5 Minutes Read
27-year-old, Siddharth Karia (cover image), is a budding poker player and a part of a large group Indians who will be making their debut on the world’s biggest poker stage – the 50th annual World Series of Poker (WSOP).
The Ahmedabad-based lad was introduced to poker by his elder brother in high school. His passion for the mind game heightened when he, like his brother, decided to pursue his BBA from Symbiosis, Pune. It was in college that the passion for poker really took flight and Karia ended up organizing possibly the first-ever college poker tournament. He went on to complete his MBA from the Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts and poker took a back seat.
However, the craze for the game returned when he came across the Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP) – Platinum Series XV in Macau, where he was on a leisure trip with friends. He decided to play the HK$3,000 NLHE Superstack, and as it turned out, he finished runner-up in the event for HK$41,010. Playing in the event reignited the flame to get back to the game, and he started off by playing the online qualifiers for the Poker Sports League. He was selected by the Goan Nuts, and the team eventually went on to win the league in 2018.
With a growing interest in the sport, Karia began to delve deeper into the game. He spent a lot of time learning the different strategies and intricacies of the game and was hooked. Crediting his friend, Mahipal Vala, for supporting him the most and helping him to think about the game in a very positive manner, Karia though not yet a professional player, has set his goals on one day becoming the country’s best poker player.
Karia was recently seen competing in the ₹15K Main Event of the Deltin Poker Tournament (DPT) Xpress, held in Goa, where he picked up a score of ₹4.2 lakhs. With expectations of featuring in the ongoing WSOP series, Karia will be looking to make the most of his first-ever experience at the biggest poker stage in the world.
Read his remarkable story in his own words.
Life Before Poker
Born and brought up in Ahmedabad, Karia did his schooling from St. Xaviers. He completed his BBA from Symbiosis (Pune) and interned in an Ahmedabad-based company before pursuing his MBA from the Babson College. He joined the family business and was even involved in setting up a sports-based start-up for a while.
“We have a family business of manufacturing and exporting bedsheets. The plan was to get involved with the family business. In between, I was involved with a start-up in the sports industry. I used to do video analysis of Baseball players with a friend in the US, and when I returned to India, I started doing the same thing for cricket.”
The passion for cricket was a childhood one, so initiating a business venture based on the love for the gentleman’s game did not seem like a far-fetched idea.
“All my life, I have played cricket and even represented the Gujrat State Cricket team during the under 15 and 17 stages. I really wanted to become a cricketer when I was young. By the time I was in 12th standard, I had realized that till school level, I was great, but at the national level, I didn’t have that talent. I did put the same amount of work into it compared to my other friends who are now playing in the IPL and Ranji Trophy. However, I just couldn’t excel. They were more talented than me for sure, and that’s when I decided to take another path and maybe join the business.”
Having garnered the knowledge of entrepreneurship from a renowned business college, Karia was all set to tackle the challenges of a start-up business.
“The company’s name was SPORRU, i.e., Sports Guru and we used to tie up with coaches who knew biomechanics that is the study of body movements. Either the player would record videos of themselves, Bowling or Batting, or we would go there to record, then the coach would analyze it, and we would then explain them over our platform telling them the flaws in their techniques and what they should do to get better. We would give them a plan and monitor them every few weeks.”
However, Karia soon realized the impracticability of the business and parted ways with the company.
“I am not doing the sports analysis anymore. We realized that this business was not scalable, and therefore, we wrapped it up.”
Introduction to Poker
Karia was first introduced to poker in high school by his elder brother.
“I came to know about poker when I was in 11th standard through my elder brother, who was studying at Symbiosis at that time. He had come to Ahmedabad during summer break. We used to play a lot of card games, but then suddenly he stopped playing the game as he was now more intrigued by poker and found the other card games boring. I didn’t know about poker, and he taught me the basic rules of the game. That was my first introduction to the game.”
His interest in the sport persisted into his college days.
