Sajal Gupta is an old-timer in the poker circuit but someone who had gone missing from the poker scene for the last six months! However, on Friday, he made a smashing comeback by taking down the ₹1 Crore GTD FTS #32 – High Roller on Spartan Poker for a career-best ₹33.21 Lakhs.
An IIT Delhi passout, 28-year-old Gupta ran over the 165-entry field in the FTS High Roller and defeated Aditya Kesharwani (2nd for ₹22.44 Lakhs) heads-up to secure himself a seat on the FTS The Masters Table (he ended up placing third in The Masters Table for ₹2 Lakhs).
While Gupta is no longer a full-time poker pro, this self-proclaimed recreation player`s poker resume glitters with several seven-figure scores, which include shipping SSS #47 Destiny (for ₹13.45 Lakhs), finishing runner-up in the GPS #34 – High Roller (for ₹10.82 Lakhs) and a fourth-place finish in FTS #11 – Highroller (for ₹10.70 Lakhs).
Gupta`s poker journey started in 2016 when he was studying for his B.Tech degree in Computer Science at IIT Delhi alongside Akshay Nasa and Young Gun Devang Yadav.
He started out by playing small-stakes cash games and got so deep into the game that he ended up quitting his job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs in 2018 to play poker full-time. The former high-stakes cash game reg has had a successful stint playing the game professionally, but he`s recently diverted his focus towards other projects.
Originally from Faridabad, Gupta loves to travel, and this is one aspect of his poker story that sticks out. He has been to several poker destinations around the Asian and international circuit for marquee events like WPT, APT, and even the prestigious WSOP in Las Vegas.
The pandemic shut down businesses and industries worldwide, but it also acted as a catalyst for an online poker boom. Gupta, like many others, played excessively during this period, which resulted in burnout. With the Karnataka government imposing a blanket ban on online gaming last September, online poker was out of the question for Gupta. This gave him the excuse to divert more focus on the other projects he was involved with, like prop trading and blockchain technology.
The Karnataka High Court lifted the ban in February just before the Final Table Series was to start. At the suggestion of a friend, Gupta played a few events and eventually hit the Friday jackpot.
While Gupta plays poker only for fun these days, he`s been taking shots at the ongoing National Poker Series on PokerBaazi. And he`s also booked his tickets for Goa, and he`s looking forward to meeting his poker friends at the Baazi Poker Tour next week!
Winning FTS #32 – High Roller
Talking about his win, Gupta said, “I mean it was very nice obviously winning MTTs feels nice always. I have not been playing a lot of tournaments, to be honest, for a long time. Last Monday, I went to my friend Devang’s (Yadav) place, and he was playing some MTTs. So, I got motivated, and I thought I’d also play. He told me that FTS is coming on. I like landed the premium on Friday. All of my all-ins worked out, and that’s what it takes basically to win a tournament. I am glad about it.”
First Tryst With Poker
Gupta has been playing poker since his college days. He was first introduced to the game at IIT Delhi, where he completed his B.Tech in Computer Science. Sounds familiar? That is because his college friends Akshay Nasa and Devang Yadav both had a similar start to their poker careers.
“So, I’ve been playing since my college days, that’s like 2015-16. I used to play with my friends. Mostly small stakes cash games. Even when I was working in Bangalore, I was playing quite a bit. Then towards the latter half of 2018, I left my job to play full time. Then 2019, I played in a lot of tournaments. I traveled the entire Asian circuit, (Las) Vegas, and the entire thing. Post which, I moved to play primary cash games.”
Taking a Break From Poker
Gupta had been missing from the poker scene for almost six months. His last recorded score was in IOPC – The Crown last August. Gupta attributed this to facing a poker burnout after playing excessively during the lockdown months. He also pointed out with the Karnataka government passing the controversial Karnataka Police (Amendment) Bill in September banning online gaming, poker was taken out of the equation for him as he resides in Bengaluru. It was not until the High Court repealed the ban on February 14 that he got the chance to get back into it.
“I’m just a very moody person. So, during lockdown 2020, I think I burned out. I played too much. Like all of us were still stuck in our homes, and online poker was the only thing many of us were doing, especially the poker players. So, I think around mid-2021, it got too much, and I was doing some other things outside poker. So, I thought I’d focus on that. Gradually, my involvement with poker got low. Plus, I stay in Karnataka. By then, I had already reduced my volume, and then they banned poker in Bangalore. So, I went from very minimal playing to zero automatically. The last step was taken by the government, which they ended last week.”
While Gupta is back in the poker scene, he clarified that his primary focus has shifted from poker. He has been involved in the fintech industry, especially in prop trading. While he didn’t elaborate on exactly what he’s doing in that space, he mentioned he has a few gigs going on in some projects in blockchain technology.
