the constant effort to improve my game in addition to running good. I spend a considerable amount of time studying the game using various resources available. One has to put effort all the time to get better at it. Poker has become tough these days, and it is mandatory to study the game, analyze hands, and be up-to-date to be competitive. There is always a lot to learn in poker to get better, and that is a very important part, instead of just playing. Taking every situation and analyzing it properly based on various factors is key. I assume I have got good analytical skills since I am a rationalist…haha…As far as the WSOP Circuit is concerned, I play at two or three stops close to my place in northern California and, perhaps over time have got a good feel of players who also play there.
You have been a part of the US poker circuit for quite some time now. In your opinion, how much has the live poker scene grown and developed?
It has changed quite a bit in the past ten years. Poker is getting popular in general, as many big names such as WPT, WSOP, and HPT are hosting tournaments with big guarantees all over the country. These days, almost all casinos and card rooms offer poker in many places, and it is easily accessible for players. It has become very competitive these days, especially the high buy-in tournaments as almost all players are working on their game, and pros are usually ahead of the curve. Moreover, many tools and resources are available for players. I think an average player today is way better than an average player a few years ago.
Have you ever played in Goa?
No, I never played in India and have no idea about it.
The global COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in the shutdown of casinos for nearly two months in the US. How did the virus impact your life, both in your poker routine and daily life?
Yeah, it has been a complete standstill for the past four months or so. We are confined to our home and working from home. I have been playing online poker with friends. No social life like before and no more live poker now. I do not anticipate a revival of live poker anytime soon. COVID-19 has changed the perspective of life and everything else. Health is more important than anything else, and we all need to be sensible and cautious in this environment.
The US presently has the highest number of COVID-19 cases. How are you coping?
As I mentioned, life is not normal because of this ‘new normal’ with work from home and staying all the time indoors. Just managing like everyone else during these difficult and scary times.
Despite the rising number of cases, casinos have been opening up slowly and steadily across the country. Do you think opening up the casinos while there is still no vaccine for COVID-19 is a good idea?
No, I have not been to any casino yet, and I do not have any such plans to do so anytime soon. It is all about common sense and taking care of oneself and others around us. So, we have got to be very careful until things are normal. Whether casinos are opening or not, it is not a good idea to get exposed to such public and crowded places. Businesses open slowly, but we have got to be careful until things are normal everywhere.
Live poker undoubtedly has taken a significant hit due to the pandemic. How long do you think it’ll take for the live poker scene to fully revive once the things have calmed down?
I think it would take at least nine months or probably a year from now for live poker to be normal like before, that too without further waves of the virus.
Are you looking forward to the upcoming 2020 WSOP Online Series? If yes, then which events are you looking to participate in?
Most likely not as I do not want to travel, and I can’t play from California.
Any parting words?
I understand poker is getting popular in India, and I have seen sizable contingents from India during the WSOP in Vegas. Moreover, Indians did really well in the WSOP for the past two years. That is really great, and I hope it would continue the same way. Apparently, PokerGuru is also playing a pivotal role by covering poker games, news, players, and related stuff. I wish PokerGuru all the best going forward!