Heads Up with Vikash Mantri- the Champion of the First-Ever WPT India Main Event

An MBA from the city of destiny- Visakhapatnam, Vikash Mantri is an equity analyst by profession. He has a keen interest in theatre but prefers to deploy more energy to the game of poker as it challenges his mathematical faculties to the core. Recently, he shot into big headlines for taking down the historic WPT India Main Event held from 10th to 13th November at Deltin Royale, Goa. He won the coveted WPT India ME title for INR 60,30,000 after beating Arjun Arora in the heads-up.

While the first-ever WPT India Main Event is in the books, the excitement about its champion-Vikash Mantri continues. Ever since he won the event, he is something of a celebrity, as you can imagine. OPN India got a chance to catch up with Vikash who shared his experience about his grand victory, final table journey, heads-up gameplay, future plans and a lot more. Here are the excerpts:

1.Hello Vikash, first of all, congratulations on winning WPT India Main Event! For our readers, please introduce yourself and also tell us how you got into the game of poker?

Vikash: I am a Marwari, hailing from the city of destiny – Visakhapatnam. While professionally I am an MBA, but my true love is for acting in theatre. My personal high has been being a part of the play “The Jury” directed by Divya Palat. I am an equity analyst by profession and passion for numbers and maths is must for what I do. With theatre being a more time-consuming venture, I decided to deploy more energy to the game of poker as it challenges your mathematical faculties to the core.

2.Coming to WPT India ME, you won the very first WPT India Main Event topping a huge field of 527 entries for whopping INR 60,30,000. How do you feel after winning such a big event?

Vikash: It is a great achievement but I think it is too early in my poker career as I am still a student of the game. This victory raises expectations from myself, which I am not still prepared for.

3.Can you tell us about your journey through this tournament? How did build this victory? I recall you were the chip leader entering the final table.

Vikash: I had gone to play the WPT largely for the experience and I did not give myself a chance of winning as the field was full of people who were full-time professionals. However, I later realised this gave me an edge, as others were too worried about their tournament performance, or were answerable to their investors. I had no such baggage and ‘therefore’ could play with a much wider range of hands and make moves. I got busted at the 11th level on day 1A of the tournament. However, I was happy with my style of play and entered back on day 1B with more confidence and finally ended the day with 10th in chip counts. After day 2, it was relatively easy as I narrowed down my range and just kept hanging around and waited for the premium hands.

4.Any key hands that you remember?

Vikash: Well, I ended up with 7-2 suited in the early stage of the tournament. While I don’t ever play this hand, I decided to play, as it was a favourite hand of my friend Ajay Padia who couldn’t make it to WPT India Series for personal reasons. The hand turned lucky for me as I flopped pair flush draw and went on to win a sizeable pot. More importantly, this hand play foxed the table as they were unable to put me in a range and later I could take down many pots with continuation bets.

5.What do you think was the toughest hand in this tournament?

Vikash: The toughest hand I faced was at the final table where I ended up calling 2 continuation bets from Arjun Arora with just a pair on a flush board. It was a tough call as I was putting the title at risk as Arjun shoved all-in on the river. Somehow after running the action multiple times over, I wasn’t able to convince myself of the line of play of Arjun and made the call. Later, it turned out that Arjun was chasing a single card flush and had absolute air. This gameplay helped to seal the win for me.

6.How about the final table? What kind of preparations did you make for the big final table?

Vikash: I had played with 5 of the players in a run-up to the final table and had made mental notes of their styles. As I was chip leader, I had decided to play very aggressively and put pressure on the short stacks. However, owing to a bad beat and a cooler, I was soon reduced to a short stack. But I was quickly able to change my gameplay and waited for spots to steal blinds without getting into flips. I was lucky enough to get constant guidance and rail from friends which helped. Also, while everybody wished me luck for the final table, the words of Lungi ( Vikram Kumar ) kept ringing in my ears – who walked up to me the day before and said: “ it’s only the title that matters, nothing else does”.

7.Was there anybody at the final table who impressed or surprised you with his play?

Vikash: Anil Adiani was the player I was warned about by my friends and he was among the favourites to win. I got into a tough spot with him in the early stages of the final table but could save my tourney life by giving up. Later, Anil was unlucky to get a bad beat from me.

 8.During the final table, you used a chip protector. Do you think that it worked for you?

Vikash: Within of 15 minutes of the final table, I was reduced to a short stack from the chip lead position. At that time, all final table players were offered limited edition chip protectors from WPT. I had never used a chip protector but somehow I took fancy and started to use it. From being the short stack to winning, the chip protector definitely played its role for me. More importantly, I had more patience as  I was busy admiring the chip protector and having fun at the table. I also tried to usurp Danny McDonagh’s role as a presenter to keep myself occupied.

 9.In heads-up battle, Arjun Arora was the chip lead, but you still managed to beat him. Can you describe your heads-up gameplay and experience?

Vikash: I had played a fair amount of time with Arjun in the run-up to the final table and was able to make enough mental notes on the player. I sensed Arjun was a bit unnerved by an Ace high call I made when the game was 3-way. I was coached by my friends Nirav Parekh, Rakesh Singh and Nikunj Jhunjhunwala to play a very aggro-game. So in the first 3 hands that I played, I raised to Arjun ( still acting that I was seeing ) every time and got him to lay down his hands. This gave me a huge mental edge and  forced Arjun to make an error, which I capitalised on. In no time, I was the chip lead with 6:1 advantage and it was a cake walk after that.

10.How will this big victory impact you in terms of your future goals in poker?

Vikash: I think, I will now try to spare more time for the game, which currently my professional life doesn’t permit. I will try to play more tournaments across the globe. I will definitely plan a visit to Vegas this summer. Also, I will spend more quality time in reading books and watching online videos to improve my game.

11.You have played many live tournaments. How was WPT India Main Event different for you?

Vikash: WPT India Main Event stood out from the rest of the events and tournaments just because of the size of the field. Also, the structure of the tournament was deep, which meant one could play a much wider range of hands and there was enough scope to make post-flop play. I would also give a lot of credit to the organisers for the smooth registration and conduct of the marquee event.

12.Do you have any rituals the night or morning before a tournament?

Vikash: Not being stressed is critical before a tournament. I generally prefer to visit a spa before a tournament. In case of WPT India ME Final Table, it was on Monday and I was busy completing office work as it was an unplanned holiday. I did ‘however’ spend an hour or two discussing hands of the previous days with my friends to understand if there was a different course of action I could have taken.

13. According to you, who are the best live poker players in India and why?

Vikash: The best live poker player as per me is Nitin Jain who also has been consistently pushing me to read, learn and get coached and is always there to discuss hand plays. Another best player is Rakesh Singh who I believe can give nightmares to any poker player in India with his moves. I don’t think there is any way to put him in any range and he uses that to his maximum advantage.

14.How do you balance your family life and poker? Poker as a profession is very different from day-to-day jobs. Are there any challenges and how do you work through them?

Vikash: Well, I am still an amateur poker player and it largely means to unwind from hectic work life. I largely play on weekends with my friends.

15.Finally, any advice for the aspiring Indian poker players looking to make a mark in live poker?

Vikash: I personally hear a lot of stories of poker players not being able to manage their bankroll because of some downswings. I think these are mere excuses and unacceptable as there is enough literature on the bankroll management. I also believe investing in learning and coaching is a must – which all aspiring poker players must take up.

Thanks for your time and good luck for the future tournaments in DPT and WPT India series!