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The PokerGuru Show Season 2 | Episode 5 | 2021 WSOP Special Ft. Abhinav Iyer, Neel Joshi, Nikita Luther & Dhaval Mudgal

The PokerGuru Show Season 2
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  • Attreyee Khasnabis December 23, 2021
  • 7 Minutes Read

And we are back with another episode of “The PokerGuru Show!” This episode is special, thanks to an accomplished guest panel of ‘desi pros’ fresh from an eventful outing at the 2021 WSOP in Las Vegas.

Joining PokerGuru’s Arpit Jain in this WSOP special episode are bracelet winners Abhinav Iyer and Spartan Poker Team Pro Nikita Luther, along with MPL Poker Team Pro Dhaval Mudgal and Young Gun Neel Joshi.

While none of these players need an introduction, we’ll still recap some of their standout moments from this year’s WSOP.

Starting with India’s first solo bracelet winner Abhinav Iyer. The Young Gun was the most consistent player from the team. He cashed in seven events, including a 60th place finish in the WSOP Main Event for $113,800 (₹84.64 Lakhs), becoming the fifth Indian to crack the top 100 in the flagship event.

Abhinav Iyer
Abhinav Iyer


Next up, we have Young Gun Neel Joshi. The chemical engineer from BITS Pilani landed his career-best score worth ₹53.58 Lakhs from a third-place finish in Event #86: $1,000 Super Turbo NLHE.

Neel Joshi
Neel Joshi


India’s poker superwoman Nikita Luther teamed up with Kunal Patni chasing her second bracelet in the Tag Team Event, and they placed 15th for $4,576 (~₹3.42 Lakhs).

Nikita Luther and Kunal Patni
Nikita Luther and Kunal Patni


Musician and poker pro Dhaval Mudgal, who was sporting the MPL Poker badge at the WSOP for the first time, cashed in three events this year, with his biggest score coming in Event #61: $600 Deepstack Championship NLHE (30th for ~₹5.30 Lakhs).

Dhaval Mudgal
Dhaval Mudgal


The mega series returned to Sin City after a 26-month pandemic-induced hiatus. For the first time, the summer series became a fall extravaganza. The series had a lot of hullabaloo surrounding it, especially with the COVID-19 rules and new restrictions in place. The series was understaffed, and the series-imposed vaccination regulation and travel restrictions led to decreased participation. Despite all this, the comeback series turned out to be a roaring success – becoming the third biggest WSOP ever!

Given the uncertainty around the pandemic and strict travel restrictions for Indians flying into the US, a little over two dozen Indian players made it to the series. Compared to the contingent that attended the 2019 series, the Indian participation was significantly smaller, but the results churned by the team were no less. Though Team India’s four-year streak of winning a bracelet was broken, the team still pulled out 40 ITM finishes – including an impressive four FT finishes.

To enter the US, Indians had to spend 15-day (not 14-day as corrected by Dhaval Mudgal) in a green zone, and most chose to spend their time in Mexico. All of them had fantastic stories to share about the country!

Talking about stories and experiences from the WSOP, Kunal Patni featured prominently in many of them (despite not being a part of the guest panel) – from how he agreed to partner with Nikita Luther for the Tag Team event despite most other players opting to play the high-value Wynn Main Event event, to a major disaster which led him to miss his planned flight and even losing his tag as the most organized player in the community. There are a lot of juicy stories packed here.

Here is a timeline of the episode highlights.

4:49 – PokerGuru host Arpit Jain introduces guests Abhinav Iyer, Neel Joshi, Nikita Luther, and Dhaval Mudgal

5:03 – Abhinav Iyer talks about his run in the WSOP Main Event. Highlighting how significant the run was for him, Iyer gave some very sound advice on what to do when playing the grandest tournament at the WSOP. “I just took every day as it came by and just tried to play and apply myself. Since the tournament is probably the best-structured tournament in the world, you just need to be patient and calm. Try to be in there. Try not to just lose it all the way and hang on.”

6:27 – Neel Joshi gives a rundown of his third-place finish in the $1K Super Turbo NLHE. He discusses how he had planned to start the series, but his plans were derailed. “I mean, I had a pretty bad series. Till this event, I was largely bricking. This was the second last event I played. To be very honest, I am not very happy with the performance I put up this WSOP. I came into this series hoping that I would be working out, eating right, and going to events on time. Slowly, as the series progressed, things started to unravel. At first, it was relaxed a bit; towards the end, it changed. This event that I played, I max late-registered. I am pretty glad and fortunate that for not giving my best, I still escaped pretty unscathed.”