“Before I decided which college, I will go to, I had selected 2-3 of them and Symbiosis was one of them. I went there just to see the environment, and I saw that these people would play a lot of poker and chilled a lot. I started playing on Zynga, and of course, I started learning the game seriously once I got into Symbiosis.”
What started off as small buy-in cash game sessions quickly turned into regular poker trips to Goa.
“We had two flats and we 6-7 college students, and my brother’s friends who had also become our friends would play poker. We used to just call more people. I learned a lot from these games and used to do pretty well. I even went to the casino in Goa a few times to play some cash games. We used to drive down from Pune to Goa sometimes and met a few people over there. We connected with people from Pune, and then we started playing with them.”
He even recounted an incident involving his father.
“I started doing really well, and then there was a funny instance when my dad called me to ask why I haven’t asked for money since last 2-3 months. How are we paying rent and surviving? Then I told him that we are playing poker here and doing really well in it. My family knew that we played and never minded it.”
However, in his early days of playing poker, Karia did not view it as a viable career option.
“The issue to be honest was I couldn’t see it as a legit career for myself. There were no online sites apart from PokerStars, which also I never tried, and I only played in a live setting. I wasn’t aware of any Indian player who had a legit career in poker. The thought of going professional never arrived in my head at that time.”
Organizing the First College Poker Tournament
It was in college that Karia truly realized his love for poker and was instrumental in organizing a poker tournament in college.
“By the end of my 2nd year in college, I got involved with organizing a poker event for my college fest. Someone asked me if I could head a poker event for our college. He asked if we can expect 20-25 people for the event, which was six months later. I told him if he wants 25 entries, we can do it tonight. I even suggested we do a bigger event and we can expect a good number of entries. He told me that there was not much budget for it, and I assured him that we will take care of it. I got a team together comprising of my poker friends – we got posters done, did some marketing, created groups, sent messages, and organized everything. In the end, we had like 250 entries who paid a ₹500 entry fee. I believe it was one of the first college poker events to ever happen in the country.”
The event was a mega-success and prompted Karia to head his college’s fest the next year.
“It was sponsored by Fundoo Poker. I cold called Aditya Kumar for sponsoring the event, and he did. We also had Vikram Verma who I reached out to. He gave us some money for the event as well. Initially the college was supposed to give us money to host the event, but eventually, we didn’t require anything for it. We convinced our principal that it’s a legit event where we are taking entry fees and giving out huge prizes. The first prize I remember at that time was Apple iPad, 2nd place was a Blackberry phone. It was a huge success as poker generated ₹50-60K for the college at that time. I got them sponsors and actually the next year, I headed the Sympulse College Fest. The whole year we only worked on making that festival a hit.”
Reconnecting With Poker in Macau
After completing his BBA, Karia went to Babson College to pursue his MBA and poker was put on the back burner. Though he did play some cash games in Foxwoods, Connecticut, he did not find them engaging enough and soon lost interest. However, while on a leisure trip with friends to Macau, Karia came across the Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP) – Platinum Series XV and decided to participate in it.
“I was on a leisure trip to Macau with some friends. We were just partying at Hard Rock and saw that PokerStars is hosting an event in eight hours. We like good boys went straight to sleep, took good rest, and came back to play the event. I must have got really lucky I suppose as I finished 2nd in that tournament. I had never worked on my game at that time and was just enjoying and playing some common sense poker.”
He, then, heard of the Poker Sports League from a friend.
“I had gone to a wedding, and one of my closest friends from college asked me if I knew about Poker Sports League. He said that there are freerolls to qualify in six cities and they have a great format. I was interested and wanted to give it a shot. I played the Qualifiers for it, did very well and was in the leaderboard. Maybe, the only reason why Goan Nuts picked me up was that I had the ACOP Macau score on my resume.”
Though getting selected wasn’t too hard for Karia, it was after he got selected that he realized how much of the sport he was yet to learn about.
