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Poker has been booming in India for the past few years. With interest in poker fast catching on, the number of individuals seriously considering taking up poker as a profession has also increased. But becoming a ‘poker pro’ is not exactly a walk in the park. It requires hard work, practice, determination, and dedication. But perhaps, one of the most vital ingredients in this mixture is ‘coaching.’ Any budding poker talent needs the right guidance to truly flourish, and Poker Bootcamp India (PBCI) has been doing just that for a year now. Yes, you guessed, right! The brainchild of veteran pros Abhishek Goindi and Tanay Hargunaney, PBCI, recently completed its first year of operations.
Touted to be a one-of-its-kind structured poker coaching program, PBCI has been designed to help players enhance their gameplay and focus on all the relevant aspects of the game, such as technical and tactical proficiency with mental stability and endurance.
The PBCI team has gained a lot of recognition for its Live Camp sessions in Goa; the team of Goindi, Hargunaney, and Young Gun Shardul Parathasharathi have had to adjust to the present pandemic situation. Live sessions have now become Zoom sessions, and the program is still thriving. Perhaps, that is the true mark of a well-thought-out, organized, and disciplined coaching program.
On a momentous occasion of PBCI’s first anniversary, PokerGuru caught up with the co-founders Goindi and Hargunaney to know more about their experiences from their first year of operations – the highs and lows – and lots more. Here is what they had to share!
The Birth of PBCI
Founded in 2019, PBCI has quickly built a solid reputation for itself. Goindi and Hargunaney had already been coaching players for a while back then. Both pros had also just moved to Goa, and the idea of setting up a poker coaching program just sprang up.
Recalling how it all transpired, Goindi reminisced, “The Bootcamp is an idea that literally just happened. I was already into coaching and mentoring kids, and so was Tanay. He reached out to me. That was a time when the live scene was growing. There were a lot of kids that are coming here (Goa). A lot of people were reaching out to us. So, we thought, why not. We’ll just try something out, create a thing wherein we can help people out before the tournaments like IPC and BPT. That’s how it started. So, then we put out our first ad. We put our first structure, and we got two sign-ups.”
“We are actively coaching now six days a week, with the Hello Poker Batch (Foundation Course), the PBCI MTT Camp (Intermediate Course), and the PBCI PLO Camp for PLO Cash Games. We are taking one step at a time, looking to share the knowledge with players out there,” Hargunaney added.
Live Poker Training
One of the unique features of PBCI is that it offers players live coaching in Goa.
Talking about how the live poker training was set up, Hargunaney said, “Since Goindi and I were both already in the coaching space with players and actively understanding players ask, we figured to find a solution mid-way and collaborate on this. Trying to set up a coaching space in Goa for visiting players, and seeing the traction after camp 1 back in September 2019, we decided to go for it again in October 2019. We had 2,4,4,4 players in each of the live Camps. So, kind of a mixed way how it came up. We started with a small quick end time decision, and then gradually, we started to give it more shape and structure with the content and timeline.”
Adding his side of the story, Goindi shared, “It was definitely something that had been growing in my head for a really long time, but to coach and run a business are two different things. Many things have to be tested out, and the pilot had to be done. I was in a phase as well, where I was trying to figure out what next. And many things had to be taken care of before we figured out how we were to go ahead. I’ve been contacted to set up an educational platform/school for poker by many brands, and I was just trying to figure out the best way to do it and who had the best vision, and what team was going to be the best. Based on that, there were a bunch of things brewing basically. So, that’s how it started basically.”
A Wild Ride
It has been a successful first year for PBCI, and both the founders had a lot to say about it.
Talking about the emotional part of the journey, Goindi expressed, “The journey has been crazy. I didn’t expect it to pass by so quickly. It just feels so good to see players grow, feel happy, and win. It’s just very gratifying to help people out. And the more value we add to them, the more they grow. You can actually see the relationship grow, and you start caring for the person. And you want them to do well because until they do well, we haven’t done our jobs correctly. As coaches and mentors, our goal is to make sure that the students, or the campers rather, are always growing and always doing well. It’s just very heartening to see them getting better and better with each day and them coming back to us to and trusting us to help them out with their games and with their overall perspective and approach.”
Hargunaney shared details of all that PBCI has undertaken in the past year. “The last year has been like a blast. We’ve had four live camps with 14 players and more than six online camps. The seventh batch will be starting soon. We have a PBCI family of over 80 active players. We support our 80 campers and over 700 odd poker players who are a part of our Discord Server. That’s the one place we do Hand Discussions, Daily Sessions reviews (some sessions open to all, some private for campers only), share scores, play games other than poker, and much more. We have seen a huge change in our players’ mindset just post the second session itself, and a big difference in graphs and scores.”
Coaching & Streaming
Explaining the areas that PBCI focuses on while training players to improve their gameplay, Hargunaney commented, “The first thing we focus a lot of our energy is in knowing ‘What is right.’ In poker or any strategy game, you want to know the right or the most profitable action and approach to a situation. We create our courses to bring up different situations and discuss the pros and cons of various actions in any and all given spots. Post this, we determine what the right approach is. We help players understand the different thought processes behind it. After that, in the following sessions, we do hand histories, solver analysis, play, and explain sessions with coaches, which not only help to plug one leak but multiple leaks specific to a single player or against a particular player pool.”
The PBCI strategy has worked wonders for the “campers”. A few such examples include the 2020 DPTX ₹5K Burn N Turn Event champion Anish Juwarkar, poker mom Radhika Shankar and up-and-coming player Vivek Karwa.
