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We return with yet another edition of our brand-new series Rising Star of Poker! This is our endeavor to bring you the story of players who have charted a phenomenal rise in the poker circuit and hold the promise of making it big in the industry!
Our latest Rising Star is Ritwik Khanna. Ritwik has been one of the big revelations during the lockdown. The 23-year-old has quickly worked up the ranks in online MTTs, and even his weekly live-streams have won him an ardent fan following!
Ritwik has played poker for almost five years now and tasted the thrills of live games early on. However, it was after joining one of India’s leading online poker brands, PokerBaazi, as a poker streamer, that he started playing the game more seriously.
Being part of a big brand has given wind to Ritwik’s ambitions since he has come into the company of talented poker aficionados like Chirag Sodha, who has played a pivotal role in improving his game.
No wonder then that Ritwik is fast closing in on the ₹1-Crore mark in online winnings. This year alone, Ritwik has accumulated ₹96.27 Lakhs playing MTTs, with a profit of ₹20.46 Lakhs! His personal-best score of ₹3.14 Lakhs came in PokerBaazi’s ₹15 Lakhs GTD The Pride on May 13.
As someone who is still at an early stage of his poker career, Ritwik has seen both the highs and lows of a poker player`s career. His past mistakes have also helped him gain a keen understanding of bankroll management.
But perhaps it is his live streaming on PokerBaazi’s YouTube channel – something that started off during the lockdown – that has most endeared him to the domestic circuit. Ritwik’s live streams are not only entertaining but have also gone a long way in adding another dimension to his poker career. And he took down the first tourney that he live-streamed, The Pride on PokerBaazi, which remains one of Ritwik`s most memorable moments.
Here is Ritwik`s poker story in his own words.
Getting the Feet Wet in Online Poker
Ritwik was introduced to poker during his college days when he was pursuing his Bachelors in Commerce. He picked up the game quickly, making a killing in the house games initially. “I started playing poker in college, from the first year, with friends. We used to play house games. I made a lot of money back then,” he remembers.
After graduating, Ritwik came back home but was in two minds on his future. Should he pursue higher studies or take up poker more seriously? An offer to start streaming for PokerBaazi came tumbling his way, and once he said yes, there was no looking back. “During that time, I met a few people from PokerBaazi and was hired by them for streaming. I came onboard as a fresher and worked along with Chirag (Sodha) and other guys. They were all playing professionally by then. I was fairly new to the industry, and they helped and guided me on how I can improve my gameplay. I began playing online after that and have been playing ever since.”
The COVID-19 induced lockdown allowed Ritwik to increase his volume in online MTTs. “I wasn’t putting in much volume till about a year ago. I was only playing like one or two tournaments. Online players generally put in a lot of volume and dedicate a lot of time to studying the game. Eventually, I also started playing the flagship tournaments and also played the small stakes.”
Growing With PokerBaazi
What makes Ritwik`s poker journey different from most is the role PokerBaazi has played in his growth as a poker player. He had joined the organization as an intern at a time when he was at crossroads in life. A meeting with Varun Ganjoo, Marketing Director at Baazi Games, led to Ritwik ultimately choosing poker as his career.
“In July 2019, one of my relatives introduced me to Varun (Ganjoo). I went to meet and had an interview, and then I joined PokerBaazi. I had also wanted to join PokerBaazi to get a better understanding of the industry. I wanted to know what scope I had in poker. I wanted to stay connected to the industry while I played poker. I basically wanted to know what would be the right path for me in this industry. After I joined PokerBaazi and was working there, I began playing poker at night. Just grinding my way up the stakes, and that’s what I have been doing ever since.”
Experiencing Live Poker
Ritwik has had plenty of live poker experiences, not just in Goa and Sikkim but also in Kolkata. “I’ve played a lot of live poker. As soon as I joined (Poker) Baazi, the next month, I went to Goa for a cash game festival, and two months after that, I was at a cash festival in Sikkim. Before joining Baazi, I went to a cash game festival in Kolkata. I was basically playing a lot of high stakes live cash games. But playing at live tournaments or even online is very different, and that’s what I am doing now.”
“I have been playing for four and a half years. I was playing poker way before I joined (Poker)Baazi. It’s only been a year since I have started concentrating more on online poker,” Ritwik added.
Committing to Poker
By 2019, Ritwik had made decent money playing cash games but still hadn’t completely committed himself to the idea of taking up poker professionally. “When I was playing cash games, I had made a lot of money that helped me pay rent and take care of other stuff. I never thought of taking up poker professionally then. I just thought that I would be doing this part-time. Even after joining Baazi and started playing online, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would become a professional poker player. I finished runner-up in The Endeavour, and that was when I made up my mind. Since then, I have been playing with my bankroll. Even when I had a bankroll of ₹2-₹3 Lakhs, I still played ₹500-₹600 buy-in tournaments.”
Unlike most players, Ritwik’s family has been relatively supportive of his decision to become a poker player, but he feels that societal awareness regarding the game needs improvement. “My family has shown a lot of support, but when I go out and tell people that I play poker professionally and I am making a lot of money, people still think that I am betting or gambling and probably just winning. So, that mentality still exists in India.”
