Big events are extremely challenging, and I Love it! – Pranay “setmeup” Chawla

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We are just a day away from the much anticipated 5CR GTD PPL Special Edition, and as we all gear up for 8 days of action-packed poker, we thought we’d share a blog written by one of our Champions from the recently concluded tournament The GameChanger – which went down in history books as the biggest online event recorded in the country thus far.

Pranay “setmeup” Chawla, who put up an incredible performance and ousted a massive field of 3777 players, took home a whopping payday of INR 33,00,000 following a 4-way deal in the massive event. An extremely insightful and inspiring read, here’s what he had to say about his incredible poker journey:

The PPL SE

Hi Guys! First off – I’m really looking forward to the PPL series, especially because I haven’t played too many MTTs since The GameChanger. Literally haven’t been more excited for a tournament series, having seen the exceedingly good structures and attractive guarantees. Baazi somehow manages to outdo themselves every single time and I’m sure this PPL will be a lot of fun!

As far as preparations go, I’ve not done much in particular but look forward to getting back to the swing of things, playing plenty of tables and giving myself the best chance of making this a successful series for me. Plenty of events and hours on the felts means getting enough sleep, being fresh and mentally prepared – at all times! It’s challenging – and that’s one of the things I love about it!

A look back at the GameChanger – my biggest score till date!

Every few months, we tournament players get to dream about making it big. Even the seasoned grinders, the consummate professionals, the semi-retired legends – people who already have made it big. The first edition of the historic GameChanger was a breeze. Not because it was easy, but because it swept by in no time, everything just happened so fast. And boy, did it change my game!

Everyone has a story. Mine is pretty straightforward. I played around Diwali like every teenager does. I played Zynga Poker on Facebook like every teenager who gets hooked onto cards does. I was decent. The money was hard to come by, but it was never about the money for me. 6 years later, and I still don’t care about the money. I couldn’t care less if I made 50k a month or 5L a month or 50L a month (I mean, don’t blame me if I start caring about making that much eventually). Poker was leisure, chilling with friends after college, playing an SNG during a break from my studies on Zynga, playing the odd home game with the “cool” people much older than me. Gradually I moved to online poker, playing 50 cent and 1 dollar tournaments. The thrill was something else. But all things said, I still wasn’t playing with the dedication and the concentration that this beautiful game demands.

Cut to February 2017, and I had 2-3 years’ experience playing live cash. I had had good sessions and bad sessions, insane heaters and exceptionally bad downswings. The usual. However, I had recently played just my second live tournament (I finished 11th in my first one), and had managed to beat a field of 94 people to secure my first tournament win for $2100 in Sacramento, California. My first thought after winning – next DPT ke liye jaana padega boss! But I wasn’t getting carried away. I decided only to play the Main Event and the side events at DPT and not the High Roller. I believe this decision proved to be the game changer for me.

My roommates had left for the HR, and I had more than a few hours to kill. Around this time, the Poker Sports League was creating ripples in the industry, and I, like every starry eyed kid wanted to be a part of it. A few beers later, I regged one of their online qualifiers. As fate would have it, I ended up winning the tournament, which propelled me to the top 30. I had a head-start now -there was no looking back. I grinded my way to the end of the qualifiers, making 5 or 6 final tables and just sneaked in to the top 48 by the end of it, making me eligible to be picked by one of the teams in the PSL. 24 of the 48 qualifiers would be drafted into the 12 city based franchises. 2 months and 20 draft picks later, just when I was about to give up hope, my name came up and I was picked to represent the Goan Nuts, under the leadership of Dhaval Mudgal (Dirty, from here on).

It’s hard to put into words what the PSL and the Goan Nuts mean to me. The fact that I’m a tournament regular today is all because of the PSL. We had the most grueling study sessions – working on leaks and strategies, player profiling, ICM sessions, brainstorming in the pool, just picking the brains of the best players in the world. It was surreal. Season 1 was good personally, I managed to make it to the final table in the Main Event and get some precious points, but we could only finish in 8th place in the end. Season 1 gave me the confidence and the desire to put in more volume, play more MTTs, put in the hours online. I had started showing progress by now, winning the odd tournament, making deep runs, playing higher stakes. At the end of Season 1, Dirty was disappointed, but proud of the effort that the team put in. He showed great faith in me, and my good friend Siddharth Karia and retained us for Season 2. We won Season 2, just saying :D! It was a remarkable experience and an incredible effort. Phil Hellmuth once said that you can’t use the word “deserve” in poker, but we bloody well deserved to win that. Sid and I went from not knowing the ABC of tournament poker in Season 1 to winning the biggest teams event in India a year later. It was big for Sid and myself, we’d gone from being relatively shy in the first year to drinking cocktails with Dylan Linde and Kevin MacPhee and getting selfies with Sofia Lovgren and Martin Jacobson. NUTS. And goes without saying, we had the most fun. We were Team Goa, after all.

