4 Minutes Read
Every month, PokerStars India’s “Star of the Month” (SOTM) leaderboard race brings the 100 most consistent winners together to decide who amongst them is the “Star of the Month” and which two players get awarded from ₹1.5 Lakhs in MTT tickets.
On February 24, Armaan Kochhar championed the February Finale to become PokerStars India’s “Star of the Month” – February. The bragging rights aside, he won ₹1.15 Lakhs in MTT tickets, and a PokerStars branded goodie bag. The Finale runner-up finisher Amar B Iyer received ₹35,000 worth of MTT tickets.
As Kochhar now becomes the fifth entrant in the “Star of the Month” club, it was an accolade long time coming. The 30-year old is a regular on the site and has made the SOTM Finale almost every time since the promotion started last October. However, as Kochhar admits, it was only since last month that he’s been seriously trying to win the SOTM title.
As each month, we had a candid chat with the Finale winner only to discover many intriguing facets of Kochhar’s poker journey. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) and even worked in the Dubai-arm of his father’s law firm. Today, he is pursuing a law degree from a university in Meerut while still playing poker. As Kochhar aptly put it: “I always wanted to become a lawyer, but without giving up on poker.”
Kochhar was introduced to the game as a teenager in boarding school. He inadvertently ended up shipping the first online tourney he was asked to play on behalf of a friend who passed out shortly after registering. While it’s something frowned upon today, rules were way more relaxed back then. That early win cemented his drive to pursue the game more seriously. While he has started playing on domestic sites only recently, Kochhar has been playing on the international platforms for over a decade and claims to have worked up a bankroll of close to $100K at one point.
Being the son of a prominent lawyer who runs one of India’s largest corporate law firms hasn’t been easy for Kochhar’s poker aspirations. Like many other players, Kochhar has struggled to get his family’s acceptance for poker. But, the game has undoubtedly taught him not to give up.
Kochhar, who puts in volume in both cash games and tourneys, plans to put the MTT tickets he has won to good use, but the road ahead is still a long one for someone with lofty dreams in his eyes. Here are excerpts of my conversation with Kochhar.
Hi Armaan, Congratulations on winning the “Star of the Month” – February Finale. You are a regular on PokerStars India and have made it to the “Star of the Month” Finale nearly every month since the leaderboard race began. How does it feel to make it as the February Finale champion and win MTT tickets worth ₹1.15 Lakhs?!
It feels very fantastic!! Since this promotion started, I haven’t had deep runs in the Finale. So, I set my eyes on it last month; it was the first time I decided to take it seriously and put my energy and mind into trying to win it.
Honestly, I used to conform with the previous system that PokerStars India had: the tournament leaderboard system where you’d get tournament prize money. I used to win that leaderboard very often. So when this promotion started, it was a bit of a surprise to me, but then I took up the challenge, put in the work, and got good results.
We’ll come to the February Finale again, but let’s first start with your poker journey. Tell us how you got introduced to poker?
I got introduced to poker in high school. I was in a boarding school in 2007, and I played the game with my friends. We played a cash game. The first online MTT tournament I played was on Full Tilt Poker back in 2009. I actually won that tournament, which I had played on my friend’s account. I didn’t have a poker account at that time, and my friend was studying in the U.S. He signed up for the tournament late one night, and he just passed out, and he asked me to play for him. I took over, and I played for 12 hours and ended up shipping the tournament. The next day he gave me 50% of the prize money that came to $3,500. So, that was what got me enticed towards poker.
I like the whole psychological aspect of the game, the competitiveness that comes with it. I’ve always been very competitive in other sports. I play tennis as well and love to play other racket sports. I even play a lot of chess with friends and family. Poker is also very competitive, so I connected with that.
At that point, I didn’t know how to play so well. My fundamentals were very weak. Slowly and gradually, as I played a few more times with my friends, I started to get a better feel of the game. Soon, I started playing online and decided to take up tournaments. It was quite an experience. The adrenaline rush that I got in playing poker was quite incredible.
Talk us through your progression as a player. How have you managed to balance the other aspects of life with your love for the game?
Initially, I played poker more as a hobby and when I needed some excess money. Then as I understood the game better, I realized that this is something you need to give a lot of energy and time. I wanted to pursue it, and I continued playing. That time I was playing on Full Tilt and PokerStars.com. I played a lot of cash games and built up a bankroll of close to $100K.
I have only recently started playing on the Indian sites. There’s no regulation on poker in our country, and I started playing on PokerStars India, and subsequently, other sites as well. My favorite site is still PokerStars because of the interactiveness of the software.
I never really took up any training from anyone, but ever since I developed an interest in poker, I started watching videos on poker. From WSOP to WPT tournaments and other online videos, I watched all the content that I could find online. That’s something I enjoyed, and I thought that maybe I could improve my own game by watching how other people were playing. It did help me a lot initially, but beyond a certain point, it’s just the number of hours I put in the game that gave me the experience and the exposure to work things out for myself. You read online, you watch videos, you pick up a lot of things, etc.
Around this time, I was torn between poker and figuring out what I want to do in life. I took up admission in some institutes but never completed my studies. In fact, I completed my graduation from the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM). I’m also currently pursuing a law degree from a University in Meerut.