8:06 – Since the structure of the $1K Super Turbo NLHE was similar to the $10K Super Turbo, Neel Joshi did spend a decent amount of time discussing strategy with India’s poker pioneer Aditya Agarwal. Elaborating on this, Joshi says, “I think living with Adi requires a mention of its own. I got to learn a lot just by staying with him. Before this, I had minimal interactions with him, maybe one or two times, but I stayed with him for a long time. I was curious to see what makes him the best in the country. He is low profile, so you don’t get to see it from social media. But in person, he was very open. Now that I know it, it’s just pretty obvious. He just works that hard.”

10:24 – Nikita Luther was gunning for her second gold bracelet in the Tag Team event. She informs how she initially wanted to team up with Guiseppe Pantaleo, her partner, from her bracelet win in 2018. However, the German could not attend the series since he had not been vaccinated. Talking about how she ended up partnering with Kunal Patni, she reveals, “I was left till the last minute, high and dry, with nobody to play with.” She messaged many players without getting a positive response. “For some reason, everyone I spoke to wasn’t really interested in playing the event because it was only a $500 buy-in. It clashed with the Wynn Main Event, which had a $3,500 buy-in and a bigger guarantee. So, everyone wanted to play the bigger tournament,” she explains.

11:33 Luther convinced Kunal Patni to partner with her for the event, and even though Patni was hosting a guest in Las Vegas, he agreed. “Since we represent two different poker sites, the reporting was really confusing. It was really funny like that. I literally late registered for the event with Kunal, and he was leaving for a show with his friend who was visiting from Singapore, and I begged him to stay back and stand in the queue.” The duo juggled the event by playing two levels each and ended up finishing 15th.

14:06 – For Dhaval Mudgal, this was his first WSOP outing as an MPL Poker Team Pro, and his vlogs kept his followers updated on the latest happenings. Mudgal jokingly says, “The vlogs don’t really change the experiences on the table as such, but it was obviously nice to regularly put out some content and have people like back and follow. People get a little more invested when there is a vlog.”

14:37 – Dhaval Mudgal briefly explains his Las Vegas schedule, “I started off the series pretty well. As Neel said, it went in with an idea of working out, trying to be healthy, playing sports, and for the first couple of weeks, we even managed to do that, so that felt good. Waking up at like 7 AM, working out and heading to play the first hand because I lived with a gentleman called Kunal Patni who goes three hours before the TD (tournament director) reaches a tournament.”

15:28 – Nikita Luther explaining how this year’s WSOP was different from the previous ones she has attended, says, “I felt there was a bit of mismanagement, more this time because of the shortage of staff. We were understaffed this year. Which is something that has been common in all industries, and not just the poker industry, because of how the economy has been hit and because of the stimulus packages. A lot of the dealers would rather sit at home and just take the stimulus packages, rather come and deal. There was a shortage of dealers and staff. There weren’t enough people at the cages.” She even alluded to the inflation, underlining how things were way more expensive than they used to be.

16:44 – Dhaval Mudgal felt very under-rolled this time around, especially since Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are almost at an all-time high. He says, “Since everyone has gotten too rich now, they have too much to fire.”

16:59 – Abhinav Iyer mentions that the weather was arguably the best change this time around. It was the first time that WSOP skipped a summer schedule and was held in the fall. And adds, “masks were the only new mandate!”

18:55 – Neel Joshi mentions how the 14 days they spent in Mexico before flying into the US were an absolute delight, considering the natural scenic beauty of the country. “We had blue seas, great greenery, great food. I wasn’t in the tourist mindset because you still had to gear up for the WSOP. You can’t show up to the most important series, taking the last two weeks off.”

20:27 – Dhaval Mudgal explains sticking to a schedule during a big series is tough. “I think even if you try and follow a set schedule, you can’t because different days end at different times. Some days you’ll be playing till 3 AM and some days you’re going to be done at 11. Some days you are tilted, and you don’t want to play anymore, and you’re done at 4:30. All you can try and do is say that I am going to try and work out four times a week and try and get some activity. But apart from that, it’s very tough to keep a schedule as such.”

25:26 – The group talks about all the fun things they did to unwind in their time off the poker tables. From visiting Korean restaurants, and Nikita wanting to go to the Smash Room after busting events, the group surely had a blast at the series.

27:32 – When you’re having as much fun as Team India did at the series, you are sure to build up an arsenal of stories. From fighting over cabs to celebrating Diwali, the group had a lot of anecdotes to share. In fact, in Mudgal’s words, Kunal Patni has now “lost the no.1 ranking as the most organized man in poker.”

31:14 – The group also had valuable advice for players thinking of traveling to Las Vegas for the 2022 WSOP in May.

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