“Once they picked me, and I got into that Skype group, it was all rocket science. I used to look at those terms and google to understand. I tried to absorb as much as possible. Also, the times when I did open my mouth and typed out what according to me the correct play was, there was an awkward silence in the group, so I realized I had a long way to go. I met these wonderful wildcards, Thomas Ward and Bryan Huang, who were super friendly and supportive. I learned a lot from them. Our Captain, Dhaval “Dirty’ Mudgal and Vivek Rughani guided me throughout. I played on all days and happened to come 3rd in one of the daily Main Events of PSL Season 1. That was the first year, and I was completely hooked.”
His experiences at his first PSL was a good stepping-stone and prepared him well for the next season. On his second PSL outing, he got to interact with a lot of different players and some established pros like Dylan Linde and Abhinav Iyer who made a positive impact on his game.
“Those strategies which I learned at that time, felt like cheat codes and I was like wow! I realized a lot of ‘fundas’ like why bet big when a small bet can do the same trick, and it was this period in which I realized that there was so much to poker and there is so much hard work that these people do. When the second PSL happened, it was already a dream year. I had won a lot of high-value tournaments online, as there was a lot of improvement in my game.
I had done a couple of courses and used to put in a lot of work, I think that helped me quite a bit. Dylan [Linde] was one of the wildcards in PSL 2, and he helped me a lot. I went on to ship the Main Event this time, and more importantly, Goan Nuts went on to ship PSL 2. I would say that PSL has played a huge role in my journey. Abhinav Iyer was one of the first people to suggest that I should play full-time, but it was always both business and poker for me.”
Playing Poker Professionally
Karia had initially decided to give more time to his business than to poker, but he eventually became dissatisfied with the arrangement and soon started devoting more time to the game.
“I knew last year I would be busy with my business, so I made the choice of playing only 2 days a week and not studying a lot. Lately, four months ago, I was not really happy with the way things were going and the fact that I was not able to put in that amount of time to poker, so I decided to give it my best efforts. It’s going well now. It’s just in the past few months that I have made a conscious decision to playing more professionally. The way I have been playing and studying the game, I would say I have started taking it more seriously. I still come to work every day, I study from here, I go back home and play. I have started putting more volume in the past months, but I was never away from the game.”
Working on His Game
Karia is dedicated to improving his craft and has resorted to lots of various techniques to better his game.
“I did a couple of courses, shared hands, and discussed with like-minded poker players like Prabhat Mukherjea. I use softwares like HRC, Flopzilla, and PT 4 to review my hands, and that’s how I have been gradually improving my game.”
Debuting at the WSOP & Future Plans
Karia will be among the big group of Indians who will be making their debut trip to the WSOP this year.
“I am going for the WSOP for the first time, I have gone to Vegas before but not for WSOP. I have even lost 10 Kilograms for the series. I am getting fitter and working hard on the game at the same time. I am gonna be in Vegas from June 24 to mid-July. I plan to play the WPT Aria, WSOP Colossus, Mini Main Event, Little One Drop and the Main Event along with few events at The Venetian.”
He has been mentally and physically preparing himself for the ‘World Biggest Poker Festival.’
“I clearly remember one of my best friends who plays the IPL told me how much the food we eat affects our mind. So, I wanted to know how that aspect affects poker as it’s completely a mind game. I am following a strict diet, will be following the same in Vegas. I will keep working hard to reach my target. Let’s see how it goes.”
Whatever he is doing seems to be working as he recently finished third in the Deltin Poker Tournament (DPT) Xpress ₹15K Main Event in Goa.
“I came to Goa just to prepare for the World Series. I was playing online a lot but thought of playing live before I travel. I made it to the final table of the Main Event and finished third. We made a three-way deal and immediately after that I busted for ₹4.2 Lakhs.”
Nonetheless, Karia poker ambitions do not end at merely making it to the WSOP. His long-term goals involve him reaching the top echelons in the industry.
“Long term goal is for sure to try to be the best player in the country. I just want to prepare in that manner and give myself the best chance to make it happen.”
This promising poker talent looks all set to make his mark on the most prominent poker stage, and we wish him the best for his future endeavors!