Embracing the Lows
Having a strong mental game is vital for a player to be successful, and for that, the lows have to be taken in stride as one enjoys the highs. Ritwik has made numerous bankroll goof-ups to learn the lesson early in his poker adventure. “When I was playing cash games, I made so much money and had a bankroll of ₹10-₹12 Lakhs. I played a lot of high-stakes games – I didn’t really know what I was doing back then!”
He admits – “I wasn’t studying much at that time and had no clue about bankroll management. I went to Kolkata and played high stakes cash games there and then went to Goa and did the same thing. I didn’t even know the guys I was playing poker with. The next day, Chirag (Sodha) asked me if I knew who these guys were. I mean, I should have known, right! Anyway, whatever I earned playing cash games, I also spent it off,” he added.
House Games in Mumbai Leads to Trouble
Ritwik has participated in house games across the country, especially, Kolkata, Goa, and Mumbai. He courageously shared a sensitive story with us, “When I was playing house games in Mumbai, I lost like ₹20,000-₹30,000 in the first two days. On the third day, I started winning and was up like ₹40,000. Then a guy just randomly walked in through the door, and it turns out that he was a cop. I stayed back at the police station the entire night. It was an illegal club, and we were caught playing poker. A case was registered against all those present. We managed to get bail, but the case is still ongoing, and I have to go for the hearing every year.”
Getting Into Live Streaming
Talking about his grind schedule, pre and post lockdown, he said, “When the lockdown started, I decided to utilize my free time to play poker. When I was working from the office, I used to go back home and play poker. Then I could only play like one tournament due to a shortage of time. I had to get up early in the morning. But during the lockdown, I was playing three to four tournaments a day and getting up at 11 o’clock, which was doable.”
“Once I started playing more and scoring more on (Poker)Baazi, I got a small screen for myself and connected it to my laptop. It’s a small basic screen and can fit only like three to four tables. I have been playing like that for a couple of months now. I have started playing more regularly. I was on a pretty good roll and started entering six to eight tournaments every night on my laptop and the small screen. I used to start at 8 o’clock and played till 3 o’clock,” he added.
Playing during the lockdown period also helped Ritwik become more patient. He credits Chirag Sodha for giving his valuable advice. Sodha motivated him to stay healthy and work out, and he did so by going for a run and to the gym.
Ritwik soon joined the likes of Sodha and Young Gun`s Siddharth Karia and Anujkumar Kodam to start live-streaming for PokerBaazi. “PokerBaazi already had created a live streaming space for themselves on YouTube with Chirag (Sodha) and Anuj (Kodam). They were looking for potential players who could help them expand the space. After these two began streaming regularly, Varun (Ganjoo) spoke to me and told me to give streaming a shot. Chirag helped me out with the setup. I took down an event in my very first live stream. It was a huge confidence booster. So, now I stream on Wednesdays and Fridays.”
Sure enough! Ritwik’s live streams are a treat to watch and have helped him dig his heels deeper into the community.
Ritwik is lucky to have his colleagues as his poker mentors. “After I joined Baazi, I had people like Navkiran Singh, Chirag Sodha, Puneet Dua, and Deepanshi Tomar around me to help. They are professional poker players and have been playing the game for a while now. So, my immediate help was from them.”
Clearly, Sodha and Puneet have played an important role in Ritwik’s growth as a poker player. “Chirag is a role model for me. He has guided me throughout, and even today, he keeps tabs on my progress in the game. He has spoken to me over call and in the office for hours, trying to brief me about what scope the mind sport can offer, what opportunities are available to me, and everything else.”
It was Puneet who introduced Ritwik to poker tools. “Puneet gave me a course of BenCB. He transferred it to my laptop. I tried it and found it to be pretty hard – It’s quite an advanced course. I still have the course, and I’m still doing it,” Ritwik said, adding that attending a poker boot camp is something he wants to do in the future.
“I have also wanted to go for a poker bootcamp…they are really good. Poker coaching in India is at its peak right now. I haven’t pursued anything yet, but I want to.”
Live streaming for the first time is an experience that Ritwik will never forget since he ended up shipping the tournament he played on the stream! “The first stream that I did, I was actually just trying my hand at it. But I ended up taking down The Pride. It felt pretty good and was a key moment of my poker journey.”
Another memorable milestone for Ritwik was when he picked up his career-first live score at the 2019 Baazi Poker Tour (BPT). He entered the ₹20K Big Bounty – his first live tourney and stormed to the FT to eventually place fourth. “That was actually my first live tournament ever, and I wasn’t even planning to play. I asked Varun (Ganjoo) if I could play the last event, and he said go ahead. I ended up placing fourth in my very first live tourney, so that was a big thing.”
Right now, for Ritwik, playing poker is like any other job. He believes playing for eight to nine hours a day is not easy, but he wants to keep playing online and build a bankroll.
“For now, I just want to keep playing online and build up my bankroll. Once I have accumulated a healthy bankroll, I want to play live tournaments abroad in Vietnam and other such places. So, that is my end goal for the foreseeable future.”
An ambitious goal indeed! Given how fast this budding poker talent has made his mark in online MTT`s and poker streaming, Ritwik seems to be on the right track and in the right company to strike gold!
We wish this rising star many more victories, both online and live, as well as an eventful live-streaming career!
Keep following PokerGuru for more such inspiring stories!