“I don’t think I’ll be playing a lot, to be honest, but since now I have the option to play, I’ll be playing a few big tournaments like the FTS. I always used to play the IOPC because I liked to play in those tournaments, but I couldn’t, obviously. So, at least I think I’ll play the big ones if I have time.”
“I’m basically a recreational player now. I’ve not even played cash games for the last six or eight months. So, I was working in Bangalore. I have a finance background. Right now, post poker, I was a lot into my own prop trading. Plus, now blockchain and all. Also, now I’m working with a few startups in those fields. Basically, I’m like a self-employed person who has a few gigs going on. Very difficult to explain it.”
Experience Playing on Spartan Poker
Gupta was all praises for Spartan Poker and shared how much he likes playing MTTs of the site.
“I think the MTTs on Spartan (Poker) always have had the highest guarantee. I have been playing since 2018. I won that IOPC thing at that time; since that time, basically, the biggest tournaments were always happening on Spartan. It’s pretty nice. Like, I think they have this multi-day thing going on these days, which is an even bigger prize boost. I’ve not really played a lot of those ones. But yeah, the prize pools are great, obviously.”
Balancing Work With Poker
For someone who calls himself ‘self-employed,’ we quizzed Gupta how he made time for poker.
“It’s not so hard and fast, to be honest. When I was playing, that was the primary thing I was doing, and this was something on the side. I don’t have fixed office hours or a job where I have to go from Monday to Friday from eight to five in the evening. So, I have a lot of flexibility that way. When I’m playing a lot of poker during the month, work takes a back seat. Sometimes work takes the front seat, and poker obviously takes the backseat, which has been the case for the last six months. Since I have the luxury of having work from home life, I can manage poker. The thing with poker is that if you’re playing, it gets addictive, and then you’re playing the whole month. When I am playing, especially with cash games, I end up playing like 10 hours a day every day. That’s why I’m trying to not play cash games this time. With MTT, it’s like once or two to three days a week. I can play during the nights, but if I start getting into cash games, then within 10 days, I’ll start playing every day. I’ll be thinking about playing whatever tables are available.”
Having friends who love playing poker is essential for longevity in the game and also to discuss hands and exchange notes. Gupta’s poker pals happen to be his college mates Akshay Nasa and Devang Yadav. He also credits Nikita Luther for mentoring him at the beginning of his poker journey.
“I have a lot of people who have been my friends, like my close friends, throughout my poker journey. I’ve been college friends with Akshay Nasa and Devang Yadav. So, these guys used to play a lot together. Like, grind and playing similar games. So we knew, like okay, what does this player do. You need to have some friends playing the same games to have someone to talk to. Because I can’t talk to my other friends, ‘Oh, this guy gave me this bad beat.’ They won’t understand that stuff, obviously. In terms of mentors, Nikita Luther helped me a lot in the absolute beginning stages of my poker career. Like I met her in Goa, and we played with friends.”
Immediate Poker Plans
Even though poker has taken a backseat in Gupta’s life, he intends to keep playing it recreationally, especially when traveling to poker destinations like Las Vegas or Goa.
“To be honest, I don’t have a lot of poker plans anymore. I think I’m on the other side of the spectrum now. I just want to have fun with poker. That is my goal. Probably for the next 10 years, whenever I’m going to the U.S, I’ll play (Las) Vegas. Wherever I’m traveling, I’ll play poker. So, I’m planning to come to Goa this time because I haven’t been met all my poker friends for like years now. So we will meet everyone. So, yeah, my poker plan is basically to have fun.”
Sharing more about his plans to visit Goa, Gupta said, “Definitely not grinding it (BPT) out, but plans of playing it out. Many of my friends are going to Goa, I have got messages, and everyone is there. So basically, it’s like five days to meet everyone, chill and play a few events like the Main Event, etc. In Goa, you meet all your friends, and they are the same people you have been playing with online for the last two or three years, pre-covid. It’s like-minded people that I haven’t met or even spoken to in the last two and a half years. So yeah, it would be nice.”
Lessons Learnt From Poker
Time and again, we have heard players say how they have learned life lessons from playing poker. Gupta reiterated the sentiment, saying the one thing poker has taught him is to take “defeats on the chin.”
“I think taking defeats on the chin for sure. I think with poker losing lots of money in a single day, tons and tons of money in one hour, you kind of take things on the chin and keep playing decently without getting irritated. I think that is the biggest skill required to just be accepting of things. It just prepares you. I was working with something, and that closed down. We had a small gig going on. We fought day and night for like three-four months, and it closed down. Obviously, I was sad about it, but if I had not played poker, I think I would have taken it harder. Poker prepares you for such professional misfortunes.”
With those insightful parting words, Sajal Gupta signs off. We look forward to meeting him in Goa next week at the BPT!