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A Chat with Dhaval Mudgal, the first WPT Vietnam Main Event champion

On October 2, 2018, one of India’s highly colorful poker players, Dhaval “Dirty” Mudgal clinched his first-ever major international poker title. He overcame the 679 entry field of the inaugural WPT Vietnam Main Event at Pro Poker Club in Ho Chi Minh City and pocketed VND 2,427,580,000 (~US$104,000). The day after, the champ sat down with Somuchpoker to share the story of his victory, his journey, and much more.

Dhaval Mudgal

SMP: How does it feel winning your first major international poker title?

Dhaval: It’s only sinking in now when I woke up with all the messages. It’s pretty exciting. I’ve been working hard towards this for a long time so it’s really very exciting.

SMP: Must be! Congratulations! How long have you been in the scene?

Dhaval: I’ve been playing for around 7 to 8 years but professionally for about 3 to 4 years.

SMP: So just a quick jump back to the game, what would you say were your key moments?

Dhaval: Definitely that shove with 10-6 hearts on the button called by A-9 and we chopped that pot when the board ran 88822 full house. I was the shortest at that time so that was really important coz we were still six-handed. And then I picked up a bit of a rush. I picked up aces in a very nice spot and doubled up. From there I could exert some pressure. Apart from that though, I took four bullets in the main but I was able to bag quite a bit for Day 2.

SMP: That was actually in my list of questions. We saw you enter a few times, wondered what that lucky bullet number was.

Dhaval: Well just four but Danny was trying to make a joke. He asked me if I played Day 1A because how could I not have six bullets (laughs) but I gave up on one try in Day 1A.

Dhaval Mudgal goes back to work
Dhaval Mudgal

SMP: So what does this huge victory mean to you in terms of your poker goals?

Dhaval: I’ve been working a lot, spending a lot of time in the lab. I’ve been studying. Getting coaching. So it feels like validation and that always feels really nice if you put in the work. That’s really exciting. Also, it gives me the opportunity to play more tournaments which is essentially what poker players do. Win some so they can put more time in poker, also there are more stops coming up.

SMP: Oh so when you say coaching, you’ve been getting mentored?

Dhaval: I’ve been working with the softwares that everyone uses and I taught myself nowadays. I do have coaches as well. All the experience and being around for so many years does help. It helps you pace yourself through tournaments with large fields. Work off the felt is definitely helping.

SMP: Does this mean you’ll start playing higher buy-ins maybe try to play in higher leagues?

Dhaval: I only play semi-high buy-in events in Asia, not the really big ones, but up to the $4K and $5k buyins, I play them quite regularly so not really gonna go too hard off my league just yet but it gives you the opportunity to sell action and play some bigger ones as well.

SMP: We couldn’t help but notice there’s a big showing of Indian players here in Vietnam.

Dhaval: Some of us came last time for APL Vietnam and everyone really liked the city, and the place is cheap, it’s nice, the poker is pretty great, and the numbers are growing fantastically. Some of the guys find a lot of Indian food so they feel comfortable. There’s great camaraderie. Everyone comes out to support each other. At the main, you could hear the rail loudly so that was nice. Everyone’s really putting in the work so it’s exciting to see everyone doing well.

Now the APT numbers are going up for sure coz all of the Indian guys are staying back to play the APT and I have the cash to give them (laughs). It just worked out for the APT. Like 20 more bullets for everyone to enter (laughs).

SMP: It’s really great to see these numbers because it seems the live scene in India is struggling as compared to online that’s just thriving. What are your thoughts on that situation?

Dhaval: Obviously overheads are an issue coz live poker is only legal in Goa and Sikkim and Bangalore I think. Overheads are pretty high when you are traveling to tourist destinations. There are so many large guarantees now online at a bunch of sites so people are like “I can just sit at home and play”. They try to make more money there instead of having to go to Goa, buy a flight, buy hotel.

But essentially our problem is the tax. We pay 30% not on profit but on winnings. So if I buy in for $1K and I cashed $10K, I don’t pay on $9K, I pay tax on the full $10K. We’re hoping for better legislation for these things. We’ve got people working on it but since it is election year, nobody cares. Maybe next year.

It is picking up though. Adda52 is doing a lot for the live scene. Then there’s WPT India coming in November. Last time they had 527 so that was pretty big. I don’t think we’ll beat the numbers here in Vietnam but we could potentially get pretty close.

