Bringing us a dose of Monday Motivation is Ashwin Sharma. The 36-year-old recreational poker player from Mumbai won the third EPT Sochi Main Event Qualifier on PokerStars India last Sunday, winning an all-expenses-paid package worth ₹4 Lakhs to the upcoming event in Russia.
Unlike others, Sharma’s poker journey did not start online, but rather when he played the game live in Goa. And since then there has been no looking back. While his interest in poker started on the live felts, he is more comfortable playing on the virtual felts.
A loving husband and father, Sharma’s victory in the third EPT Sochi Qualifier was a special one as it came on Valentine’s Day. Sharma, who has a knack for winning satellites, won his way into the ₹5,500 buy-in online qualifier through a ₹200 Freebuy satellite. Joining him at the prestigious tournament from India will be Sanjay Khanna (Won 1st Qualifier on January 30) and PokerGuru Ambassador Laksh Pal Singh (Won 2nd Qualifier on February 6). The EPT Sochi Main Event runs from March 22 – 27 at Casino Sochi in Russia.
Winning the EPT Sochi Qualifier
A level-headed player, Sharma was clear how winning the qualifier was just one step towards a larger goal. Talking about his win, he said, “In my heart, I am very excited as well as nervous. It’s been a mixed bag. As far as the buy-in for ₹200 goes, maybe I didn’t play it very well. It should have been a freeroll. I should have probably qualified with zero. But that’s just the heart saying. In my mind, I’ll tell you logically this is not a win for me. I am just seeing this as an opportunity. I see this as one leg of a larger tournament that I intend to play. So, the first leg of this was maybe the freeroll. The second leg – the actual qualifier where I ran good, and I cracked that. Now, I have 30 days ahead of me to really prepare. Then maybe take every day or every hour as it goes. That’s how I feel right now.”
Sunday Run in the Qualifier
Recapping his run in the qualifier, Sharma started with the ₹200 Freebuy satellite.
“My memory may be a bit vague, but I will break this down into two parts. First was the freebuy, which was an afternoon tournament. That was fairly reasonable, I felt. It was like any other satellite goes. There were about 15 people paid. There were about 51 entries The structure was fairly shallow. Went down to the basics – built a stack – preserved the stack. At the end of it, the blinds were pretty crazy. I think I was in the top 3 or 4 at the time of the late registration getting over. During the late registration, people were buying in for maybe half a big blind. That’s how shallow life got. I was sitting on a 15 BB stack, just folding my way to glory. So, that’s how the freebuy went.”
Next up was the qualifier and his experience here was entirely different.
“The real tournament was the qualifier. I personally did not have any expectations. I grind the micro stakes. As an MTT player, you can never expect to win a tournament. In my mind, I start playing the tournament in phases. In the initial stages of the tournament, I was lucky to build a stack. I went on a sun run in the mid-stages after the late registration got over. I think it was about three hours into the tournament when I went through a sun run. I distinctly remember out of a 60 BB stack, I two-outed somebody on the river. That took me to a 100 BB stack. When I reached the last 20, I think it got fairly serious.”
With the qualifier taking place on Valentine’s Day, Sharma indeed had lady luck on his side.
“This happened on the 14th, which was Valentine’s Day. Around the 12.25 break, that’s when we had about 18 or 16 people left. I go to my wife and daughter and wish them Happy Valentine’s Day. I asked them if I could go to Sochi alone, provided I won this tournament. My daughter comes back to me and tells me, ‘You will win the tournament, but we’ll come with you to Sochi.’ So, I had lady luck on my side.”
But even then, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Sharma. Nevertheless, he kept a cool head, ultimately taking down the qualifier.
“Right out of the break, I remember doing a stupid bluff which dropped me down to maybe 8 out 10. I remember playing the final table being a mid-stack. Roughly, I think I was 5th of 8 if I remember correctly. I fell because I was emotionally uninvested in the tournament. I had other tournaments running on the side. Maybe because my buy-in was very low. Other regulars on the table had 3 to 5 bullets. Maybe they took Sochi more seriously, I did not. That’s what probably gave me the edge. In my mind the final table, there was negative ICM. Because whether you come 8th or 2nd, it’s the same. So, you only get to win it. That’s when I just went for the win. I remember having the chip lead when we were 3 handed, and then I could just play small ball. Play aggressive style poker. I distinctly remember the final hand. I think I had a 2:1 chip advantage. Three-bet jammed Ace-Five suited against Queen-Ten. Luckily Ace-Five held, and that’s when I knew I was going to Sochi.”
What Made Him Play the Qualifier
For someone who describes himself as a micro-stakes MTT player with relatively little to no experience in live tournaments, playing an online qualifier to EPT Sochi doesn’t fit the narrative. However, there is an interesting backstory to it.
Over a month ago, Sharma had freerolled his way into the Winter Series – 40 Main Event, and he ended up making the FT. A miscalculated bluff led to him not winning the title. Dismayed from not being able to fare better, Sharma decided to take a shot in the qualifier on the behest of a friend.