The money had begun to flow, become serious. In no time, I was making the mistake almost every reg makes at some point in their career. I saw my most prolific run swept away in front of my eyes. I never really got to enjoy the good days – I bit off more than I could chew. Can’t really say I was back to square one with all that I had learnt in the previous 2 years and all that I had managed to save, but the grind was on. A few good results later, the confidence was beginning to come back. I managed to ship 3 or 4 tournaments in one week in January, and went on a run where I was averaging a 1L payday for a period of 10 days (of course while continuing to sell action). The GameChanger came at a time when I was feeling good about my game again.

One of the best things PokerBaazi does, is that it gives ample time and opportunities to everyone to make the most of its featured events. I had a ticket for Day 1A through a deposit code, and decided to play satties to both Day 1B and Day 1C. Luckily, I managed to bink a couple of satties in the first try and had the opportunity to play all three starting flights. 1A ended rather quickly for me, inside the first 6-7 levels I guess. I flopped a set of deuces but my opponent turned a straight and there was no getting away from my hand on an innocuous board that read AT246 with no flushes possible.

Day 2 started off slowly, but I decided to take some calculated risks once the antes kicked in. With multiple starting flights, I knew the importance of going into Day 2 with a big stack, given people would be going all out to maximize their chances. There was one hand early on 1B where I opened 77 UTG+1 and it folded around to the button who jammed 70 bigs. One can never be 100% sure, but I just felt this play reeks of AK (even though I’ve seen people jam enormous amounts with JJ and QQ too) and with 1C still to go, I didn’t mind going with this hand. It was pretty smooth sailing from there. The highest stack I had on 1B was 156k, so ending up with 135k and 34bb going into Day 2 was pretty decent.  1C was a no-show. I managed to double up pretty early, but never got any momentum after that. I was hoping to end up with a stack of ~ 200k which would give me some playability on Day 2 but couldn’t manage to achieve that. With a seat to Day 2 already in the bag and almost everyone making Day 2 almost certain to make the money, it was pointless to spend another 11k to try and sneak in with a bigger stack.

It had come. The biggest day in the history of online poker in India. To be honest, I was just plain nervous. I wasn’t excited and pumped up like I am every Sunday, I don’t quite know why. Being card dead in the early stages of Day 2 did not help too much, but at least the player count was rapidly going down. 20 minutes into Day 2, we were all in the money, and around 9:30pm, we were down to the last 100. The dream was in sight. There were surprisingly no big hands that I played up until this point. Just kept chipping away at small pots and playing standard ranges. I had spoken to Prabhat Kiran Mukherjea a night before Day 2 to get some strategy advice, and to understand whether I should approach this tournament a bit differently. He assured me that showing courage will pay great dividends in this format, and there was simply no running away from flips. With around 90 players left, I was dealt AKs in the big blind. There was an early position open from a big stack, followed by two flat calls. I had around 45bb at this stage, and my normal course of action would be to 3bet and call a jam. However, I had made up my mind to just shove, as it’s the play that looks the weakest. I wanted it to look like a squeeze play, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since I got snap called by QQ. I was fortunate to flop a flush and that was that. 100bb and a dream. Well, not so fast. Half an hour later, I was down to 25bb again, having had my kings cracked by AK and losing a massive 70bb blind vs blind pot, 99 < QJs, all in pre flop.

It was at this stage that I had to fold a hand that I most regretted at that stage. With around 50 people left, Arjan Chadha jammed 7bb from UTG, and I had 88 in the cutoff. Before I could act, a reg with the screen name “indianpro” flatted his jam from middle position. This guy had shown a propensity to gamble, take high variance spots and push the table around. The fact that he flatted and didn’t raise to isolate made me think twice. I reluctantly folded, only to see the SB rejam for 21bb. I expected indianpro to snap him off here, but surprisingly he folded. Fortunately or unfortunately, the SB had KK, but the flop had an 8 in it. I don’t like to look at things in hindsight or be results oriented, but I couldn’t help but think what if indianpro had not flatted with what looks like a weak(ish) hand and I had rejammed only to get snapped and eventually bust KK. Would’ve been pretty sick, I thought. I had to focus though, with the final two tables in sight.

