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It turned out to be a grand New Year celebration for Siddharth Gangwar, who won the coveted PokerStars India “Star of the Month” – December title on December 30. Victory didn’t come without a fight for Gangwar, who tried hard for two months before finally hitting the mark. Adjusting his strategy perfectly to the top-heavy rewards of the Finale, Gangwar managed to get past the more experienced Kunal Patni heads-up last week. If the bragging rights of winning the prestigious title were not enough, Gangwar got his PokerStars India account credited with MTT tickets worth ₹1.15 Lakhs. Not to forget the cool PokerStars India goodie bag that should be reaching his registered address any day now!
If Gangwar ended 2020 on a winning note, that didn`t stop him from making an early splash in the New Year. Just days after winning the December Finale, Gangwar found himself on top of the January Week #1 standings, enough to qualify for the January Finale.
27-year-old Gangwar is a PokerStars India loyalist and an alumnus of the prestigious IIT Delhi. Given such tall credentials, it’s hardly surprising that he hit the headlines twice this past week. The Bareilly-lad worked in the banking sector before joining government service. He is a keen player who polished his poker skills during his hostel days at IIT Delhi. Even though his family – this includes his would-be wife – is unaware of his passion for poker, Gangwar has been undeterred in his pursuit to improve his gameplay.
We spoke to this poker die-hard at the helm of these two trailblazing feats, his run in the December Finale, his poker journey, and future plans. Read on!
Congratulations on winning the “Star of the Month” – December Finale. Let`s start by talking about how you got introduced to poker.
I first played the game during my hostel days at IIT Delhi. I had entered college in 2009 and passed out in 2013. Poker is very popular among the students there, and one of my friends – Abhinav Sherwal – introduced me to poker. We used to play in our room.
All of us (Gangwar and his college friends) just fell in love with the game. Around 2011, we started playing a lot of poker. We found some poker videos on YouTube – these were the High Stakes show that used to be televised at that time. We watched the entire season and even saw each episode multiple times on a loop. Those were crazy days; we watched all the poker videos we found on YouTube, going into 20-24 hours of binge-watching sessions and playing poker after that! Soon we started grinding on PokerStars.com.
My roommate Ghanshyam was also my soul mate in poker. Slowly, my friends and I started discussing hands. We used to grind the game a lot for a fair amount of dollars and play cash games. Through this, we were able to pay for our expenses. I primarily played on PokerStars.com alongside a few domestic sites like Deccan Poker. There were also a few poker events hosted at IIT Delhi that I played.
Tell us about your progression in the game?
At the start, we used to play cash games mostly. Even in the hostel days, we used to grind the $1 and $2.5 SnG`s. We didn’t have that much bankroll at that time. So we were used to grinding small MTTs and SnG`s.
After finishing college, I played very little poker for the next few years. I took a break in my career and then joined SBI for a year. I started playing again on PokerStars once I came back to Delhi and joined the IT department.
When I saw that PokerStars India had launched in India, I registered an account on the site in 2017. However, I seriously started playing more only in 2019 and have been pretty regular since. I would start playing after 7 PM and continue till 2-3 AM in the night. Juggling work with poker is easy, actually. With my office in the mornings and playing poker tournaments at night, I have maintained equilibrium.
Can you share some highs & lows of your poker journey?
During my hostel days, we used to play cash games, and I managed to earn a good amount of money. I also won a few tournaments – nothing major but in the range of $300 to $400, which was great. In 2013, I won a tournament for $1,200, and that was a good score.
If you see my graph on PokerGuru, it has been steadily going up. Actually, I think my ROI is good. I try not to take multiple buy-ins, which some players often do to gamble and make big stacks early in the tournament. This minimizes my investment. Most of my volume is on PokerStars India, though.
How did you hear about the “Star of the Month” promotion?
I learned about the promotion at PokerGuru and registered my ID there four months back. It was great to win the Finale in the third month of the promotion. I was also in contention in the first two months. I didn’t play the Finale in the first month and couldn’t make it to the top in the second.
I regularly check PokerGuru for updates and player stats to identify which players are playing for cash, their bankroll, playing habits, etc. I realized that all the good players are registered there. That`s how I come to know about players who are making money, who are good, and who is not.
How was your run in the December Finale? Let`s talk about some of the crucial spots in the tourney.
It was good. Unlike in other tournaments where I usually focus more on picking my spots and surviving, I took more risks. I felt that since only the top two places were to get paid, there was no point in playing safe. I was looking for flips, if any, I could play and build a good stack. So, that was the only strategy.
When the field was down to 50 players, I was playing well and had an above-average stack. But I got very card dead once only 20 players were left. I lost a major flip also. So, by the time I entered the FT, I was among the shorter stacks. I played too tight from here onwards.
At one point, when the play was four-handed on the FT, I was down to five BBs. The good thing is I got three double-ups back-to-back, and there was no looking back after that. I was putting pressure and stealing the blinds. It worked out fine after that.
‘Ialwayshaveit’ (Kunal Patni) was a major roadblock in my way. He was a formidable heads-up rival. We were relatively even in stacks, and I knew I had to pull off something special here. I check-raised more often than I did to confuse him. On one hand, I hit trips on the flop with him hitting the top pair. I continued with my check-raising strategy on the flop and he gave me a double up. After that, he was left with a very short stack, and I ended up scooping (the tourney).
This is a significant bankroll boost for you. Now that you have won the bragging rights of becoming the “Star of the Month,” do you intend to defend the title?
Yeah, definitely! I will be using these tickets to try and improve my bankroll even further. I want to be the first person to win two “Star of the Month” Finales back-to-back! That’d be great.
I love PokerStars since the dot.com days. I always felt this is the best site you can play. I have to admit, though, that now that the site has moved the desktop client to Aurora, I somehow liked the previous version better. That said, I feel that PokerStars India is way better than other Indian sites.
Who are the players in the domestic circuit or the international circuit that you look up to?
Actually, I admired Phil Ivey‘s game a lot. He is my idol. I don’t know many players on the domestic front, but I look up to Arsh Grover and Gaurav Sood. Sood has been the breakout performer of 2020. I feel he’s just way above the others. Whenever Grover and Sood are playing on PokerStars India, I open the tables and try to see their showdown hands and how they’re playing.
You’ve mentioned earlier that your family doesn’t know about you playing poker. Can you elaborate?
My family doesn`t have a clue. Maybe, sometime in the future, I will tell them. But I haven’t planned it as of now. Actually, I don’t know how they will respond to it. So that’s why I’m waiting for good times to even break the news to them. There are things that I like to keep close to my chest.
I’m getting married in April. Right now, even my prospective wife doesn’t know that I play poker. I’ll break it to her and then I’m going to tell my family also.
Have you ever considered playing poker professionally?
No, poker has never been in my mind as a profession. It has always been a side thing. I enjoy playing it, I’m a big gaming enthusiast, and I find playing poker relaxing. I love the game, and if the scores are coming, that’s a cherry on the top!
Tell us about any experiences of playing live poker.
I’ve been to Goa once earlier, but not for poker. I’ve always been more of an online player. A week back, I went to Goa alone, played some casino games, and went to the poker room. It was full, and there was a substantial crowd.
And with that, Gangwar signs off!
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