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With the much-awaited PokerStars Players NLHE Championship (PSPC) just weeks away, Team India has already locked in a strong contingent of 8 Platinum Pass winners alongside Team PokerStars pro Aditya Agarwal who will comprise the Indian representation at this mammoth event in the Bahamas next month.
Tournament regular Sumit Sapra has been a poker nomad this past year and one of the most active Indians on the Asian circuit. It was only fitting that he came out to become the first Indian to win one of the 300-odd Platinum Passes that were so generously handed out by PokerStars all year round. Sapra snagged his all-expenses-paid ticket to the PSPC at the 2018 APPT Korea in April, after winning a Flipout tournament that saw him defeating PokerStars Team pro Randy Lew in the final heads-up flip.
While his poker journey started almost a decade ago, it has been only a little over three years since Sapra switched to a full-time poker pro, a transition he does not regret at all. Poker, for him is work that brings fresh excitement and rejuvenation every day.
In this interview with PokerGuru, Sapra shares with us his excitement for the upcoming PSPC, and how his core desire to do well stems for his motivation to create a better image for Indian players globally.
Sapra also talks about the live tournament scenario in India and Asia. Indian poker, he feels, needs a regulatory body for operator regulation, an urgent rationalization of taxation laws and improvement in the standard of poker room staff. He points out that Vietnam has fast evolved as the best poker destination that offers the highest value in Asia for Indian players given the low cost of travel and living and the soft fields.
As he joins a select group of Indians who will be seen in action at the PSPC in the Bahamas, Sapra, who scored his best live cash at the 2018 APL High Rollers (3rd for ₹25.65 Lakhs), feels that the key to success in poker is to refrain from getting complacent, following the process and constantly working on one`s game.
You have had a splendid year both on the live and online felts. How would you recap your poker journey in 2018?
It’s been a great year and for me, one of the goals for the year was to try and win a Platinum Pass so I was elated to win one in Korea in the summer during the APPT event there. The rest of the year has been spent in traveling the Asian circuit and playing most of the prominent tour events. I also managed to score my best live cash when I chopped the APL HR event in Vietnam last month so yes; it’s been a fulfilling year.
You have been consistently performing well on the felts (live and online). From your runner-up finish in the Welcome Event at WPT Vietnam, to your third-place finish in the APL Vietnam NLHE High Roller and your most recent 16th place finish in the Megastack event at the Jeju Red Dragon, you have been in peak form. What is the mantra of your success?
There is no such mantra for success but I feel putting in volume and constantly working on your game contributes the most to success, both in the live and online arena. Also it helps to be fresh, well rested and at peace mentally so I try to stay relaxed and focus more on the process than on the outcome.
You started your year at the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) Macau Poker Cup 28 and since then you have travelled to London, Vietnam, Rozvadov, Goa and Jeju. What is your motivation behind playing such a high volume of live tournaments, specifically since the domestic online poker scene is so attractive with massive prize pools in tournaments, and you too have been performing so well on the online felts?
As I said earlier, volume is key to doing well and it’s not easy to put in enough volume, especially in live tournaments. I love traveling and have been fortunate enough to travel to different parts of the world and play poker tournaments there. The motivation comes from the desire to do well on the international stage to put India on the global poker landscape and show that Indian players can compete with the best in the world.
Travelling to play poker, especially to international destinations is an expensive venture. How do you manage your bankroll?
I try to reduce the variance by selling action to investors whenever I travel for a series abroad and that helps me reduce my cost as well as the ability to make multiple trips. It also helps generate interest about these trips within the poker community in India, as the investors follow your progress with keen interest.
Have your extensive travels to play live poker impacted your family life?
Traveling for poker is not easy and does have impact on the time you can spend with your family but technology makes it easier today to stay in touch and when I’m not traveling I try to spend more time with family and friends. Also, traveling provides an opportunity to tell stories about your travels, especially to new places, making it a great topic for conversations with friends and family.
In an interview with Barney Trouble in September this year, you had said that you have been travelling through the Asian circuits for almost two years. How do you think the mind sport has evolved in the region over this period of time?
Asia is fast becoming a huge market for poker and the potential for poker, both live and online, is immense. New destinations for live poker in Asia have emerged over the last few years like Vietnam and are fast becoming popular with Indian players as well. What needs work is the taxation laws and recognition of poker as a mind sport especially in India for it to really boom and go mainstream.