Dhaval Mudgal and Tricia David

SMP: Is there a strong showing of foreign players that also attend?

Dhaval: No, not at all. At WPT, Bryan Huang came down, Pete Chen came down. Pete came coz he was chasing the WPT Asia Player of the Year. No international player wants to come down and pay 30% tax coz even the international players have to pay. It makes no sense for them to come in. I always tell them to look at it like a holiday coz Goa’s really nice but otherwise it’s definitely not a plus ev.

SMP: So how often do you play the live events there given the crazy tax?

Dhaval: (laughs) I play pretty much all the events in Goa. I’m missing one now. I’m still making money so it’s okay. And for poker players to get bank transfer, instead of dealing with cash, it’s really nice. The field is also still incredibly weak so that way it’s exciting. But we’re aware it is not fantastic in terms of the tax. It’s also nice that all the regs show up and it’s like home for everyone in Goa. Everyone who started playing poker started in Goa.

SMP: We also noticed you’re involved with the Poker Sports League. Can you tell us more about it?

Dhaval: Poker Sports League is like a teams format. The WPT teams event was kind of based on the PSL, I believe. They worked out the kinks of the PSL and fixed it. Essentially there are 12 teams made up of 10 players each. There’s one captain, I’m the captain of one of the teams. Two international wild cards. Two indian pros. Then there are five qualifiers from online and line. You get them all together, you coach them a bit, then you play them in fields of different formats – heads up, PLO, normal MTTs, turbos, and then you accumulate points. Those points will finally determine your stack at the final table. That’s when you play each other for a fair amount of money. You play in a tag team format where it’s the captain and two players of his choice that you rotate with at every level. My team won this year, the Goan Nuts. So it’s been a good year. I can’t complain.

SMP: So you were a team captain, you’ve been successful in the circuit, you’ve become quite a prominent member of the Indian poker community. There are many young players that look up to you, how about you? Got any idols of your own?

Dhaval: I feel like favorite poker players change through the years and I probably can’t look past Steve Chidwick, he’s fantastic, but I recently got a chance to work with Dylan Linde in the PSL and I think he’s fantastic. Just really like the way he thinks and talks about the game. Everyone starts with like Daniel Negreanu and then later, okay no, definitely not.

SMP: Did anyone mentor you when you started to play poker?

Dhaval: No not really. All the guys at the top in India all pretty much started together, apart from a couple of the young guys, and just learned by playing a lot and learning from mistakes. When we started playing poker we weren’t really taking it seriously. It was just like a great game that we had found to play. That was about 8 years ago or less. And the kind of information that’s available today was not that easily available as well. So we just learned by trial and error then now that we are putting in study it is more concise.

SMP: When was the turning point when you decided to approach the game more professionally? Did you just change the study or let’s say your lifestyle?

Dhaval: Not really. Just coming to peace with the nature of the game. The fact that you have to still try and play your best and you really can’t control what happens after in terms of getting beats and being tilted and stuff like that. So once you start making peace with that it becomes so much easier and you can approach it with the idea that you can’t change what happens. I think in terms overall mentality, just having more focus and discipline even if I myself am still trying to get there. But this time three four days in the main, I didn’t go out on all four nights. We had a large contingent going out drinking. I just had a quick beer with them and always leave for home. I was waking up in the morning, meditating, I guess things worked. There’s a clear difference. I don’t know if I am going to keep taking this path (shrugs and laughs).

SMP: Any advice you would give to the new players out there?

Dhaval: I feel like alot of poker players take it seriously and they just keep playing and playing, then go back home and play online. I feel like this game is giving us such a great opportunity to travel to new places. We talk about having balance and ranges in poker but we should also have balance in our lives. Do things that make you happy as well in addition to poker. Don’t burn out. You don’t realize sometimes when you are running bad. You hate the world and not happy about anything. So much nicer to take some time off. And in a big tournament, to pace yourself. Not panicking and not overdoing it. Understand when you can boss the table around and when to let somebody else have that time.

SMP: That’s certainly great advice. Want to send a shout out to anyone to wrap this up?

Dhaval: Ya definitely to the whole Indian poker crew that’s here in Vietnam, the awesome loud rail, I love it, and so much support in the system, that’s lovely.

SMP: Thanks Dhaval and congratulations again!

Interview by Tricia David


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