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He’s all of 22, but speaks with a wisdom and insight far beyond his years and is totally focused on poker! That is Sharad Rao, also known as “keenyle” online! Rao has been showing consistent results past many months, taking the “PokerGuru Star of the Week” title twice in the first weeks of January and February this year alone. He is a self-committed online player, declaring he prefers this faster and multi-tasking pace to the singular tangent and required interaction of live poker. Nevertheless, Rao played live at the India Poker Championship (IPC) October 2015 edition and made an impressive sixth place finish in the 30K Main Event for INR 2.75 lakhs and chopped the Highroller for 4.75lakhs!
Rao began playing poker in order to earn money for a bike, but today is vociferous in stating that poker aspirants should never play for monetary benefits, rather to learn and score at the game. He has obviously come a long way, since he began to learn by playing at the ubiquitous Zynga poker!
His story of mentorship and learning, the latter which continues, speaks of the unfailing truth that talent and hard work are an unbeatable combination, which can open unexpected doors. Rao left study of Aeronautical engineering in Manipal for the career of a professional poker player and tellingly says that “mediocrity does not pay in any field”.
Read on to find out more straight from Sharad’s mouth about his journey, views on the Indian poker scene, his mentors and Pocarr, and advice to others seeking to go pro!
Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
I completed my 12th standard in my hometown Kanpur and then came to Manipal, studying Aeronautical Engineering, but then dropped out in the 3rd year to pursue poker full time.
My parents are both working, mom is the principal of a school in Kanpur and my dad is a development officer in LIC and my younger sibling is studying engineering, 3rd year in Jaipur. My parents are pretty cool in general; the atmosphere in the family is not that orthodox maybe because my parent’s marriage was a love marriage.
So it was easier convincing them of my choice to pursue poker. They are happy with me and my interest. I have been open about what I want to do in life from the beginning and my parents accept it obviously if I am doing everything within the laws of the country.
How did you learn poker?
Ok, so I was in 2nd year of college and I wanted to buy a bike reason being that I used to get up very late and hence used to miss out on classes. So I was wondering how to make this extra pocket money to buy it, as my pocket money at that time used to be pretty average. So I started to lookout for things to earn money and then one of my friends suggested that there is a game called poker wherein you can earn money by just playing it online with a few clicks. I wasn’t sure before someone sent me a request on Zynga poker. Soon I started playing on Zynga and made like millions of chips there. I got in contact with some of the people I used to play sit n gos with and found some Indian sites that used to host a lot of freerolls, so I started playing those. There was this one freeroll on IPPA, I won that freeroll and got like $200 and that was basically the start, like I never deposited a single rupee for poker ever.
With that $200 I started playing on PokerStars and I then contacted Abhishek Rathod about what games I should play, as I had no clue. I started playing some sit n gos and ran my bankroll up to $1000 and it was not long before I was playing MTT’s with $5 ABI and built like a $2,500 roll (bankroll) on stars (PokerStars). I thought to myself that now I have a roll to buy a decent bike, so I cashed out that money but when I cashed out, I kept thinking that I should play more. I went back to Abhishek Rathod for staking in MTT’s, but he said I wont back you for MTT’s but you can start playing sit-n-gos and that’s where it all started. He coached me for single table sng’s. I started mass muti-tabling like 30-35 tables in sit n gos.
The thing is, I used to ping everyone like Bblacklegend (Amit Jain), Danish Shaikh, antilog (Sahil Agarwal). I used to look forward to listening anything that comes from them. I used to look at their scores and used to dream about reaching that ..haha.
How did you go about improving your game?
The initial steps I took at improving my game were through Abhishek Rathod. I used to practice a lot of hands like push/fold spots at Icmizer (its a software). I put in a lot of hands in it and basically if you want to be good at turbo sng’s your push/fold game has to be good. He made me do a lot of push/fold study; once I got into Pocarr, my study has obviously been way more diversified. Now I work with a lot more softwares.
Talking about Manipal, many players are playing the game from there, how is the Manipal poker circuit?
Manipal is a pretty cool town. People in Manipal are a bit more chilled out and into the party scene and there are many who play poker regularly. And if someone makes it big from the city that of course helps and there have been many players from Manipal. There are many home games running, no rake and stuff that has also helped the scene. For me personally it was not something I picked up in Manipal. JDSaz (Jaideep Sajwan) is from there and he used to grind and I used to go to his place. It was the first time I heard someone telling me that he was going for a coaching session in poker, that was something I had never heard of, and it fascinated me that there was some serious study involved in the game.
Who among your batch mates are playing poker?
There are a few people who play poker on some of the Indian websites but I don’t think there is anyone from my batch who plays poker professionaly.
