Chirag Sodha On His Full House Win, Poker Life, His Run After Lockdown & More!

Of late, we have come up with several poker interviews highlighting the hard work, commitment, dedication and volume that poker players have been putting in to be successful in the beautiful game. Most of our recent interviews have been with well-known names winning big online. This interview is again with a popular pro, who is not just an avid MTT player but also a passionate poker operator working hard to grow and promote poker as a game of skill in the country. We are talking about the Bengaluru lad Chirag Sodha aka ‘cs56’ who shipped Adda52’s first-ever 1 Crore GTD Full House tournament this Sunday and walked away with his career-best score of a hefty INR 25 Lac.

An avid poker player, industry insider and a cricket fan, the 31-year old Sodha came across poker at the age of 18 when he went to London for his undergrad and got introduced to a friend who used to go to casinos to play. Seeing the same guys winning at the game over and over again, he realized that there is a logic and skill to it. What started as a pastime finally turned into a serious career option for him. While his introduction to poker is over 13-year old, he took the game seriously about 4 years ago and since then it has been like a job that requires time, commitment and dedication.

Sodha, who switched from playing full-time poker to working for the poker industry a year ago or so,  is as good online as he is live. While his 3-year old poker resume is impressive with more than a half dozen of FT finishes and several deeps runs across prestigious live events, the virtual felts is where he has been making the most, especially after the lockdown. While he has won big on several Indian poker sites this year, it is where he got his career-best score of INR 25 Lac for winning the 1 Crore GTD Full House this past Sunday. With his latest big win, he surpassed his previous best score of INR 10 Lac that he had received for winning the SVS The Millionaire Lite last month.

We caught-up with Sodha to know about his Full House victory, when he picked up poker and why, strategies he follows for MTTs, his run after the lockdown and much more. Here are the excerpts:

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OPN: Hi Mr. Sodha, congratulations on winning the Full House! For our readers who don’t know much about you, could you introduce yourself?

Sodha: Thanks! My name is Chirag Sodha. I am 31-year old and I live in Bangalore. I currently play poker, sort of full time you could say. I work in the poker industry as well in India.

OPN: When did you pick up poker and what attracted you towards the game?

Sodha: So, basically I went to London for my undergrad at the age of 18. And that is exactly when I was introduced to this friend from Delhi who used to go to casinos to play poker. That is how I picked up the game. And over time, I realized that there is a logic to it and there is a skill behind it, which kept getting more and more interesting for me to learn about this game.

OPN: You have been winning big post the lockdown and have already taken down several tourneys. Can you tell us about your run during the lockdown period?

Sodha: Well, the lockdown has been pretty good for me so far in terms of poker and I can’t complain too much about that. I think, important thing here is, like everyone says, volume is key. And while I may have had a good few months, the point is that the hard work of many many years has paid off well.

I think, it is important not to be result-oriented. Just keep doing the right things over and over again. Poker is a game which is not going to always reward you for making the right decisions, but over time, it kind of balances out. While the lockdown period has been pretty good and profitable for me, but it is always better to look at the bigger picture, bigger spectrum of time and volume.

OPN: This Sunday was an eventful day for you as you won INR 25 Lac in the 1 Crore GTD Full House, which is your biggest score till date, both live and online. How does it feel to win such a big score?

Sodha: Sunday was definitively super eventful day for me! The score that I got has been the biggest by far that I have won in any event till now, be it online or live. The heads-up was so swingy. I literally got up to do a victory dance once or twice and realized that ‘hey, it is not over yet’ because it didn’t play out exactly the way it was supposed to, but it feels great, of course! I had a hard time falling asleep yesterday (Monday). I think, I slept for three hours. And you know, when I woke-up, I immediately checked my phone to just make sure ‘hey, this actually has happened!’.

OPN: It was a huge field of 2500 + entries in the FULL House with so many top pros and regs. How did you deal with the competition in the tournament and what strategies did you adopt to rise to the top?

Sodha: Basically, I did play 1B but busted three levels before the end of the day. On Day 1C, I fired two bullets and again I busted literally four-five minutes before the end of the day. And 1D, which was the Sunday, was the one I qualified through.I got through with 130K, which was around 40-42 bigs.

Basically, it is different strategies required for different parts of a tournament as you progress. I think, there were 230 odd players who started Day 2. Once you are done with the survival part, you need to focus on moving up, playing solid, sticking around and trying to maintain 30-35 big stack, which you will have to do differently based on what kind of players and stacks on your table. But note making is something which is really important. It is always crucial to know what kind of players are sitting across the table and that will for sure help you to make the right decisions. Also,one of the things which I tried to do earlier was not to take too many high variance spots and wait for only good spots to take down a few crucial pots. And the strong hands that I had, I played rather aggressively and that kind of worked out for me during the initial stage when there were 230 odd players. When you are down to the final 2-3 tables that is when the real game beings and the guys who play better poker than others make the real difference. Because now you have reached a stage where you can not rely on getting good cards any more. At this point of time, you need that ‘run good’, no matter how good you play or what you do. If you don’t run good in the last few tables, it is going to be extremely difficult for you to win a tournament. I had a fair amount of ‘run good’ towards the end and this, I think, helped to win it.

OPN: What was your strategy going into final table? Who do you think were your toughest competitors on the FT?

