These past few weeks, we have come up with several interviews highlighting the hard work and dedication that poker players have been putting in to be successful in the game. Most of our recent interviews have been with well-known pros killing it online especially at the flagship Adda52 Online Poker Series (AOPS) that has been growing every edition in terms of turnouts and prizepools. This interview is again with a popular pro, who is not just a big MTT crusher but also a former lawyer! We are talking about the lawyer-turned poker pro Ashish Ahuja who has been on a roll this month.
While Ahuja’s live poker resume is remarkable with already two major titles and several FT finishes, the virtual felts is where this talented pro from Chandigarh has been killing it. While he has won on several poker sites this month, it is adda52.com where he has scored most of his top online cashes. He began on a high note by finishing runner-up in the 30 Lac GTD AOPS Godfather for INR 5.91 Lac on April 2 and then went on to win three tournaments, namely the 20 Lac GTD AOPS Big Slick for INR 5.47 Lac, the 6 Lac GTD AOPS Mini PLO for INR 1.23 Lac, and the 5 Lac GTD AOPS Falcon for INR 1.45 Lac. Continuing his stellar run, he then made several FT finishes in the AOPS tourneys, including a 4th place finish for INR 4.02 Lac in the 35 Lac GTD Holdem High Roller this Friday. Given his ongoing form, it comes as no surprise that he has climbed to number two spot on the AOPS leaderboard.
Ahuja was introduced to poker in 2010 by a friend who had come back home from Sydney for summer vacation. Initially, he was playing live cash games but cash games then started to dry up in 2016 and weren’t being held on daily basis. This led him to making a transition from cash to online tournaments and there has been no looking back for him! He has been consistently winning and cashing online MTTs. We caught-up with Ahuja to know about his poker life, his spectacular AOPS run, the strategy he follows for online MTTs, his top poker moments and more. Here the excerpts:
OPN: Hi Ashish Ahuja, thanks for speaking to us and congratulations on winning several AOPS events these past few days! Let us start with your poker life. When and how did you start playing poker?
Ahuja: I initially started playing poker in 2010 when my friend had come back home from Sydney for summer vacation and he introduced me to this game which was completely new for me. We used to play a Rs. 500 buy-in cash game at his place. I was pretty bad at it like any rookie player. He mentioned a few poker shows to me, which I started watching on Youtube and got hooked to it. I used to see poker after the dark and tried to implement whatever I could grasp from the videos without understanding the situation properly.
OPN: Tell us a little about yourself. When did you decide to go pro and why?
Ahuja: I am a law graduate. I graduated from UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh in 2010. I practiced law at Punjab & Haryana High Court for a year and a half. I used to play occasionally with my friends that I’ve mentioned above. After that I moved to Delhi in 2012 and started practicing law at Delhi High Court. There I was introduced to couple of home games being run in South Delhi. I used to play there on weekends as weekdays were very hectic for me as a lawyer. Slowly and slowly, my passion for poker grew so much that I had to choose one between the two because both these professions demand time and my passion for poker took over my dedication towards the law.
OPN: At what point did you become a winning player and what process aided that development?
Ahuja: I was always a winning cash player but I was an average player as I never took coaching from anyone. The guys who staked me back then were the guys who used to run these cash games and they liked my play but never got any training or coaching from a poker player as such. In 2014, poker was legalized by Karnataka High Court and many poker rooms opened up in Bangalore. I had built sufficient bankroll for myself by then and I decided to move to Bangalore for these live cash games. In 2016, live cash games started to dry up and weren’t being held on daily basis. I decided to move back to home town Chandigarh and decided to give online tournaments a try. It is probably around that time I made the transition from cash to tournaments and I’m really happy with my decision. Later in 2018, I joined PokerGuru staking to get tournament coaching which turned out to be the best decision ever because the guy I idolized throughout my poker career became my coach.
OPN: What are your most important achievements or memories throughout your development?
Ahuja: My best poker memory is when I final-tabled one of the WSOP events along with Raghav Bansal last year. It was my first world series and the experience was phenomenal. It’s the moment when I was all in for my tournament life. Stephen Ma had shoved from CO 9bb and I called from SB with 7bb stack. He tabled down his cards and showed KJss. We showed A8o and were ahead for the moment.
The entire Indian contingent was there to rail me and Raghav Bansal. Raghav asked me to join our rail. We went in the corner of the Indian rail to watch the showdown from there. Flop comes K 8 x and Ma takes lead with top pair. Kunal Patni from rails starts screaming for 8. Watching Kunal scream 8 every other Indian present there starts yelling 8 8 8 8 8!!!!!!!!!!!!! Turn is 8 and the Rail goes Bizarre with joy. That moment I can never forget ever in my life. The entire rail was behind me along with Raghav and they literally screamed at top of their voice and put in the entire positive energy to get me that 8 on turn. Raghav then fist bumps me and says this is probably only moment when he’s himself on WSOP final table and doesn’t want the shorter stack to burst and that bought a tear to my eye with joy.
OPN: You have been killing it online of late. This past Sunday you won two events (AOPS Big Slick & AOPS Mini PLO) and then you picked up a win in AOPS Falcon and a FT finish in AOPS Holdem 6-Max. Tell us about your spectacular run of late. What do you attribute your success to?
Ahuja: I’m trying to improve my game as much as I can. Here at PokerGuru staking, Aditya Agarwal makes sure to take at least 4-5 session every week and ensure every one puts in effort to self-study as well. In these tournaments that I won recently, I played the way I was taught to play and try to capitalize on any spot possible. All that you can do is to play perfect and the results will follow you. The variance is there and you can’t control it. Only thing in your control is how you play your game.
