We all know about Paawan Bansal’s brilliant run up to Day 5 of the World Series of Poker Main Event this year in Las Vegas. He managed to take 124th position and a $53k+ payout. Today we take a look at not just his 2017 Vegas journey but all three of his trips to the casino capital and the impression it made on him as a poker professional.

Las Vegas 1.0: 2011

A Brief History:

A 20-year-old Paawan reached Las Vegas with college friends amidst a huge upswing on Full Tilt Poker in 2011. Flush with a sizeable bankroll and a youngster’s debonair spirit, Bansal snuck into the casinos with a fake ID as he had not reached the permissible age limit of 21. Primarily an online cash game PLO player, the Meerut born had been grinding for 3 years on Full Tilt having moved up the stakes to play up to $100/$200 tables. Back then there were few educational videos on YouTube and avenues to improve your game were limited; so, Bansal had to resort to learning from his own mistakes.

Paawan Bansal in 2011 (Picture courtesy: IPC)

The Trip:

Unlike most first timers in Vegas, Bansal was neither overawed nor overwhelmed. On the contrary, he had quite the first ‘Vegas experience’. The trip itself was divided into two parts – the first was a Hangover-movie styled weekend with college friends and intermittent stops at the felts. The second was a month-long grind in the Vegas casinos at the cash tables.

Although he played a couple of WSOP satellites, Bansal did not partake in any of the actual tournaments on this trip including the Main Event. “I didn’t want to risk 10k for the Main Event because I was 20 and I wasn’t sure about how the cash outs would work if I was caught for being underage,” he sheepishly recalls.

He mostly grinded at the cash tables. Starting with $2k, he went on quite the heater. In fact, his confidence, at one point, burgeoned to such levels, that he sat down at a $10k buy-in table in Aria with $100/$200 blinds against pros Huck SeedDaniel Alaei and Ted Forrest, and left the table after winning a huge hand worth $18k against Huck Seed.

By the end of the trip, Bansal had made over $20k, although when he got back from Vegas, he had only $1,500 in his pockets. But, his shopping exploits are for another time.

Lessons Learnt:

I’d always imagined that Vegas was the toughest place in the world to play poker professionally and to do it at that age, meant that I could play against the best in years to come if I worked hard at my game. It was a huge confidence booster given I had not played much live poker until then.

Las Vegas 2.0: 2016

A Brief History:

A 5-year gap ensued between trips 1 and 2. Among other things, Full Tilt had shut down, he’d migrated to poker sites in India and completed college in the interim period. Much travel had also transpired. Trips to Australia, Manila, Macau, Monte Carlo, Prague, Vienna and many more places later, Paawan arrived for the 2016 World Series of Poker a much wiser and accomplished poker player. Additionally, he was now the PokerBaazi Team Pro and as such, shouldered a lot more responsibility; a far cry from the rebellious, carefree Paawan of 2011. He also arrived in Vegas on the back of a somewhat disappointing European sojourn where despite finishing second in a WPT Vienna event there was little more to celebrate.

The Trip:

Experience in Vegas, though, does not always count for much he was to soon find out.

Paawan Bansal at the 2016 WSOP

Bansal reached Las Vegas 10 days before the WSOP on account of the Baazi Poker Tour schedule. As a result, his preparations were not ideal. “It was still my first year of traveling as a pro and living the high variance MTT-life. I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to put myself through such emotional swings. There was added pressure of having to follow a schedule and not being able to do things the way I had been doing since I was 18. So, I remember not being very happy on this trip.

Bansal started the Main Event well and had an above-average stack going into Day 3. A questionable hand and flip later, he was out and the feeling of going out at such a crucial stage was not good – he exited a couple of hours before the bubble burst. Feedback from others confirmed that he should have toned down his aggression that close to the money. “I felt like sh*t at the time. Busting two hours before the money bubble was the worst experience I’ve had in my MTT career.

He competed in three other world series tournaments besides the Main Event, but bricked those as well.

Lessons Learn:

All in all, the trip was rather contrasting to his first one.

I tried to ensure I did not get bogged down by this experience. I also made the decision to transition from a cash game player to a tournament player for most part of the year. The rush of playing deep in tournaments was magnified at the WSOP and I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. “The true feeling of competitiveness in poker comes in tournaments. You also travel around a lot and that would probably not happen if I only played cash games.