“A lot of our campers have gone on to win tournaments now. We have Anish (Juwarkar) winning a DPTX title. We have Radhika (Shankar) coming third in an event in the same series. We also have (Vivek) Karwa finishing in the top three in a 2020 DPTX side event. Apart from that, these guys have transformed greatly online. Our campers have also won numerous online flagship events like the Godfather, final tabling the Full House, etc. We had our campers run deep and find a table at a WSOP event as well. We’ve had our campers fine-tune, and they are doing really well. Our campers have a lot to do with the low and mid-stakes as well, where they are doing good too,” revealed Goindi.
Poker streaming has boomed as a trend in India, especially during the pandemic-induced lockdown. Commenting on how it can help players enhance their game, Hargunaney said, “Streaming is a whole new world altogether. It is fun, exciting, and very interactive. Of course, we can’t play the most optimal while streaming, mainly since we don’t load as many tables as we generally do, and also got to focus on the chat and other tech issues as and when they come up. So, volume definitely goes down, and also attention span in the game is not so optimal. Streaming, I think, is a way to chill and talk to players out there, a medium to share your knowledge and showcase your ideas.”
Facets That PBCI Focuses On
Goindi gave us an in-depth description of the thing that PBCI pays attention to while training budding poker players.
“The single most important area would be the mindset. Meaning how we basically want people to focus on, but overall, it’s a holistic approach. It’s a good grassroots development program. We focus on every stage of the tournament. Late-stage, obviously, is more important. We also focus on bankroll management, and we pay attention to assisting our campers moving up and down the stakes and many more things. The constant thing that we try to instill in everybody is to always want to keep learning and to keep getting better and not to be worried about the results.”
“The approach I follow at boot camp is just making sure that every person out there is comfortable asking questions. Making sure everyone is constantly improving. I know everyone has their own journey, a good journey, and they do not create competition within the boot camp. But they are trying to get everybody to create a path of their own and help each of them in their own paths. That’s one of the approaches at the boot camp, and the key learning is that everybody has a different life cycle,” he added.
What Needs to Improve in the Poker Industry
Both Goindi and Hargunaney voiced common problems plaguing the domestic poker industry, such as TDS, rake, and taxation issues.
“I believe rake and TDS comprehension are some of the important issues about the industry at the moment. It is an ongoing battle trying to sustain players in the ecosystem,” stated Hargunaney.
“There is obviously taxation which is an issue but from a perspective of not being able to offset it. It’s not about paying tax. Paying tax is fine. But you should be able to offset your loss. I also think the schedule and the timings are awful. Just the fact that all these events start so late in the night. Many players cannot put in that kind of volume because they have other things to do. Malpractices across websites are yet another issue. Apart from that, I think the rake is extremely high in the ecosystem. That’s killing a lot of players, and the marketing schemes by a lot of players are misleading,” recounted Goindi.
Impact of COVID-19 on Poker & Coaching
The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted businesses everywhere, including the poker industry, to some extent. Live poker has completely shut down, and it seems casinos will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Just like some of the major live tournaments have moved online, with WPT Online India becoming the latest to join the list, PBCI’s poker coaching also seems to have taken the virtual route.
“During the pandemic, there was a surge in online poker, but gradually it is declining. People may not be getting as much time to play due to work restarting, players may not be winning due to rake and insufficient poker knowledge. Also, we are not hosting any live Camps in Goa like before, any time soon. All our sessions are being held online on Zoom sessions, six days a week,” said Hargunaney.
Reiterating what Hargunaney said, Goindi agrees that there has been a spike in online traffic. However, he believes that it’s here to stay for a while.
“There is definitely a surge in players. I think we are in the new normal. There is definitely a shift in the way things operate right now, and I think it’s going to stay for quite some time.”
Talking about the adjustments that PBCI had to make to shift their training sessions online due to the pandemic, Goindi said, “We do many Zoom classes right now. In fact, it’s been easier in Zoom because now we can scale up, and we can actually reach out to a lot more people online, and it’s been better. We have more sessions. It took a little bit of adjustment in terms of the course plan and the modules, and our teaching methodologies and techniques. But I think we’ve kind of figured it out because our campers are showing great results.”
Future of PBCI & Indian Poker
Sharing his future plans for the PBCI, Goindi remarked, “I have many future aspirations with the boot camp. I want more and more people to start to understand how this game works. I want to cater to a lot more people in this industry. A lot of people actually don’t want to invest. In fact, people actually look at this as a cost more than an investment. The people who are in this system understand that it’s an investment and understand the money that they are paying for it will basically directly affect their results. So, once people start looking at it as an investment, that would help the entire ecosystem. Personally, I want to build a system wherein people can just come in, learn, and utilize all the resources and stay in the system for as long as they want. I want them to help each other out and just grow together and learn from the game of poker, which will also have a positive impact on their life.”
“We are definitely trying to give our 100% into the Poker BootCamp India, and growing the family, supporting players as we can, sharing the knowledge out there,” Hargunaney added.
Speaking about the future of Indian poker, Hargunaney opined, “Poker is definitely growing in the country, and has seen a huge shift in the last 10 years here, with the poker fraternity growing massively in numbers. Live tournaments, online tournaments, you name it, poker is catching the eye of every young gun out there.”
Goindi made some very astute observations regarding the growth of poker in India.
“The growth of poker in our country is happening, but it’s not happening in the most efficient, optimized way. There are a few setbacks, like Andhra Pradesh banning online gaming. But the end goal is to educate people and creating awareness. I think operators need to optimize the way they sell the game. The only way they are selling the game is through winning money that basically draws people for the wrong reasons to the game. People are now coming into the game because they want to make money. But people are not coming into the game because they really want to learn the game and grow in the game, and money is a by-product of this game. So, I think that is something which is very important, and it’s a slow process.”
“Poker is a good game. It’s a lifestyle and a mindset. It will help you both on and off the table, and it helps you grow in life. It makes you a better person. Play the game for the game. The money will come,” said Goindi concluding out insightful chat.