Big Bet: Dhaval Mudgal

Big Bet: Dhaval Mudgal

Being the son of Hindustani classical singer Shubha Mudgal, entering into the world of music was the most obvious step for Dhaval Mudgal, but that’s not where he stopped. After being the lead vocalist of the rock band Half Step Down, he decided to go all-in and took up playing poker professionally. In an exclusive interview, he talks to us about his style of gaming, the changing face of the game in India, and more. Edited excerpts follow.

You left your career as a musician to become a full-time poker player. How and when did you decide that you want to make this big switch? Did you have a ‘Plan B’, just in case things didn’t work out well?
Yes, I was a musician before I decided to become a poker player, so I guess I always had that cushion to fall back on. I don’t think I had a ‘Plan B’ per se, because once I decided to commit to the game, there wasn’t any looking back for me.

What would you say has been your biggest risk on the poker table? 
I feel the fact that while playing poker, the players regularly put themselves out there, focussing on the process rather than the outcome is one big risk that we all take. 

If you were to choose one player to look up to while playing, who would it be? Also, who is that one player against whom you wish to play?
English player Stephen Chidwick for both. It’s always Stevie. 

What according to you is that one misconception that people usually associate with poker? 
In my opinion, people still believe that poker is like gambling, rather than a skill game. Also, they tend to overlook the fact that we study hard to become better at the game, and only see our wins but not the journey.

Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. How do you cope with losses when you play? Is there a strategy in mind to get over a past defeat and come out winning with flying colours on your next game?
The mental game is a big part of succeeding in poker. So, I tend to detach myself from results and only try and work on playing my hands correctly. 

How would you define your style of playing—aggressive and competitive or calm and composed? 
I’d like to think that I’m a balanced mix of both but my regular opponents might disagree. 

Poker enjoys quite a bit of popularity on the international front with many tournaments and championships happening around the world. However, it is still a growing field in India. How do you see the growth of this game on the home turf?
India is the next emerging poker market and it is amazing how this game has grown even with the regressive tax policies that the government imposes on us. Indian tournaments have only been growing in number and strength and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. Hopefully, the government will recognise this as a skill game and then the poker market in India can grow. 

Over the last few years, many online poker gaming portals have established themselves in the market. Do you see this growth as an acceptance of the game for the Indian audience? 
Indian poker gaming portals have been doing amazingly well but I still see the need to put in some safeguards. Competitions like the Poker Sports League have helped in adding legitimacy to the sport. 

How different is it playing poker online as compared to an actual card game on the table?
I prefer live poker over online games any day of the week. Trying to understand how a person plays based on their personality is so much fun. Playing online works towards improved equity expectancy due to the fact that you can play many tables at the same time. 

Let’s say if someone decides to take up playing poker online, what pointers or tips will you give to them?
Study the rules, create bankroll limits and learn to enjoy the game.

Every game teaches you a life lesson. What is that one lesson you have learned from the game?
Poker teaches you many life lessons. The freedom it affords me to live life on my terms is something that I’m deeply attracted to. In the larger sense of things, poker teaches you to think about the process and not care about the outcome, which is slightly Bhagavad Gita-ish, if you know what I mean. 

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