6 Minutes Read
Poker is flourishing in the country, and while established pros promoting the game has undoubtedly helped, the game’s growing popularity among the younger crowd has been another significant factor behind the growth. Among the latest crop of talented players to have emerged to the scene, the one name that clearly stands out is Gaurav Sood (cover image).
24-year-old Sood completed his BDS degree in March last year and has been creating quite a storm on the virtual felts since. With almost ₹2.77 Crores in recorded online winnings, Sood is undoubtedly one of the more promising players on the circuit today.
While one of the most feared online players today, Sood is relatively new to the live poker scene. It was only last year that he collected his first live score through a runner-up finish in a PLO Hi event at the 2019 Asian Poker Tour (APT) Vietnam July edition for VND 110,000,000 (~₹3.25 Lakhs). Since then, he has picked up six more live cashes with two of them coming at the 2019 World Poker Tour (WPT) Cambodia in November. His live tournament earnings presently stand at approximately ₹15 Lakhs.
Based in Gurgaon, Haryana, Sood was introduced to poker in 2013 while still pursuing his college. His first real break in the game was when Abhishek Goindi recruited him to play for his PSL team Punjab Bluffers in 2017.
A level-headed player, Sood, understands the importance of variance as he re-iterates, “A good session, a bad session, a winning streak, a losing streak are all speckles of dust in comparison to your whole journey in the game, they should not affect you.”
We recently caught up with the up-and-coming MTT specialist to know all about his poker journey thus far. Here is his story in his own words.
First Brush With Poker
Sood was first introduced to poker while in his first year of college back in 2013 by his cousin. “I was introduced to poker in my first year of college (2013) by my cousin brother Shreyas and him, my school friends and I started playing ₹10 cash games, and then played a bunch in our same friendly quorum with gradually increasing stakes up to ₹500 buy in.”
Describing how his interest in the game grew, Sood said, “The game at first, at least felt like it was played on a psychological level more than anything else, so in the early days it used to be the fact that you could play with someone’s mind. As the game advanced and I started to take it seriously. The fact that intrigued me the most was that there are so many different ways of playing a hand on every street, so many different outcomes. So that makes the task of a player so much more difficult to pick the most profitable line of play. It was when I actually took the game seriously, that I started falling in love with it. The game puzzles you so much, so that eagerness to get better, and the challenge of solving each spot was pretty interesting. The game is so similar to life and teaches you to be persistent and patient at all times.”
“The entire process of being a better player than you were yesterday, to learn from your own mistakes, and get well versed at the game’s modern nuances and intricacies is what appeals to me the most.”
Poker as a Profession
Taking up poker professionally is not an easy decision to make; however, Sood seems to have made his peace with the fact that his stellar abilities do warrant him to play the sport on a more than recreational level.
“I haven’t considered myself a professional till the point I was in college, as I wasn’t able to put in the adequate volume and study hours to contribute to my progress. In fact, it’s just recently I have come to terms with the fact that I do play poker for a living, so I am a professional pretty much. If I consider the time since I have been putting in good volume and properly studying the game, I’d say it’s been 10 months I have gone professional doing this.”
Family: The Ultimate Support System
Many poker players in the country play the game professionally but have not disclosed the same to their family out of fear that it may not be accepted by them to be a legitimate means of earning a livelihood. Sood, however, has found a support system in his family. Though it was not all smooth sailing initially, his parents eventually came around and accepted his choice of becoming a poker professional.
“The whole stigma attached to poker being a card game and with the money involved makes it a difficult proposition to talk about at home. I did confide in my mother at first about taking the game seriously. She was very doubtful about the prevalence of skill in the game. I did talk to a lot of people I looked up to about how to break it to my parents that I wanted to play the game professionally. But down the road, I guess I didn’t need it all that much, they just gradually started realizing that if I’m consistently putting up results and making decent money, they need not be worried.”
“One of the key factors I think was when they actually saw me ‘studying’ poker rather than just playing, they couldn’t believe that any card game could have a structured path of learning as poker does. Now, my mom literally wishes me good luck and asks me where next I am gonna go for live tournaments and all that. The understanding just started building up gradually, and today, they give me all the support I need.”
