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And we’re back with the first ‘Young Gun’ feature of 2021! Gracing the editorial is a player with the rare combination of being both an IIT and IIM alumni, Sanat Mehrotra (cover image). We have covered several IITians as Young Gun’s in the past like Anujkumar Kodam, Ujjwal Narwal, Shardul Parathasarathi, and Devang Yadav, and Mehrotra is the latest name getting added to the elite list.
With players of such a rich academic pedigree, choosing poker as a full-time profession has undoubtedly gone a long way in improving the game’s negative perception.
The 29-year-old Mehrotra has been dominating the virtual felts for the past few years. Starting out as a cash game player, he gradually transitioned into MTTs in 2019. In just two years, Mehrotra has already accumulated ₹4.68 Crores playing online MTTs and sits on an impressive ₹1.75 Crores in net profits.
In his short MTT career, the promising poker talent has already added several notable titles to his poker resume, including flagships like Adda52’s Full House, AOPS Mandovi, and Mega Suits, not to forget PokerBaazi’s Valuebomb and Spartan Poker’s The Elite.
The two-time Godfather winner is off to a great start in 2021 and sits on ₹60.59 Lakhs in recorded winnings for the year (₹17.66 Lakhs in profits). As of Saturday, March 6, he was ranked #15 on the 2021 leaderboard standings.
Born and brought up in Gurgaon, Mehrotra first came across poker during 12th standard in school. He did not pay much heed to the mind sport then. The game found its way back in his life when he was in his fourth year at IIT Kharagpur, and this time around, his interest in the game was considerably peaked.
While he was completing his MBA at IIM Ahmedabad, he realized the possibility of pursuing poker as a profession. Even though he felt like he wasn’t ready to play poker full-time at that time, his future plans always included poker, at the very least as a side hustle.
He finally quit his job in November 2019 to work on launching his own startup. But destiny had other plans for him, as a chance trip to Goa led him down the path of pursuing poker professionally. In January last year, Mehrotra traveled to Goa to participate in his first-ever live tournament series, the back-to-back running 2020 Baazi Poker Tour (BPT) and India Poker Championship (IPC). At these events, Mehrotra met and talked to several pros like Raghav Bansal, Shagun Jain, and Devang Yadav. Those interactions broadened his understanding of MTTs, poker coaching, HUDs, and so much more.
On the tournament front, Mehrotra’s highlight of that trip was his 16th place finish in the IPC Main Event for ₹3.40 Lakhs. However, on the professional front, the Goa trip went a long way in enhancing his knowledge about tournament poker, so much so that it convinced him to take the plunge and become a full-time MTT pro.
Soon after the Goa trip, Mehrotra began a gradual transition from cash games to MTTs. The COVID-19 pandemic that hit the country in March turned out to be a blessing for Mehrotra, who claimed that the “pandemic helped him discover his true passion for poker.” He utilized the lockdown time judiciously to improving his gameplay. He put in long hours into studying the intricacies of the game, and in turn, discovered his true passion for poker, falling for the game hook, line, and sinker.
PokerGuru caught up with the budding poker player to find out more about his poker journey. Here are the excerpts.
First Brush With Poker
Mehrotra was introduced to poker quite early on, and while he liked the game, he didn’t think much about it back then. “I think my first introduction to the game was after class 12th in 2010 when we had cleared all our engineering entrance exams. A friend had just introduced me to the game, and I liked it. But after that, I didn’t really go deeper into it.”
After Mehrotra entered IIT Kharagpur, he was re-introduced to the game and began playing it more seriously. “It was during my fourth year in 2014 when I fell in love with the game. In our wing, somebody knew how to play, and our seniors asked us to join them. I think every engineering college has some culture of these kinds of games. That’s when I fell in love with poker. It involves some calculations, and it involves strategic decisions, making the game something I enjoy a lot. It appeals to certain kinds of personalities, and that’s how I got deeper into the game.”
