6 Minutes Read
While India is uncertainly perched on the idea of whether or not the lockdown should be lifted in certain states, the online poker boom has persisted. With Spartan Poker on the final day of its biggest-ever India Online Poker Championship (IOPC), and the 2020 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Online well underway on GGPoker, it’s a massive Sunday today.
The leading online poker sites have been continuously hosting massive guarantee tournaments since the lockdown began in mid-March. One such popular event that culminated earlier this month (July 5) was PokerBaazi’s ₹2 Crores GTD Game Changer 3.0. Finishing runner-up in the event for a personal-best score of ₹26.49 Lakhs was one of the country’s most promising emerging talents, Shardul Parthasarathi (cover image)!
Born in Chennai, Shardul was introduced to poker while pursuing his B. Tech in Electronics and Instrumentation from the prestigious Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT). The Mumbai-resident was working at CBRE South Asia Pvt. Ltd. when he met with a terrible accident along with his parents. While all three survived, the accident and his employer’s subsequent toxic attitude propelled Shardul to break away from his conventional job to pursue a career in poker.
Though Shardul had been playing poker for quite sometime before the accident, he did not immediately become a poker pro after quitting his more traditional occupation. He initially started out by working at Poker Dangal. Towards the beginning of 2020, he decided to start playing the game full time.
The 27-year-old has had a successful year thus far. Shardul boasts of ₹1.79 Crores in recorded online winnings, out of which ₹1.29 Crores he has earned this year alone. He is presently ranked #26 on the annual leaderboard.
I had a candid tête-à-tête with Shardul, where we talked about his life-altering incident, family support, poker routine, and much more. Here is his poker story in his own words.
First Brush With Poker
Like many of our former Young Guns, Shardul, too, came across poker in college. For him, it was while pursuing his B. Tech degree from VIT, Vellore. “The first year of engineering college is where I picked up poker. I guess that’s how it all began!”
Sharing what truly drew him to the game, he revealed, “Its a game which has a lot to do with math, probability, and, of course, the cards you’re dealt. But the most amazing thing that drew my interest was the knack to read people. Eventually, when I realized that there was so much more to poker than just a card game. I realized this was something I wanted to excel in.”
Regaling us with stories from his college days, Shardul said, “Back in those days, Vellore was very underdeveloped. I remember when we were in our fourth year when the first Domino’s came to Vellore. When I started playing poker, a lot of my friends didn’t even know how to play. I think I taught them how to play, but they went on to lose a lot of money. They were from very well-to-do families, and I am still friends with them. We used to play ₹100 buy-in games back in college. But then, those games also used to go on till five-six in the morning. Because we were so hooked on to it, and people would just not want to sleep. They would just keep wanting to play.”
Talking about playing live poker for the first time, he reminisced, “Since we were living in a hostel, we were not really allowed to stay up till late. Wardens would come in and bust people for something or the other. It was during that time that we heard that there is a live poker club in Bangalore, and we were very excited about that. There are a few clubs that I remember, like Golden Aces, where I had gone to. And it was the first time that we actually went to a club. Where we saw so many poker tables, and it was really fascinating. We were really hooked on. And I think every weekend we used to go to Bangalore to play these games. The minimum buy-in table in Bangalore was ₹2,500, and that was the only table we played because that was the only thing we could afford.”
Life-Altering Incident Leads to Poker
Situations that genuinely bring life into perspective don’t happen to many of us. But those who do experience such incidents, emerge with a new appreciation for life and the desire to accomplish their dreams become stronger. That is precisely what happened to Shardul, when he and his parents, got into a terrible vehicular accident in 2017.
“Two years back, it was around this time, June 2017, if I am not wrong that the accident happened. I would probably say it was a life-altering moment for me. It was Father’s Day, and my dad had asked me to take him and my mom to our second house in Bombay. It was one of those rare days that I woke up in the morning. At that time, I was not grinding every day, I was not like a poker player as such back then. I decided that there are a few things my parents ask me, and driving them was one of them, so I agreed to take them. Long story short, we met with a critical accident that day, and actually, we were lucky to have survived. It was a head-on collision, and it was above 160/ 170 kmph. Imagine that my car was traveling at that speed, and we still survived. Unfortunately, the other guy could not make it, even though he was in a Honda City, and I was in a Wagon-R with no airbags. But my mom was sitting in front, and dad was sitting behind. So basically, my dad faced multiple rib fractures, and his shoulder was also injured. Luckily for me that I just broke my shoulder because obviously, I was wearing a seat belt. I was in the hospital for about two months.”