“As far as we are talking about support, I would also like to mention a couple of friends who have helped me immensely with my confidence, especially during the low times; Gunisha and Nishant. The amount of faith they have in me to make it to the top, I don’t think even I trust myself that much or not. They are pretty much as close to family as it gets.”
Starting Off On the Road to Poker Stardom
Talking about how he initially got his first big break in the game, Sood narrated, “I have always asserted the fact that I could not really be even half the player I am today if I hadn’t met the people I met and interacted within the poker industry. Abhishek Goindi being the first one to rope me into the Punjab Bluffers in PSL out of the pure wilderness, I had played the qualifiers as I had read about them somewhere and playing some 24 online qualifiers I stood 15th in the rankings all over India. He picked me when not only 2 out of the top 5 were selected. I’m happy he saw whatever he saw in me, haha! But seriously, he’s the one guy I owe my success to the most.”
“That stint in PSL introduced me to poker and all the other people when I went to Goa. I met a bunch of them and made some really close friends in Ratul Steves, and Yuvraj Chaudhary. I genuinely feel blessed to have met all the right people in poker, and it’s crucial in a field like this because the paths are unexplored, you need people who have walked the same path to guide you.”
“After PSL, I worked with FTR Poker for a bit, where I met another bunch of amazing people and mentors in Kanishk Bansal and Sahil Mahboobani. They really helped me gain the experience and get into a zone of putting volume. I have interacted and been friends with a lot of amazing poker players and humans, especially Paawan Bansal, with whom I share an amazing bond, and he has helped me bloom in this game in every way possible. Other than poker, we both chill a lot as my college was in Meerut (his hometown), and now he frequently comes to Gurgaon as well. Other than him, Aditya Sushant, Raghav Bansal, Abhinav Iyer, and Ankit Wadhawan are some of the friends I have made and discuss all sorts of strategy with. When the best in the business tells you you’re good, that ought to boost your confidence and makes me personally work so much more on my game. I have taken a couple of sessions with Damo Wain as well, a Pocarr coach who has also helped me fix my leaks. The game has given me some amazing mentors and friends in life along with everything else, that’s why I think my connection with this beautiful game is a tad bit different from other people.”
Dominating the Virtual Felts
Sood lets his results do most of the talking. With over ₹2.77 Crores in online cashes and an impressive ₹1.2 Crores in profits, there is little doubt that he is one of the most gifted young players in the country today. When asked what the secret behind his success and incredible win-rate is, he explained, “I’d start with gratitude and humility. The two most important things I have, which I think everyone should have, but it’s hard to control in poker as a lot of this game’s dynamics are ego-driven a lot of times. Sometimes, it feels inevitable to fall prey to that, but being self-aware always keeps you in check. Other than that, as far as poker is concerned, mad volume and having a good study routine is something I have always strived for. I believe I have been consistent with my study and, therefore, results. I haven’t had a couple of flashes (big scores) and faded away, I think what I like is the consistency with my results. At least it makes me feel like I’m doing something right on the tables (haha)!”
“Also, I think a lot of the edge has to be gained from working on things which are often side-lined as the mental game, fitness, and discipline in life and poker. I remember a while back; I weighed some 108 kgs. I had just returned home from a Goa series and was determined to change the way I lived life. I gave up drinking for two straight months, ate healthily, and started playing tennis again every day before the grind. Getting back to tennis itself was a challenge for me as my right hand that was injured in a car accident in July 2018 and hadn’t recovered fully to be able to move with 100% efficiency. I started off rusty and with a lot of pain in my hand. Still, I just went through that and in a week, or so I was getting better at it. And what do you know, I had come down to 93 kgs in about 2 months. In turn, that made my mindset great as I played tennis just before my grind. Another instance that this game is a great teacher, it is so similar to life and teaches you to be persistent and perseverant at all times.”