Who staked you first and how did pocarr happen?
What happened was one day I got a message on social media from one of the top Indian pros Danish Shaikh. He told me that he likes my game and would like to refer me to Pocarr. He said he will connect me with Alex Carr and I was pretty shocked that one of the top pros was messaging me saying he would refer me to a podium that big. I was literally too excited and couldn’t sleep for the next couple of days. Well I was a guy playing .25/.50 games, I was in shock. So it was pretty amazing, Danish referred me and I wrote a mail to Alex Carr. Alex Carr replied back with a pretty honest mail saying that the volume you put is pretty high but the stakes you play are pretty low so we can’t consider taking you and I think it was pretty fair on his part. But I really didn’t want to let this opportunity slip from my hands, I mean it was Danish who had messaged me and referred me to Pocarr. I knew if I didn’t get in now, I would never get a chance as big as this, so I wrote a long two page mail to Alex sir telling him about how passionate I am and I told him sir, give me this opportunity and I will work very hard and in one year I will be the hardest working guy on Pocarr and I promised him that. I said that if I don’t work up to that you can just cancel my contract. He was pretty generous to accept me and then it all started.
Guys from Pocarr like Alex Carr, Damien Wain, Rob Tinnion have a huge part in my poker journey and helped me so much in learning the game and have always been very supportive.
Now we hear you are sharing a room with fellow Young Gun – Sahil Chutani, how’s that like?
Yea so I haven’t moved in yet. What happened was we were supposed to move-in in February. Like the room is booked and Sahil has moved his stuff in. I will most probably join in a fortnight. We were planning to move before this IPC but seems like it will take another 15 days for me.
And yea the idea will be to grind as hard as possible. Play four days a week, study the game to the full for two days and keep like one day in a week just off from Poker and chill.
We both are very specific on the our routine on and off the felt. We’ll be concentrating all on Poker. Both of are schedules and life goals are similar so I think its going to be pretty good for both us. We plan to hit the gym asap as both of us are quite lean haha.
Who are the other players you look up to?
In India I look up to Danish Shaikh the most, and it’s not even just about the game. In general, in the circuit I think Danish is someone who I will always look up to. He is the one person who will always give you honest opinions and not sugar coat stuff.
Other than him, I like Donka’s (Aditya Sushant) game a lot and many others, basically anyone who works hard on his game. Sahil’s (Sahil Agarwal) game is pretty good, I mean he is one of the hardest working guys I have seen. Adiyta ‘intervention’ Agarwal is one of the best, I obviously didn’t get the opportunity to get trained by him.
Internationally, I really don’t look up to anyone. I mean at the end of the day your hard work counts according to me. I would say basically all the mentors of Pocarr are people I look upto. I usually don’t admire anyone’s game. I mean its all math, why would anyone admire anyone. For me the math should be right and work ethic is something that should be respected. I think being mediocre does not work in any field for that matter.
So, what are your plans/goals for the future?
So goals for this year will mostly be following the mentorship program Alex (Alex Carr) sir has started. That is going to take all my attention and there are targets we need to do both poker wise and offtable too. My goal would be to focus on my health and incorporate some physical workout andto also put in some hours of studying the game.
Every Tuesday we get our weekly goals and we need to submit reports till next Tuesday. So my whole week revolves around that. There are mental coaches for us so it’s everything from your health, poker game to your approach for the game. So we just practice and study very hard.
For live, I don’t plan to really grind that much. I have done average in the past live events and according to me one tournament in the whole day is not my thing. I mean if you just play one hand wrong or you read ranges wrong once, it all goes down. And personally I don’t like to interact on the table. So my focus will be online this year.
What are your views on the current poker scene in India?
It’s definitely booming. I started two years back and even then very few people knew about it and now more people are getting into the game. I mean before only a couple of Indian players used to go to Macau, but now its like 12-15 people who make their presence felt internationally so its definitely growing. There is a bright future for sure and I definitely know that India is a huge market and there is huge potential for Poker in the country. Huge part of that is played by PokerGuru, I mean you guys really have all the info about current scenes, legality + blogging about it. It’s great.
And if the gets legally accepted throughout the country, its party for all of us. The game is going uphill from here imo.
Any tips you want to give from your own experiences to other aspiring poker pros?
I would say keeping a straight head is the most important thing in Poker. Make some kind of goals and these goals should never me monetary.. It might be studying about the game or volume goals but never monetary. Try and learn about the game, ask questions about hands. The beauty of poker is that each hand is different and you get something to learn from it. Be very eager to learn and at the end, hard work pays. Bankroll management is very crucial. So its not just one thing but a combination of many things that make you successful in poker.
Cheers and good luck guys!! Sharad signs off…..