While the accident was terrible, what was truly life-changing for Shardul was his former employers’ deplorable attitude during his recovery.
“My boss and a few of my colleagues came to meet me in the hospital. They obviously knew that I was not well and was bedridden. I could not even walk, so obviously, going to work was out of the question. But I was in a sales profession, so it was office-based work. Working in sales means that if you are not working, you don’t make money. I was salaried, but I couldn’t believe that I was not paid for those two months that I didn’t work. It’s not even that I was getting paid a lot, I was getting the basic ₹40,000-₹50,000. But it was big money for me. I mean, I was not doing anything other than this. So, eventually, it was a big drag. I went to the HR; I spoke to him. He told me something very straightforward: we felt that you were alright, and you could have resumed work earlier, but you didn’t. You just took advantage, and you didn’t come to work. So, that literally triggered me.”
“Besides the fact that I was getting peanuts in this organization, there were other issues when I was working for two-three years. You know how corporates are. I mean it’s not a place where you can actually make friends. It’s a very messed-up, toxic, and diluted environment, which I was like I am done with. This was when I realized what would have happened if I had just died in that accident. It is bizarre to say, and it’s been two years, but I can completely still relive it. And it was that moment, that two seconds that you are like – is it over? Luckily it wasn’t. So, that is when I realized that my job wasn’t worth it.”
With the traditional job out of the way, it was time for Shardul to look in a new direction. He had already been offered a job at the then up-and-coming online poker site, Poker Dangal.
“I was getting offers from Poker Dangal. So, a mutual friend of mine recommended it to me. He got in touch with me and told me that one of his friends is looking to do something like this, and they are like high-end graduates and have this vision. So, I met him in Bombay. Things picked up a little. Eventually, one thing led to another, and I went to Delhi and worked for a brief time there. But the accident was the main thing where I just switched off, and I was like enough of this. I really don’t want to live this life, which is just horrible.”
Convincing the Family & Joining Poker Dangal
Belonging to a family of academicians, Shardul’s decision to take up poker professionally did not go down well with his parents.
“I belong to a family full of IITians and IIM graduates, so, taking this line wasn’t the most ecstatic thing for them, I guess (haha)! But over time, my parents have supported me through the decisions that I’ve taken, and I’m glad that they trust me enough to let me do what I really want to.”
“I come from a South Indian family. My dad was a businessman. He is retired now. We are a middle-class family. So, I have never thought that we have an unlimited amount of money and I could do whatever I want to do. So, even the car I bought, I was paying the EMI on it. There were a lot of responsibilities that I had, and I never really took anything for granted. But that also didn’t mean that just because the accident happened, my parents just would support whatever I would do. So, this was the stand that I had to take on my own. Which, I am delighted I did,” he added.
Talking about how he finally managed to convince his parents, he said, “After the accident, many things were happening. We were a four-member family. It was tough for everyone, especially since I don’t have any siblings—no one to help my mom or like help my dad with something. And with my shoulder fractured, I could only do like limited things. So, there were a lot of things we had to do, like claiming the insurance cover. And insurance is like the biggest scam in this world. They are really nice when it’s time to take your money, but when it’s time to give money, they will just not give it. So basically, there were a lot of things which even I had to get done.”
“I was supposed to make a decision regarding whether or not I wanted to join Poker Dangal. I was actually working for Dangal from home itself after my accident for a couple of months. But then they told me that my productivity and stuff are not really great. They said that their head office was in Delhi and they wanted me to go there and work. It was a huge decision that I had to make. It was just after the big accident. It was my career on one side and my parents on the other. But I told my parents that I really want to go, do a short stay and then come back. So, they obviously supported me. They just said to be clear on what you want and what you are doing.”
Talking about why he joined Poker Dangal, he said, “Back then, I just wanted to get into the industry. I was not half as good as I am now. I didn’t understand a lot of things back in the day. I thought that let me join operations because operators are like the kings. They make all the money. So, I wanted to see how a site worked. And nothing better than a start-up site because then you’ve got to do a lot of the work by yourself. I was in a start-up earlier. So, I really liked to do that. I have never shied away from hard work or working late hours, especially in an industry that I really like. So that’s how it started. My parents were supportive. It was tough. I had to leave them and go. I had to make that decision. But it was definitely the right decision to take. I couldn’t just like switch off from my corporate life and become a poker player. I am actually pleased about the way that it worked out.”