Sodha: I think, I started the final table 5th in chips out of 7 players. It was the eight-handed FT but started with seven players because Abhinav Iyer got busted just before the final table was formed. In terms of threat, Iyer would come on top of the list because he is one of the best players in the country and was definitely the best player left in the field at that time. There were a few other good pros as well who made deep runs. To be completely honest with you, I had my eyes on these pros the whole time.

Even though you are zoned into your table, it is also important to know what is happening on the other tables. From the time when there were 3-4 tables left, I opened all of them. And I think, Manoj Pentakota was there, Shashank Jain, and a lot of these pros were there. And you know, once these guys make big stack, it is going to be really hard for you to get through. Fortunately for me, I would say, the final table was not filled with too many of these pros, which did work in my favour to win it.

OPN: What are your views on the Full House tournament scheduled to run every Friday-Sunday?

Sodha: I think, it is great that Adda52 has now just INR 5500 buy-in for a 1 Crore GTD tournament across 5 flights. It is very good to see that pool getting crossed as well, which shows the potential this industry has in the country. I think, it is great for the poker industry to have such online tournaments. Multi-day tournaments are becoming very popular. Also, I love the fact that you cannot take the five stacks forward to Day 2 and you can only take your biggest stack forward… I am all for that process.

OPN: Poker sites have been upping the ante especially after the lockdown by bringing in big money tourneys. How do you look at it and its growing value for the MTT players in the country?

Sodha: The thing is that all the recreationals and all the people who are usually working during the day are all right now free at home because of the lockdown, which is the reason why there is so much more traffic and therefore such big tournaments. It is great to see that every operator has made changes based on this new situation that we are all in. They are offering so many tournaments, so many guarantees, so it is great. While most businesses across the world are at a standstill, online gaming is booming. I think, we should consider ourselves privileged.

OPN: How do you get in the right mindset or how do you prepare yourself before a big online tourney?

Sodha: This is an interesting one! People ask you – is it luck or is it skill? Of course, it is a combination of both. However, the mindset, the positiveness and the approach you follow is what makes the difference, even though there is no measurable way how much impact it makes. I always like to be in a good state of mind and positive atmosphere.I believe in good vibes and I believe in that kind of stuff. While there is no measurable way to prove the difference it makes, it definitely helps you to avoid tilting,recover from certain bad beats you may face and take better decisions. So, if you are in a good frame of mind, that is good for you and that is true for anything or in any line of work in the world.

OPN: How did you work on your game in the past? And how do you work today?

Sodha: In terms of working on my game, a lot of people have been asking this. The absolute truth is that I have studied zero courses in my life. I have never done a hand review session with anybody. And I haven’t really read any books or read any materials that is available online. However, I like to pay a lot of attention on the table and try to gather information from that. So, you could say, intuition is one of the things that I bank upon. But I do know that today’s pros are the next level. They study all the stuff – these charts, these courses and know how to play every hand from every spot. So, it becomes extremely hard to play against the people who have this much knowledge of the game.

OPN: A year ago or so, you switched from playing full time poker to working for the poker industry. What actually led you to go for this switch? And how is it working for you?

Sodha: Yes, I did it last year or rather the year before that. It has been 2-3 years now that I have been working in the industry in addition to playing. While I was playing full time, it was a good life. Poker players in general have a very tough routine to follow but it is flexible in terms of where you can be, when you work, what you can do, and when you can take a day off. So, it is a privilege for us to choose on holidays or choose when we want to play or when we want to work. By playing just poker, you are banking on an income which is not fixed. You don’t know how much you are going to earn in a month or you don’t know if you are going to lose for four months straight. There were several reasons but the primary reason for me switching from full time poker playing to working in the industry was the fact that I don’t want to be dependent on something which is not fixed, rather I want to have something which comes with a fixed source of income.

However, I would say, poker is and will always be my part of life. I will always be playing but it is just that I don’t want to play full time or depend on it in terms of revenue. Moreover, I am also of the view that full time poker takes a hit on your social, physical life and your overall well-being, if you are not careful. I think, full time poker takes a hit on my social life as I can’t spend too much time with friends and family. I want to have a fixed income. Even though my primary income is less than my secondary income, which is poker, it is still a fixed income. Also, I joined the industry considering the potential it has. I am hoping to pitch in and help it to grow and promote poker as a game of skill in the country.

Overall, how beneficial this lockdown has been for you? Your best lockdown moment?

Sodha: Lockdown period has been relatively good for me and I can’t complain. The best moment has to be definitely the Full House win this past Sunday. This is my biggest win. It was very tough field and I came out on top of the 2500 odd players. Now matter how good you play, a decent amount of luck is involved to win, at least in my case. Having overcome this field and finally shipping big one, it feels really great. Every time you register for a tournament, you are thinking, ‘hey man, I am going to ship it’. It finally happened, so it is so overwhelming. I am still in a bit of shock, but I am super glad!

OPN: To end, any message or tips for the newbies looking to make a mark in poker?

Sodha: For new players, what I would suggest is – understand what kind of lifestyle will be involved when you play poker. There is also a struggle involved with maintaining your bankroll and becoming a good player. If you do things the right way, poker is very beautiful in terms of a profession and in terms of making money. It is important to note that percentage of the winning players worldwide is just 2-3. Consider this aspect as well before taking poker as a profession. However, the good news is that it is a skill game, which means, hard work, dedication and commitment will bring you into that 2-3%.