Las Vegas 3.0: 2017

A Brief History:

After deciding to play a lot more tournaments, Bansal spent most of the last 12 months grinding online tournaments and traveling.

Results improved over time with increased volume. He was the Baazigar of the Series in one season of the PokerBaazi Premier League and finished 4th and 5th in the others. In live events, Bansal final tabled one of the major tournaments in Macau PokerStars Championship and came into the 2017 WSOP in much higher spirits than the previous year.

The Trip:

The WSOP began on a good note for Bansal with a cash in one of the early events, although he failed to do so in any of the following events before the Main. “I still felt I was playing close to my best, but kept running into bad situations. I had a feeling it was all leading up to a deep run in the ME. Call it superstition.

Funnily enough, this may all have turned out very differently. Unable to transfer money into his travel card because banks in India were shut because of the weekend, Bansal could not muster up enough funds to play the Main Event. He eventually had to sell some dollars on Stars and borrow the rest. Finally, he entered the Main Event on Day 1C at the very last minute.

I had made peace with the fact that I was not going to play the Main Event this year. So, on Monday morning when I finally managed to gather the funds and register, I hadn’t given one thought of how I was going to play in the tournament which might have been a blessing in disguise.

The Main started ominously. On the first hand, Bansal raised with   , got one caller, and the flop ran out   . Bansal check called on the flop and the turn brought a King. He check-raised a small turn bet to see his opponent call. After another brick on the river, he bet big and the villain called after tanking for a considerable time showing K-J. He knew he needed to tone it down a notch.

Thereafter, things started picking up gradually and he finished Day 1 with a 70k stack – just about the average.

Day 2 was rather swingy. He went up to 200k before going on a terrible run of cards. He lost with KK to AA against Jay Farber in one hand and was on the receiving end of a stone-cold bluff later. The day ended with a stack of 100k – 50 big blinds.

Things again started to look up on Day 3. He ran amok near the money bubble to build up his stack after playing some of his best poker earlier on in the day, busting British pro Sam Grafton along the way. He began Day 4 with 500k. After the bubble had burst, his philosophy thereon was to not worry about pay jumps and just take every +ev spot. However, that proved difficult to execute with the tournament chip leader being placed on Bansal’s immediate left for the day. Forced to play safe, he barely added to his stack that day and finished at nearly half the average.

One of the his best played hands came when he drew 2 Aces (one of them spades) on Day 4. With a similar stack, the UTG called his raise and the flop was   . Paawan raised half pot and got called again. The turn was a Queen. Both players checked and the river came out a 4, pairing the board. The opponent led out this time with a huge bet of three-fourth the pot size. “Theoretically I think I’m supposed to call there, but I saw a slight twitch in his eye – something I’d seen on a hand before. After tanking for over 10 minutes I laid down my hand,” recalls Bansal. In a conversation with the player later in the day, he was to find that his opponent had pocket Queens.

Bansal’s run finally came to an end on Day 5. In one hand, a recreational player in the hijack opened to 60k at 12k/24k. Bansal made it 150k from the button. The villain jammed with 800k and Bansal called with his AK. His opponent showed deuces. Bansal won that hand to take his stack to 1.6m. However, he was to lose out to the very same player after a few hours. With J-4 suited, Bansal made the call from the big blind to the villain’s pre-flop raise. The flop came out J-4-6 with 2 diamond. Bansal check raised and his opponent immediately jammed all his chips into the pot, drawing an easy call. With 5-7, his opponent showed an open-ender and hit his straight on the river with an 8 to send our maverick out of the Main Event.

Lessons Learn: 

The Main Event is a different beast all-together. It does not compare to any other tournament on the planet.

Speaking of the various tips one can only pick up at the WSOP Main Event, he said, “If you get a poor table draw, then you have to wait it out patiently.You have to tighten up when the situation demands and vice versa. Keep doing research on your table every single day. You can end up against the best players in the world or sitting next to the biggest fishes. Anything is possible. It all comes down to how well you navigate your tables. Finally, I learnt that you have to keep hanging in there regardless of your stack size. Anything can happen, so never give up.

Related Posts