“The series before this one was the Winter Series. I am going to say something that 95% of the regs will hate me for. I am a micro stakes grinder and also a father and a husband. So, I generally don’t grind Sundays. That is counter-intuitive. The entire schedule is high stakes or mid-stakes, so it doesn’t interest me. So, in the Winter Series, there was a free buy on a Sunday. It was again a 700-odd field. When I came third, it gave me a Main Event entry which was a ₹5,500 buy-in. It had about 600 people. That was again where I ran good. I don’t know what the reason was. I came sixth for a score of, I think, about a lakh. I was angry with myself because, on the final hand, I kind of unnecessarily committed ICM suicide by bluffing an Ace high into a larger stack with some blockers.”
“After that, on a Monday, I was having a chat with my non-poker buddies. I told them that maybe this was the opportunity of the year that I missed because it was ₹5.50 or ₹6 Lakhs up-top. I don’t expect this opportunity to come back to me maybe in the next three or four years. He was candid enough in telling me that you never know. You can bink one maybe a week or month from now. And this guy has no understanding of poker. Doesn’t know what hand strengths are or anything of that sort. And I remember when I saw this on a Sunday, I decided to play this one. I called Gaurav saying, ‘Gaurav, you know what, brother, I am doing this. Another freeroll. What are the odds of lightning striking twice?’ He’s like, ‘You don’t worry about lightning striking. You just try to do the best you can. And see where it takes you.’ So, that’s why I played the qualifier.”
Preparing For EPT Sochi
A recreational player, Sharma makes no qualms about admitting that he is not prepared to play a live mega-series like the EPT. Nevertheless, he is looking for coaches or mentors who can help him get ready in time for the series.
“I’ll frankly tell you; I am a recreational amateur. Though I have been playing a reasonable volume over the last two years. I have had decent results – decent ROI. I don’t think I am ready. So, for that, I had reached out to a few coaches. Some MTT regs who I know for a mentorship program. As we speak, I have not closed anything yet. So, if anybody seeing this wants to associate with me for the next 30 days’ journey, I’ll be very happy to associate. As far as specifics are concerned, I just want to work on my leaks. I am sure I have a lot of leaks. I don’t have a lot of exposure playing live. It’s so much easier playing online where you don’t have to count pots, and you don’t have to count bets. But I am trying to get better.”
Like many others, Sharma, too, first came across poker during his college days. A video game buff and an accomplished Warcraft player, Sharma, like many others, came to know about the game through the massively popular Zynga Poker. However, he did not get hooked on the social media game. Even though he started out initially by playing home games, his genuine interest in poker was aroused after he played it live in Goa.
“In my college days, I was playing a lot of Warcraft and Counter-Strike. This was maybe 2004-05. At that time, poker had just come into India, and a few friends had introduced me to Zynga. I never got onto that. I understood the game. I understood the dynamics of the game and the skill level involved, but I never played that. I then got introduced through a home game about four years ago. We were fairly regular, but it was more of a social gathering with friends. It was never serious. Then I managed to be in Goa for some work-related things. A very dear friend of mine, Navneet, had opened a cafe (Cafe Rasa) and he wanted me to come to see it. He wanted some help around it. So, I was there, and incidentally, the DPTXpress was happening at the Deltin (Royale). I decided to just give it a go. I was very lucky to again satellite it in. I played a live satty and got into the Main Event. Was very lucky to interact with people like Abhishek Goindi, who is also a good friend of Navneet. I interacted with Adi (Aditya Wadwani). I remember having Chirag Sodha on my table. I think he busted me. ”
The live poker experience also made him realize how little he actually understood the game.
“The real experience was understanding the fact that I know nothing. And maybe there is a lot of theory involved. After coming back to Bombay, I invested a little more time in theory. It was all online. To date, I am a self-taught player. Barring the fact that I have taken a subscription from poker coach Jonathan Little. That’s been my only theory background, and I have learned a lot from streams.”
Experience Playing on PokerStars India
Sharma was all praises for PokerStars India, describing his experience on the site as “great.”
“To be frank, I am just calling a spade a spade. I believe PokerStars has got the best interface in the world or arguably among the top three interfaces in the world. Even in this country, there are a lot of good operators, but their interface is brilliant. My results on PokerStars (India) have been reasonably good. So, the experience, on the whole, has only been great.”
Sharma seems content playing the game recreationally for now. His poker goals, though simple, are pretty relevant.
“I am just enjoying the journey. I don’t have any long-term or immediate plans. The real goal that I set out for myself this year was to increase my average MTT buy-ins by 2X. So, if I am a certain number, I want to double my average MTT buy-in. I have achieved that, luckily. Maybe the rightful goal is to continue increasing the average buy-in goal without compromising on the ROI. That, I think, is a logical goal. Maybe add in a little more volume.”
Congratulations Ashwin and all the best for EPT Sochi!