Poker Routine: Pre & Post Lockdown
With a prospering poker career, Shardul had decided to move to Goa with a friend. “I was in Goa for a couple of months before this lockdown with a friend, Sachin Pande. We were planning to move to Goa. He stays in Noida and plays poker full-time as well. He wanted to move out of his place, and he was about to pay the token that day, and two days later, we came to know of the lockdown.”
Speaking about how the lockdown has impacted his life, he said, “Things in Mumbai have been pretty bad, and it’s only getting worse. I’ve been at home for a little more than three months, I think. I was in Goa right before this pandemic took over. I’m living with my parents right now. There are a few things I do to help at home. Otherwise, it’s almost been the same. I used to get out at least two to three times a week to hit the gym or go meet friends, which I can’t do now.”
Sharing his poker routine, he stated, “I am a very lazy guy, to be honest, and I don’t like to do the simple things like exercising. It is only when I am demotivated or running very bad or just not happy in life, then I just get up and run. Before the lockdown, I used to wake up at like 2-3 o’clock in the afternoon and would immediately sit to grind. I remember Spartan Poker had like these tournaments starting at 3 o’clock with like ₹8 Lakhs guarantee. I was like ‘wow it’s ₹8 Lakhs, and the up top is like ₹1.5 Lakhs or ₹1.6 Lakhs, and I always went for those events.”
“I had done a few courses back in Delhi too when I was with Dangal. Towards the end, I had started putting in some personal time, and taking more time to understand the game. It definitely helped me a lot. But you know doing a job, and irrespective of what job it might be, but coming back from a 6-8 hours job and then grinding for like 8-10 hours is not easy. During the lockdown, I had a straightforward goal. I knew that poker was booming, and guarantees were getting crushed, so this is definitely the time to make money.”
Talking about his poker role models and how they have influenced him, Shardul said, “There are so many guys that I look up to who are younger than me. I am like 28 almost now, and guys like Gaurav (Sood), Sanat (Mehrotra), Anmol (Mehta), Neel (Joshi), and Srihari (Bang), I have spoken to and learned so much from. All these guys are always trying to be better players, a better person, and that’s what is really motivating for me nowadays. But back when I was starting out, it was all about grinding between 3 (PM) in the afternoon to 4-5 (AM) in the morning. I used to grind almost 15 hours daily for a few months before the lockdown started, and I got a few scores even. I have a lot of friends who are in PokerGuru (Staking). I know a lot of guys from IPP, and from the industry since I have been in this field for quite a long time. There are a lot of good guys who have helped me a lot.”
“Since lockdown, I have changed my routine, and I decided that it’s going be a mixture of studying and playing, like Aditya Agarwal, who is like a pioneer of Indian poker. I remember him saying something in an interview or maybe a blog I read. After winning a tournament, he had said, ‘I am gonna need to take some time off because I need to study’, and I was just wow. This guy is like the best. He has got an absurd amount of money, and he still wants to study. Like what is there that he doesn’t know, right? But that is when I understood that it’s not about players who are doing it every day, who are getting better at running, getting fitter, improving their personal relationships, getting into a better frame of mind. Obviously, the most important thing is improving one’s gameplay,” he added.
Success in Online Poker & Final Tabling PokerBaazi’s Game Changer 3.0
Sharing his opinion on the importance of bankroll management, he said, “This game, on the one hand, is easy to learn, but takes forever to master. I believe everyone makes mistakes. I don’t really have the kind of experience and knowledge like so many sickos out there, but what I have learnt from a lot of these guys and a little from my own mistakes is that the most common error by a player is improper bankroll management (BRM). There are many mistakes that every player will make in his journey, but BRM is something I’ve had to fall one too many times before I got it right.”
