In Conversation With The WPT India 2018 Main Event Champion – Nikunj Jhunjhunwala

The WPT India 2018 turned out to be record-breaking success. The festival taking place at India’s luxurious casino – Deltin Royale in Goa from November 13-19 concluded just this past Monday. As someone could expect, the festival was packed with quality poker action. It distributed more than INR 6 Crores in prize money and drew 1800+ players who flocked to the host venue to celebrate their favorite game and enter a plethora of exciting tournaments featured on the schedule.

Mumbai’s Nikunj Jhunjhunwala was indisputably the festival’s biggest winner. Primarily, a high-stakes cash game specialist, he emerged as the champion of the WPT India 2018 55K Main Event to collect his career-best INR 66,35,000 in top prize.  It is also to be noted that the player had also coached Vikash Mantri during the final table of WPT India 2017 ME, which Mantri finally won.

To make his way to victory in this year’s Main Event, Jhunjhunwala beat a record field of 697 entries. His heads-up mate was Sahil Mahboobani started as the chip leader but Nikunj, who was more experienced, gained the momentum quickly and went on to take down the coveted Main Event title. Mahboobani, who also finished 16th in the WPT India 2018 Kickoff NLH, took home INR 46,53,000.

As per Hendon Mob database, Jhunjhunwala had 3 previous cashes totaling about $53,000 in prize money and all these cashes came in India. His latest win has moved him up to 29th place on India’s all-time tournament money list, which is headed by Vivek Rajkumar with over $4.4 million in live earnings. With his grand Main Event win, Jhunjhunwala takes his total live earnings to $145,809. Motivated by his latest poker achievement, the player is now eyeing the WSOP main title ahead.

After his historic Main Event win, we caught-up with Jhunjhunwala and here are the excerpts:

OPN: You coached last year’s winner – Vikash Mantri. How does it feel being a winner yourself this year?

Jhunjhunwala: First of all, I would like to thank everyone for pouring love and wishes. It just feels awesome. I am super happy with this accomplishment, especially after an eight-month sabbatical from poker. Coming directly into the tourney and having won it is really a big achievement for me.

So sweet of Vikash for having given me some credit for his win. I was super happy for him having shipped the WPT India 2017 Main Event. Just hoping that this isn’t the end of things and there is much more to come. Looking forward to the WSOP main title, next feather in the cap. Hahaha?

OPN: How tough was it to get through such a huge field, full of the best players in India? Could you share your tournament journey? 

 Jhunjhunwala: It was extremely difficult. I had to fire 2 bullets (Day 1A and Day 1B). I was card dead on Day 1A and was wondering, ‘Have these players evolved so much?’, ‘Or am I really card dead?’

During the last level of Day 1A, I was pretty short, so I decided to gamble a few hands to chip up to have a decent stack for day 2 but I got busted. Day 1B was a grind as everyone was too motivated and had brought their best game forward.

 OPN: Any special hands or moments you want to share with our readers?

Jhunjhunwala: On Day 2, it was AK against KK of Abhinav Iyer where I got lucky. I also saved myself a coolerish hand in heads-up where I folded on a 8-3-3 board to Sahil. I was holding pocket nines (9s).

OPN: How about the final table? How was your experience playing against some top pros at the FT?

Jhunjhunwala: As for the ft, I was pretty short with 18 BB’s going into the final table and Amit Jain to my left was in the chip lead. I had just planned to take it slow, collect small pots, and avoid hands against Amit Jain as we have been playing for years together and he knows my game and my ranges. Once he lost a fair chunk of his stack, I could ease out and start playing more hands to chip up.

OPN: In heads-up, Mahboobani held a slight advantage over you but you quickly gained momentum. Can you describe heads-up play?

 Jhunjhunwala: During the initial part, I was completely card dead with almost 0 flopability and Sahil was rolling over me. He made me bleed a fair chunk but probably the patience and experience of deep stack cash game helped me to cross the line. Credit to Sahil for having played an excellent HU game!

OPN: How will this big victory impact you in terms of your future goals in poker?

Jhunjhunwala: Having this under my belt will definitely push me for being more motivated for Vegas. Maybe I can give a shot there now and maybe I bring a bracelet to India.

OPN: A lot of new players are coming in and attendance at big poker events like WPT India is increasing every year. How do you see the future of live poker in India?

Jhunjhunwala: Poker is growing rapidly in the country and maybe we might have our very own WSOP I hear. If that happens, then sky is the limit for poker in India. Fingers crossed!

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

Jhunjhunwala: Plenty of awesome poker players in India who have been doing exceptionally well on the circuit! Zarvan Tumboli and Aditya Sushant have done exceptionally well over the years. Kavin Shah is a beast in his own right. There is Samay Parikh who is amazing on the cash high stake circuit.  The young gun Akshay Nasa is doing pretty well. I have been a huge fan of Vidwath Shetty for a couple of years. Watch out for these 2 and our very own smiling assign Danish Shaikh, whose online numbers are just amazing.

OPN: What is your advice for new players joining in the game of poker?

 Jhunjhunwala: I advise to fold to fold again and learn bankroll management. These are 2 key things for success.

OPN: Finally any words for your rail and WPT India Team?

Jhunjhunwala: A special shout-out to my rail! They were Manish Adnani, Kavin Shah, Samay Parikh and Amit Jain who joined the rail post his bust-out. And a huge shout-out for Danny, Manish Adnani, Neil and rest of WPT Team for having pulled off this event. Signs of good and bigger things to come!