Talking more about his poker journey, he said, “I really started playing and studying about 10 months ago, and as I mentioned before. Good volume and good study routine is always the golden rule. The game’s evolving at such a rapid pace it’s hard to keep up if you don’t study with the modern-day equipment. Some people do think studying might be boring, and that’s why a lot of us slack away from it as well, but I used to do it. Then I made a fun rule with myself, that whenever I have free time, and I want to watch a video or something, I wouldn’t go to Netflix or YouTube, I’ll go to “Run It Once” and help myself get better at what I love. Slowly, it became more of a self-induced choice than a rule, I really started liking it, and it has been the same ever since. So yeah, study, study, and more study.”
Views on Variance & How to Deal With It
Variance is something that can put even the best of players on tilt, but Sood seems to have a good grasp on things on this front.
“I wouldn’t get into any strategic talks because I think the main problem is with how people approach the game. People often underestimate variance and have no idea how bad it can get, and when it gets bad, that’s when the real test starts. In my opinion, one should go harder at studying to find out if it’s all variance or there’s something we can work on as well. A good session, a bad session, a winning streak, a losing streak are all speckles of dust in comparison to your whole journey in the game, they should not affect you. I read this somewhere and found this wholesome: consider the entirety of your poker in your life as one big session. You’re gonna run good, you’re gonna run bad, don’t look at it day by day, week by week or basically, deviations are bound to be there in the short run. Our job is to not be affected by it and keep at it, studying hard and putting in volume. The game can be brutal sometimes, but don’t beat yourself over it, rather constructively use the time and work on different aspects of your game, even if it means moving down in stakes or even starting from scratch. Don’t pay heed to other people doing well while you’re going through downswings, just keep doing the process right, and the results will follow. It is for sure, easier said than done, sometimes it’s inevitable for that self-doubt and negative emotions to creep in, but consciously shunning it whenever you see it happening within yourself is the key.”
Mentors and Training Subscriptions
Though Sood is a phenomenal player, even the best need mentoring every now and then. We asked the young lad who his ideal mentor would be, and he responded, “Daniel Dvoress, but that’d be a long shot for now, haha! Someday soon. But yeah from the domestic circuit, Sriharsha Doddapaneni, Aditya Agarwal, and Danish Shaikh.”
He also went on to discuss the importance of training subscriptions, “I have never done RYE or Upswing, but I love RIO, and that’s the main component of my study schedule. I think RIO is like the bible of poker study, it’s so vastly informative and structured at the same time.”
“There are definitely tools one should be using in the modern era of poker. If there is an edge to be gained, then you should definitely be using it. These tools are powerful enough to revolutionize your game if used correctly.”
Grinding Routine & Playing Live Tournaments
Sood even revealed the daily routine that helps him focus on his gameplay. “I get up (late, of course) and then have my meal and then start with the study session reviewing hands and working on one concept at a time. After that, I head for tennis, come back, take a shower, have a little routine that helps build my focus and concentration, and then sit to grind. I’m currently focusing on NLHE tournaments as I used to dabble between both NLHE and PLO way too much. Not that either of them was not successful, but I needed to stay put to one format to achieve max results. But I do love playing PLO, and I always look forward to PLO MTT’s that happen every once in a while, in online series.”
He also discussed his desire to play more live tournaments, at the same time explaining why he was hesitant to play live initially. “Definitely have started playing live a lot more now. Live tournaments because of the overheads (travel, accommodation, etc.) is something which takes up a bigger chunk of your bankroll, so at first, I was hesitant because I did not want to go beyond what my bankroll allowed me to. Now I have started planning live international trips sporadically, and mostly, I will be traveling to play most of the Indian series as well!”
While Sood has traveled overseas to play live tournaments before, he plans to visit more such stops this year as well. “I have international stops in mind which I might go. I am going for European Poker Tour, Sochi, in March for sure. WSOP, I might not go, but let’s see!”
On a parting note, he added, “It feels good to be giving my first full-fledged interview! Hoping there are more to come. Thanks a lot, PokerGuru! You guys are doing exceptional work and contributing to the growth of this sport in India! Keep it up!”