Discussing his runner-up finish in PokerBaazi’s Game Changer, Shardul stated, “I believe I started the final table with a middling stack and I had been railing the other tables too. So, I had a fair idea of how each player was playing, and I had quite a bit of notes on most guys, which made it a little easier. There weren’t too many spots for me to take as (Siddhanth) Kriplani was bombing every hand, so I decided to let him eliminate whoever he wanted to, and I would just stick to my ranges as the payouts were huge! I remember I was 4/4 with about 13bb, and it was a great feeling because I had just surpassed my best score. But the pay-jumps were so massive that I had to focus. I just tried to play my A-game which luckily worked out for me I guess”
Transition to Live Poker
While Shardul has ₹1.78 Crores in online winnings, his live tournament earnings stand at a modest ₹8.14 Lakhs. To date, he has scored in four live events, with his personal-best score of ₹6.09 Lakhs coming in 2019 WPT India Main Event, where he placed ninth.
Talking about his live poker career, Shardul said, “I started off by playing live cash in Bangalore back in 2010-2014, all very small stakes. I believe this was my first ever cash in a live tournament, but yes, I have not really played a lot of live tourneys. I love playing live, it’s the best thing ever! I can’t wait for things to come back to normalcy. The transition from live to online took some time, but I eventually got a hold of it.”
Importance of Mentoring & Using Poker Tools
Discussing how useful mentoring can be in poker, he said, “There were a few guys I looked up to while making the decision to turn pro full time, and all their suggestions and feedbacks have always helped me! But one guy I would always name is Sahil Mahboobani – he’s one person who has helped me in a lot of ways, and for that, I’m forever grateful to him!”
Shardul is a member of Abhishek Goindi’s Poker Boot Camp India and shared his experience.
“I joined Poker Boot Camp India a couple of months back. I really liked the idea of what these guys were doing to help and grow the community, which I feel is very important. So, I decided to spend a couple of hours every week to either help with hand histories (HH) or some topic where these guys were facing some difficulties. I am a very lazy person at times, and I needed some sort of discipline to kick in – doing HH or coaching a topic or two helps the guys and me in a lot of ways. So, all I can say is that it’s been a win-win so far.”
Regarding the use of poker tools, he said, “These are some very useful tools that one can use to their advantage, especially the use of HUDs. PIO is somewhat a very advanced tool/concept. I haven’t personally been doing too much of PIO either, but that’s something I want to change going forward.”
“I recently purchased the RYE’s seminar course, and yes, I do have an RIO subscription,” he informed us.
Advice For Newcomers
Shardul turned pro about six months ago, and his hard work has already paid off. Besides winning a career-best ₹26.48 Lakhs for finishing runner-up in PokerBaazi’s Game Changer 3.0, he has also won numerous titles on various other sites.
When asked what advice he would give to individuals thinking of pursuing poker as a profession, Shardul yet again emulated the importance of bankroll management, saying, “I would definitely tell them to be very harsh and very solid. Don’t be very flexible or go easy on bankroll management. Not when any of those series or big tournaments that come out, you’ve got to be learning from the basics, play freerolls, you’ve got to try and make money from nothing, win free tickets, do that.”
He further stated, “It is definitely a wonderful game, as I have always said. People think that yeah, let’s scale on, probably there’s luck involved. Sure, there’s luck, I think luck is there in life too you know, so you need to have that luck.”
The key advice from him is the need to keep studying. “Study, like any other profession, like how people invest in stocks, how people trade. I feel that to trade, you have to have the basic knowledge or understanding, you need to know the history behind the companies and how they are performing. So, you need to do background research. And the best thing about poker is that you’re investing in yourself. You actually get to determine how good you want to be, or how good you can make yourself, and your ROI will just increase.”
“Try to maintain a very disciplined approach. I did not maintain a very healthy life. I gave up a few things. I quit smoking. There are a lot of things that I don’t do anymore. But you must do things for yourself, like basic things, like eating right or exercising, or going for a run is something which I feel definitely helps. All those endorphins help you think straight,” he shared.
Propounding on the need to establish a work-life balance, he said, “One advice that I would definitely give is that don’t be overly obsessed. Too much of anything is bad. So too much of poker is also bad. You need to find a balance between poker, personal life, and the time you spend with family.”
On a parting note, he said, “Poker is not a game of gambling, it’s not only luck. Don’t take anything for granted. It’s one mistake that I have made. Like one day, if I play and win a tournament and think I am the best man, I can do it every day. But it’s not like that, and you need to be very grateful for what you have. Just be humble. So, cut your ego, and keep working hard!”