The Next Step – Poker Can Be Played Professionally
Talking about how his interest in poker steadily developed, Mehrotra said, “After engineering, I was doing my MBA (from IIM Ahmedabad) when I realized that there were seven or eight people in our batch who were crazy about the game. Even though they were doing their so-called MBA from one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, they would still want to play poker like seven or eight hours in a day.”
At this time in his life, Mehrotra woke up to the possibility of taking up poker as a career.
“While I had planned to study harder and work more during my MBA, I kind of got exposed to the professional aspect of the game. When I got to know that people are doing this full-time. I was not so good myself back then to make a professional pitch. But the plan was always to play poker on the side and work. I was playing but mostly cash games from 2016 to 2018. At present, I will call myself a break-even player, meaning not like heavy professional, I think, but not a recreational player either.”
The Goa Trip That Changed the Course of His Life
In January last year, Mehrotra made his way to Goa to participate in the consecutively running BPT and IPC series. At these events, he met some prominent poker pros who expanded his knowledge on many aspects of the game.
“Even before my trip to Goa, I had gained some prominence within the circuit. I had won a Mega Suits title. But till then, I had won most of the online tourneys based on my intuition. I had not been studying the game and had no real skill. Till that point, I was mainly a cash game player. In fact, I would say that I played like 80% cash games till mid-2019. I was mostly a cash game player who used to go to Goa for these SnG tournaments and the IPC and BPT events because I used to get all those tickets from cash games promotions. I used to go and play and have a good time but never really won anything there because I knew that I’ve done nothing, I’ve studied nothing.”
“I quit my job in November 2019 and was planning to launch a startup. Around this time, live poker was also picking up in Goa. In January, I went to Goa for the BPT and IPC, and that is where I met a couple of other pros like Raghav Bansal, Shagun Jain, and Devang Yadav. That is where I got to know about MTT poker. After Devang (Yadav) won the BPT (online) High Roller, which had a live Final Table, he invited the final table players to his room. We talked about poker coaching, MTT coaching, HUDs, training processes, the importance of studying and mental fitness, and much more. I don’t use social media, so I wasn’t aware of all that was happening in the poker world. During this discussion, I realized how different poker is from what I had initially understood about the game. I credit that trip to help me make the switch to playing poker full-time. So, a big credit to (Raghav) Bansal and Devang and others as well,” he revealed.
Transitioning to Online MTTs & Grind Routine During the Pandemic
Following his Goa trip, Mehrotra began his gradual transition to online tournaments, and he eventually started playing them full-time.
“After that trip, I was at least playing three to four days in a week. When the pandemic struck in March, and the subsequent lockdown was announced, the startup scene was kind of slow, and it became not as rampant as it was earlier. I had a lot of time on my hands since, like everyone, I was also at home. I got the chance to study the game more. Once I began studying the game, then playing full-time was inevitable because poker is so mentally consuming. Since it is so intense, the possibility of doing something else on the side becomes difficult. Especially when you’re beating the game and are making money out of it, then it becomes a quite safe choice to pursue it full-time.”
Talking about his grind routine during the pandemic, Mehrotra said, “I think I would be in the top four or five players who are putting the max volume in terms of – the number of days played, and the number of tournaments played in Indian websites. I have played almost on an average five to six days a week, and I have only taken like a couple of weeks off in the last 11 months. It’s because I feel like my day is not complete if I don’t play poker. I rarely feel the need to take a break. But I do realize why players talk about taking a break. However, since I am in the zone now, I want to play on Mondays and Saturdays as well, which are usually days when players take a break. I have an urge to play every day at 6 or 7 pm. I think that if that’s the feeling you have that you automatically want to play every day, then it’s not working anymore. It’s not a grind. It’s fun.”
“I know that COVID-19 has impacted the lives of many people, and it has impacted my life as well, but in a different way. For me, and I feel for many other poker enthusiasts, the pandemic helped us discover our true passion for poker. I had no complaints from playing so often. I also loved all the series that were being offered by the different sites. I played the AOPS. Spartan Poker did a great job with the IOPC. Even PokerBaazi hosted the Game Changer a few times. All in all, great work by the Indian sites for providing such amazing tournaments,” he added.
