Interview: Amit Sharma
High-stakes cash game player Amit Sharma isn't one to flinch at making a $1,000 bet. His aggressive style combined with the nose-bleed stakes he plays has resulted in some tremendous swings for this talented poker player. This week, Sharma shares a few insights with us on how to succeed at high-stakes no-limit games.
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PokerTips.org: When did you start playing poker?
Amit Sharma: I've been playing poker for almost two years now. I saw Rounders and then I saw Chris Moneymaker (a relative unknown) win it all on ESPN. Moneymaker turned $40 into $2.7 million, so I was definitely intrigued. I went to Atlantic City a few times and before I knew it, I became a regular at the Taj Mahal. Online poker followed shortly after that.
pt.o: What handle do you go by online? Why that name?
Sharma: My favorite site is Full Tilt Poker and I am StillLearning there. Why that name? Hmmm...
pt.o: What poker games do you generally play live and online (what stakes and locations)?
Sharma: I play mostly $10-$20 No Limit online. I drop down to $5-$10 NL if I'm performing poorly or bigger cash games aren't available. When I'm doing well, I play $25-$50 NL and even $50-$100 NL. $50-$100NL online is a crazy game, you can have $30,000 swings in under an hour. I have won a $22,000 pot against John Juanda at $50-$100 NL, and I lost a $21,000 pot against Phil Ivey at the same stakes. Live, I don't venture beyond $10-$20 NL because people are usually sitting with well over 5 grand at $10-$20 NL. Even $5-$10 NL games, $2,000 is a modest buy in for live games. I play bigger stakes online than live because there are max buy-ins in NL games. I'm not too good at limit games, but I've played $150-$300 Limit games online before. Again, $10,000 in 20 minutes is not even a big swing at those stakes (I've stopped playing limit after realizing that I don't really have a knack for it).
pt.o: Do you prefer online or live poker? Why?
Sharma: Really tough to answer that question, so I'll cop out and say that each has its benefits. Online, one can comfortably play 4 to 6 games at once and the speed of the games is incredible. You see 10 times more hands and play several times faster. Live, it's always fun to enjoy the ambience of high stakes poker tables. It's kind of fun to experience the psychological effects of winning or even losing a lot of chips or big bens. And I know it's kind of corny, but I definitely "feel like a high roller" when I'm counting out the hundred dollar bills to throw in the middle while drinking imported Fiji water.
pt.o: What are the most common mistakes that players make in the games that you play?
Sharma: There are several that come to mind. Many guys don't pay any attention to the hands where they are not directly involved. Many guys play "above their heads" in bigger cash games than they are currently capable of playing. Many guys "play scared" and focus on the size of the bet instead of its proportion to the pot. Those are the first few that come to mind, and I've been guilty of all of them myself.
pt.o: How do you capitalize on these mistakes?
Sharma: Well, I try to punish the weak-tight players by firing hundreds of dollars in just about every pot regardless of my holdings. They eventually get frustrated and loosen up their games a little but they don't have the experience to realize that most aggressive players tend to have strong hands in really big pots.
pt.o: How much per hour do you make at those games?
Sharma: This question is a lot easier for conservative players. I have a loose and aggressive style, so I tend to have huge swings. When I sit at my computer to play online poker, I might win or lose more than $10,000 in any given day. In a slow hour, I might win or lose $2,000. I love action, so there's plenty of gambling from behind. I've been playing poker for almost 2 years and I've made a few hundred thousand dollars in profit.
pt.o: How much money do you average per month playing poker?
Sharma: Again, I'm often a crazy gambler at the poker tables. That image helps me get action when I have big hands, but I also have losing months. In 2006, I won $51,000 in January, lost around $30,000 in February, won $82,000 in March (best month ever with the best day being up $36,000), lost $40K in April, lost $4K in May, and won $47K in June, lost $15K in July, and I'm currently up $25K for August (thanks to the tourists at Caesar's Palace that helped me win over $10K/day twice in the $5-$10 NL live games). My two biggest pots were a $22,000 win against John Juanda and a $21,000 loss to Phil Ivey. It's like Doyle Brunson says, you have to give action to get action. And I kind of feel good for the gamblers that win money from me instead of feeling bad that I lost it... it helps you stay centered.
pt.o: What is poker to you? A job, a side job, or a hobby?
Sharma: I love to play poker. I have never approached it as a job or even a side job. Hobby is too weak of a word to describe the passion I feel for poker. If a doctor tells me I have 24 hours left to live, I would round up all of my net worth and run to Bellagio and play in the biggest NL game I could find. All true gamblers have a certain disregard for money. When I'm doing well, I add to my collection of fancy watches and nice suits. When I'm doing poorly, I eat at McDonald's. But it's all little psychological quirks. I will get a "real job" at some point, but right now I feel like I'm sort of truly enjoying life in a transitional state.
pt.o: How often do you see people that you think are playing above their bankroll or skill level?
Sharma: I see that almost daily. But I think everyone should at least take shots at higher stakes from time to time. And it's poker, after all, so there are always gambling rushes. I've had guys sit with $200 or $400 against my $2,000 or $3,000 and they end up taking all of my money and then running away. They get lucky on one or two all-ins with their draws, get one set over set and before you know it, they are running to the cashier with a few thousand dollars from me or one of the other high stakes regulars. It's OK to take shots at bigger stakes, I do it myself. But on the whole, if you lose one or two buy-ins, you should go back down. I have seen guys lose their entire bankrolls because they refuse to accept that the game might be above their heads or that they are not sufficiently bankrolled for it.
pt.o: Are you interested in tournament play? Why or why not?
Sharma: I think cash games players are definitely vastly superior poker players than the guys that "get lucky" in tournaments. Most tournament champions would go broke if they played poker with guys like Barry Greenstein and Phil Ivey on a regular basis. I like big time tournaments and I'm interested in them because that's where a lot of the big money is. But I strongly believe that cash games require more poker prowess and skill than tourneys, so I prefer cash games to tournaments.
pt.o: What tips can you provide to an intermediate player looking to improve his game to the next level?
Sharma: I think most intermediate players know the math and statistics down cold, so they have a strong mathematical and logical basis for their decision-making. However, many of them fail to develop their "meta-games." What that means is that they are afraid to take risks beyond the math and numbers. Many don't realize that by losing or making loose calls and moves, they are able to make much more money in the long run because of the perception of rampant aggression. I donk off hundreds of dollars in every game preflop and even on the flop to develop an image of a loose or even a "bad" player. That way, I get paid off in huge pots because there's always that element of doubt that I might be making a "crazy move" again. One other thing that might help is reading books by guys like Brunson so you are not reinventing the wheel.