In the past year you have participated in the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT), Doupai Cup Main Event, 888 WPT500, 2018 Macau Millions, Asia Poker League (APL), Asian Poker Tour (APT), partypoker Grand Prix Germany, WPT Vietnam and Jeju Red Dragon. Which series in your opinion offers the best value to players, especially to Indian players?
Macau used to be the best place in Asia for live poker tournaments but it is fast being replaced by Vietnam as most of the prominent tours like APT, WPT and APL have regular events in Vietnam now. Various series in Vietnam definitely offer the best value especially for Indian players as the cost of travel and living are low and the fields are soft. Also, there is no visa requirement as you can get a visa on arrival so you don’t need to plan your travel in advance.
You won your first live title in the NLHE 6-Max High Roller at the PokerGuru Tour Season 2 – July Edition back in 2012 which was a rake free tournament. Thereafter, there was a decline in the number of tournaments being organized within the country for a brief period of time. Since then several poker tournaments have popped up on the Indian map including the Deltin Poker Tournament and more recently WPT India. How have Indian tournaments changed over the years? What are the areas that you think need improvement?
Tournament poker in India was growing and doing really well before TDS was introduced and that really impacted the tournament poker scene and caused a slowdown, as with 30% TDS and the overheads, it was hard to be profitable and also hard for the operators to make any money in tournaments. The scene has revived in the last few years with the DPT and IPC before that and most recently WPT India but still a lot of things need to happen for it to reach its potential.
Tax laws are the primary area that calls for attention. A rationalization of the laws is required for tournament poker to become sustainable both for the operators as well as the players. Also, infrastructure needs to improve and that would be much easier if the casinos and poker rooms could be on land instead of being offshore. Moreover, poker room staff specially the dealers need better training so that they’re more efficient and confident. Last but not the least, we need some sort of a regulatory body to oversee the activities of the operators and safeguard the interests of the players.
You had launched a start-up a few years back. Now that you have been playing poker so actively, are you able to give time to that venture? How do you maintain the work-life balance?
I have been playing poker for almost 10 years now but for most part of this period I was a recreational player as I had a full time job earlier and then I was working on a few ventures. It’s been more than 3 years now that I have been playing full time and I have definitely enjoyed the transition even though it hasn’t been easy all the time. Work-life balance is easier to maintain when you enjoy your work and with poker, that is definitely the case. When you enjoy your work so much it doesn’t even feel like work most of the time and you wake up every day with an enthusiasm and energy that makes it easy to focus on doing your best at work.
You have been playing poker for a long time now. Care to share the name of some domestic or international players you find to be challenging and tough?
There are several players on the domestic and international circuit that I look up to and enjoy playing with. All of them are great players and provide different sorts of challenges on the tables. Some of these Indian players are Aditya Agarwal, Aditya Sushant, Raghav Bansal, Raman Gujral, Kavin Shah and some of our younger players like Sharad Rao, Kalyan Chakravarthy, Abhinav Iyer, Vaibhav Sharma and Nishant Sharma. Among the international players I admire Patrik Antonius, Dan Colman, David Peters and Fedor Holz.
One of the highlights of your poker exploits this year has to be you winning the PSPC Platinum Pass in April. What was the experience like?
It was a surreal feeling to win the Platinum Pass in the Flipout and that too after being heads up against Randy Lew. It felt like I was in a dream and took a while for it to sink in.
You will be heading out to the Bahamas next month for the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC). What are your expectations from the series?
The PSPC is PokerStars’ attempt to create the ‘perfect’ live poker tournament and they have made great efforts to make it a great experience for all the players participating. I am sure it will be an awesome experience for all the players and I’m really looking forward to the event and hopefully, we can start off the year with a deep run and play well and show the world that Indian poker players are a force to reckon with.
Besides the PSPC, are there any other international tournaments we can hope to see you at?
At this point in time I’m not thinking of anything beyond the PSPC but yeah I will continue to play live tournaments on the Asian circuit as well as in Europe and the US.
Since you have played in numerous live tournaments and have been quite successful, what advice would you give to newcomers who are yet to start playing live games?
Work on your game constantly and don’t be complacent. Try to be well rested and fresh, both mentally and physically before starting a live tournament or series. It also helps to be relaxed and free of any distractions so try to get into a positive frame of mind. For me personally, I usually try to listen to some music to get focused and into the ‘zone’. Remember to focus on the process and the results will follow!
Cover Image courtesy: PokerStars