Family’s Reaction & Views on Society’s Perception of Poker
Often times when players are just starting out in their poker career, they refrain from talking to their family about their passion out of fear of being ostracized. On the other hand, Mehrotra has been transparent with his family, so he never felt the need to hide his love for poker from them.
“I was always very open with my family about what I’m doing. When I was thinking of becoming a poker pro, my family did have their reservations, but in the end, after they saw the effort that I was putting in, they accepted it. I was studying hard and even began to put a lot of emphasis on my physical fitness. When they saw that I had a well defined schedule, with a lot of exercise and study, plus of course I was making money, and in general, I was the happiest I have been in the past five or six years, the acceptance kicked in. Now my parents are very supportive. They make sure that my Sundays are very calm and quiet. So, I guess I am fortunate that my parents are very supportive of what I do.”
While Mehrotra’s family was on his side, many aren’t as lucky as him. Mehrotra feels that players’ inability to be frank with their families about playing poker stems from society’s perception of the game.
“The way people look at it in society needs to be addressed. It is disheartening for me to see that something so beautiful is being looked at so harshly by society simply because they don’t understand it. I want to be able to stand up proudly and say that I am a professional poker player. I may not be the best in India. Several people are better than me, but I love playing this game. And people should, you know, take cognizance of that and accept it, that it’s a regular profession. Acceptance is very low in our country. But poker culture needs to boom in India, it’s no different than chess.”
He also explained how society’s harsh view of poker can affect a player’s gameplay. “If poker had been a celebrated sport in our country, then I would not be so concerned personally. The issue is that it takes time to get your first major score, which is very important as an MTT player. Ideally, if you are getting better at the game and don’t have a score, its should be fine if society and people around you are supportive. They would assure me that I am getting better or that my understanding of the game is improving. But the problem in India is that if a person reaches the age of 27 or 28 and is not applying for a job and only playing poker full-time, it’s not acceptable. Basically, to society, all I am doing is sitting in front of a computer, playing a card game where money is involved. So, even if I know I am getting better, I am putting in the hard work, I am doing everything, but if I don’t get a score in the first three or four months, then people will say that poker is not easy for you because your opportunity cost is high. The only way to solve this problem is that either poker becomes acceptable in society or players need to have excellent bankroll management skills.”
Using Training Subscriptions & His Love-Hate Relationship with HUDs
Like many other up-and-coming poker players, Mehrotra, too, understands the importance of training subscriptions and the benefits they can provide to a player. Talking about the training subscriptions he uses, Mehrotra stated, “I have bought RYE’s Master Class, and to be honest with you, I am yet to finish it. There is still 20 to 30% remaining. But that was obviously a good way to start learning about this game. And once I finish this, there will be other things available, like the Run It Once subscription, which is $100 per month.”
Though Mehrotra finds training subscriptions helpful, he isn’t particularly fond of HUDs. “I tried using HUDs, but I gave up quite early. I gave up in two weeks, and that’s just not a long enough time. I feel like, in the Indian perspective, fields are small, so I know most of the regulars. I have some idea of how they play. I know that HUDs are more accurate since they reflect statistics more accurately than notes. But for me, it is very intimidating playing on eight tables, and then all of those tables have so many numbers. So, I don’t use HUDs. I make notes instead. If somebody behaves weirdly or something, I make notes but don’t use HUDs.”
Poker Aspirations & Encouragement for Newcomers
Sharing his poker aspirations, Mehrotra said, “I don’t have any particular goals at present. Right now, all I want to do is get better. I feel like I have a long way to go in this field. So, for the next year or so, my goal is to keep getting better and be more consistent. I don’t really have any aspirations in terms of money or titles or anything. I just want to get better and better.”
Mehrotra signed off by giving some much-needed encouragement for aspiring poker players. “If there is anybody who is reading this and who is curious, then you can reach out to me, and we can have a discussion. To everyone else who is probably not associated with poker, I would say that this is a wonderful, deep, and complex game. If you have not, you should definitely try it. And hopefully, one-day, poker will get the kind of acceptance that it deserves.”