The pay jumps in the final 2 tables were pretty serious, and there was obviously a lot at stake. There was no room for error, no loose calls pre, no light 3bet jams, no +EV spot to forego. I was pretty short all this while and one of the key hands on the final two tables saw indianpro bust PabloEscobar’s KK after he called his jam with A5o. Couldn’t help but feel bad for Pablo, even with all his wealth and drug money;) But couldn’t help but feel happy for myself. Any pay jumps were crucial, any eliminations were most welcome.

I entered the final table as one of the shortest, if not THE shortest stack. 100bb and a dream had quickly become 15bb and a distant dream. Final table play was expectedly a bit cagey, with all the big money that was on the line. It was at this point that two good regs, brointer and iveyleague started to apply a lot of ICM pressure on the shorter stacks. I had no option but to be patient, even as I saw a couple of stacks bigger than, mine fall by the wayside. Patience, dude.  I remember the final 6 like it was yesterday. Indianpro’s chiplead had gone and he was visibly tilted. Gaurav Mittal (DraGgerer) was short, but playing solid. Like I said, iveyleague and brointer were putting a lot of pressure, and Ashish Munot (omg_spew) is always a big threat. I had to wait for one of Gaurav or indianpro to bust, even though I was just surviving with 10bb myself. There was a point when I ended up making an extremely nitty fold with KQs to brointer’s UTG open when I had just 6.5bb. I figured even though he’s opening very wide and KQs is way ahead of his range, I had almost no fold equity.

A few hands later, Munot had busted, and now I was crippled. With a 4.5bb stack and my blinds approaching, I jammed K4o UTG 5-handed and got looked up by brointer who had JTs. K4 for the win, baby! I had a mini card rush at this point, which saw me jamming 4-5 hands in a row and getting it through every time. I had doubled up without showdown, pretty sweet. Very next hand I picked up JhJs UTG and decided to go ahead and jam again, figuring I won’t get too much credit for a big hand now and might get called light. One for the highlights, this one – DraGgerer snaps with TT. Flop T83 all hearts, sigh. Turn Ah, commmeee onnnn!!! River Ad, holy hell. No matter how positive you are in life, when you lose JJ to TT at a moment like this, so close to the summit, you begin to feel that it’s not meant to be. God is kind, though. A few steals and re-steals later, I had 25bb again DraGgerer jammed 9 bigs from the cutoff. I snapped him with KcTc and he had Qc9c. We both made our flush and my good friend from good ol’ Delhi was out for a superb 5th place finish. Three players with 30bb and one with 45bb now. The big question was – To Deal or Not to Deal? 4th place paid 16L, 1st paid 60. It was a no-brainer – with relatively even stacks and 3 good opponents, the deal was always on.

The GameChanger was a life changer of sorts. No, I’m not gonna play super high stakes cash now. No, I’m not gonna play the next Super High Roller with Stephen Fucking Chidwick and Brynn Kenney. It’s a mindset change. It’s a platform, a headstart like I said. On to bigger things in poker, and in life. Like I said on the night of February 24th, this may be my biggest win by far, and sure the money feels good. But it’s the exhilaration of being the last man standing (one of the last 4 men in this case) especially in a tournament of this magnitude that doesn’t even compare to the few lakhs my bank account is richer by.

Lastly, I would be failing in my duties if I didn’t thank a few people. Navkiran Singh, Varun Ganjoo, Sanket Sanganeria, Anirudh Chadhary, Avneesh Rana, Chirag Sodha and the entire PokerBaazi team for this giant of an effort. Such a sick tournament, with an even sicker response. Navi bhaiya especially for converting his thoughts and vision into reality. My mentors – Dhaval Mudgal and Prabhat Kiran Mukherjea for all the advice and hand history. Abhishek Rathod and Vivek Rughani for always disagreeing with me respectfully and telling me in the best way possible why a particular play is good or bad or better than another. Shravan Chhabria and Samay Parikh, two of my favourite players for always backing me and for constantly being an inspiration. And a long list of friends in poker, all of whom have stood by me for as long as I can think – Aditya Chaudhary, Madhur Khosla, Ujjawal Verma, Savar Trehan, Vishal Marwaha, Kunal Chaudhary, Arjun Agrawal, Abhinav Iyer, Siddharth Karia, Nishant Sharma, Anant Purohit, Zarvan Tumboli, Irshad Chaudhary and Abhijeet Sanyal. Hope to win many more tournaments and write many more blogs in times to come. Baazigar for life! J

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