My father is a lawyer, and he has one of the largest corporate law firms in India. Watching my dad has always inspired me from a young age and studying law has been one of my personal goals. So I’m super excited now that I’m on track to graduate, and I’m really looking forward to take up law professionally once I graduate.
At the same time, I love to play poker. Today, I’m not playing poker professionally, but I’m committing and putting in a lot of volume.
How does your family feel about you playing poker?
My dad has never really supported poker. He considers it gambling and never considers it as something that you can do professionally. He comes from a different school of thought, and his generation looks at poker in a negative light. You only understand that poker is a game of skill once you put in a lot of time to play and get an understanding of the game. Till then, it’s a game of cards, and to a certain extent, poker does involve a lot of luck since you can’t determine the outcome of each hand. Now he sees that I am putting a lot of time and energy, and it’s something that I have chosen, and he’s somewhat starting to respect that.
One of the reasons why he doesn’t support the game is also the fact that poker involves staying up through the night which is quite detrimental for health. If you look at the online sites abroad, like in Europe, most of their major tournaments start off in the afternoon, and online players usually end their grind by 12.30 to 1 AM. But here in India, we’re mostly up like till 4 AM grinding, sometimes even longer. So this is definitely a negative that comes with grinding on the domestic sites.
You also mentioned that several people have played an important role in your poker journey, supporting your belief that you go do well in the game. Would you like to share some more details?
I have a few close friends since school who have played a critical role in my poker journey. They have motivated and supported me, seen the talent in me, and encouraged me to do my best in poker. I have also been discussing poker with them, talking about spots, strategy, and stuff, but I’m not sure if they’d be comfortable if I mention their name.
Share some highs & lows of your poker journey.
The nature of the game is such that, obviously, some highs and lows come with it. The high point for me came once in 2014 when I came fourth in the Sunday Million, and three days later, I made it to the final table of the Super Tuesday. I was chip leading six-handed, but I was exhausted, and I kind of passed out in the middle of the final table! I busted sixth – lost my whole stack in one big hand. But it was still a good run since I won $22,000, and I had pulled some scores in the previous week, so I built up a big bankroll of around $100K.
Any particular poker moment that forms an unforgettable memory in your poker journey?
I have actually shipped a lot of tournaments, and every time you win a tourney, you kind of feel proud and happy about your achievement. I have many poker goals in my mind, so I think my best poker moments are yet to come.
Coming to your run in the February Finale, can you share some of the crucial spots in the tourney?
I remember this one hand on the final table of the Finale where I had tens, the opponent had ace-queen. There was an ace-ten on the flop, and the turn was a queen. He check-raised me on the turn, river he checked, I went all-in. He called. He made the top 2-pair, and I had trips. That was definitely a massive pot and a crucial hand that propelled me into the chip lead and kind of put me in a position to win the Finale.
Any particular player you kept an eye out for during the Finale?
I basically keep an eye out for everyone in a tournament. If I know them, I have an idea about how he or she plays, and that really helps.
You’ve won ₹1.15 Lakhs in MTT tickets. How and in which events do you plan to use these tickets?
I haven’t received the tickets yet and haven’t planned which exact events I’ll be playing. Still, I will definitely be using them, and I’m grateful for being given the opportunity by PokerStars India. There is a major series coming up, and I will be playing all the featured events. So I’m very excited to play tourneys on the site with these tickets.
Online poker in India has been growing bigger and bigger. Your comments?
I always knew that poker would explode in India, it’s going to become bigger, but I think there are so many challenges that the game faces in India. There’s definitely been a lot of growth in the poker industry in terms of the interest people have in the game, which will boost both the domestic sector’s live and online segments over the next 5-10 years. So poker will definitely progress and grow in the right direction.
You have also attended several live tournament series. What is your preferred terrain for poker, live or online?
Given a choice, I prefer to play online, but I really want to play more live poker. I have actually played only a few live events in India. I played my first and only international live tournament during the EPT Barcelona in 2014, where I went very deep in the Barcelona Poker Cup. I cashed out in 38th place for $2.6K. Last year, I finished runner-up in the IPC 15K Headhunter. I enjoyed that.
I actually really like playing live poker. It’s very different from online, where your focus is on putting in volume. In live poker, you’re forced to play one hand consistently, and with the same group of people, so it’s more interesting. I enjoy talking to and interacting with people in the field. Once things get back to normalcy, I would love to play at the WSOP.
What is your usual grind schedule?
I usually start grinding when I wake up, till the time I go to sleep, taking breaks in between. But typically, my night grind starts around 8 PM and goes on till 3 to 4 AM, depending on whether I’m playing tourneys or cash games.
In terms of poker videos and content, what or who do you like to watch?
I really enjoy watching Phil Hellmuth and Tony G. I think they’re hilarious. Apart from that, I enjoy watching Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, and I think they play very high-level poker.
We know now more about Armaan, the player. Tell us what you like to do when you’re not playing poker?
I love playing tennis, and I squeeze in time for sports. I like to swim and really enjoy playing chess. I think it’s essential to have some sort of physical activity as a part of your daily routine, which helps me in my game. You have to put in long hours during a grind session, and I definitely feel more relaxed playing poker after a workout session. I have also started meditating once or twice a week.