OPN: Please tell us about your recent AOPS Big Slick win and also your win in the AOPS Falcon on adda52.com.
Ahuja: Winning AOPS Big slick was really special. I played nearly perfect as I could. I had built a good stack in initial stages of the tournament and was going pretty good. I lost a big pot near money bubble and proceeded cautiously after that. Once I rebuilt my stack, it was all cruise mode again. I reached the FT with chip lead and I put max ICM pressure after that. I remember with final 4 remaining, I had massive chip lead. I had 85BB and other remaining all had less than 15BB. I probably opened jammed 60-70 hands in row because no one calling me as they have to wait each other out. All of them bled down from 15BB to 5BB each. I exploited my opponents as much as I could. I’m really happy, not because I won but because I played it perfect. About AOPS Falcon, again it was similar. I put in my best efforts without thinking about the result. I’m happy. I was on the good side of variance for this as well.
OPN: How do you get in the right mindset or how do you prepare yourself before a big online tourney?
Ahuja: Before any big tournament online, I always start the session with a positive mindset. Before starting to play, I try to go through any recent hand history of mine to find any leaks in that tournament and tell myself not repeat any mistake I find in there. I go take a hot shower right before beginning of the session because hot water helps me get in to the zone and focus completely on game. I put on music along during a session because even if you get sucked out during a tournament, music helps you get off the tilt and to remain focused on your game.
OPN: What is your strategy in various stages of an online MTT? What tips would you recommend for players looking to consistently win in the AOPS and other major online tournaments in India?
Ahuja: Every player have different strategy towards the game. I mainly try and play aggressive during initial phase of a tournament and try and build a healthy stack because in the later stage of a tournament when blinds increase and stacks become shallow, I can put pressure on smaller stacks. But if I’m myself short at that stage, I can’t do much and wait for the right spot and play straight forward.
OPN: You are currently one of the top MTT players in India. How does it feel to be in the list of top poker players, and to be competing with and dominating the best of the best in business?
Ahuja: I would give entire credit to my coach, Aditya Agarwal for this. I really consider myself privileged to have under his guidance. I also consider myself extremely lucky to be able to compete with the best in the nation. Not many get this opportunity and I’m really thankful to God for this and the people who made this possible for me. A special thanks to Kartik Ved, Vikram Kumar, Maddy (Madhav Gupta) for being there for me.
OPN: What are your thoughts on a series like AOPS? Next AOPS events you plan to play?
Ahuja: AOPS is a really good series. I really love the tournaments structure and its guarantees. Adda52 has definitely put in a lot of efforts to provide a really good tournament series for Indian online players. I’ll be grinding the entire series as I’m grinding for the AOPS Leader board.
OPN: You come from a law background. Do you feel that your background gives you an edge over others?
Ahuja: Coming from law background hasn’t really helped me much. The only thing common between the two is you get to keep studying everyday to keep yourself ahead of the curve.
OPN: What kind of a player are you at the poker table? How would you describe yourself?
Ahuja: My play is pretty aggressive on table. It suits my game style because in a tournament you have to eliminate all players to win it. So if you take passive route in a tournament, it might cost you in the deeper stages of tournament.
OPN: What’s your normal daily schedule?
Ahuja: I grind usually 5 days a week unless a special series like AOPS is going on. I mainly take offs on Saturday and Monday. Saturday because I want to be fully active and in the zone for long Sunday grind. Monday so as to cool off because Sunday swings are massive. Well on other grinding days, I usually get up around 12 noon. There is a study session on most of the days around 3pm in the afternoon. On the days, there ain’t a session I study on my own. After that, I go for a walk in evening around 5pm, come back, get ready and start my session around 8ish.
OPN: Who’s your favorite poker player? And who are the players that helped you the most in your career?
Ahuja: My favourite poker player is none other than my coach Aditya Agarwal. He possesses unbelievable talent and his skill never stops to amuse you. He’s been doing this successfully for over a decade now and still he keeps putting continuous efforts to be a better player everyday. It’s truly motivational to just be his student. I have made many friends during my poker career and they have stood by me. The list is endless but I would thank them all. They are Aditya Agarwal, Arjanveer Singh Chadha, Ankit Wadhawan, Jayjit Ray, Raghav Bansal, Dhaval Mudgal, Aditya Sushant, Sriharsha Doddapaneni, Kartik Ved, Vikram Kumar, Maddy (Madhav Gupta), Sangeeth Mohan, Rishabh Chawla, Arjunn Singh. I’m sure this list is not complete and I might have forgotten someone else’s name. Kindly forgive if I left out on your name. I wanna thank you all.
OPN: How did you work on your game in the past? And how do you work today?
Ahuja: Earlier, I used to watch whatever videos available on poker training sites like RunItOnce. But now times have changed along with videos, people have started using solvers. It’s also essential to have a coach who would go through your hand history to find leaks in your game because something which may deem fit to you may not be right in reality.
OPN: To end, what is your ultimate ‘tilt’ moment? How have you dealt with downswings in your career? And what are your tips to control tilt?
Ahuja: This is the most important aspect for a poker player how to handle tilt. MTT’s have much more variance as compared to cash games. One could go months without cashing a single tournament. People often say that some players never face any variance but it’s not true. Everyone goes through downswings and its very basic. During continuous downswings, one needs to understand that he needs to pay much more focus on his game because you might start making irrational mistakes and may blame it on variance. You can start meditating or listen to some soothing music to calm your mind down. You can also take a break from poker, if need be, for 4-5 days and do something to pamper yourself so that next session that you grind your mind is at calm and you put in best effort in the game.