Interview with Shyam Srinivasan
This week I got a rare chance to interview Shyam Srinivasan (a.k.a. G'sZee or s_dot111 online). He was kind enough to open up about his personal experiences with online and live poker, and what the scene is like right now from a professional's point of view.
When did you start playing poker? Were you the typical "I deposited $50 on my parent's credit card and never looked back?"
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"I think it was a little different for me back then. I discovered holdem playing with friends originally, and I started taking it seriously after my second year of college. I found a guy that brought me to a 1/2 no-limit cash game, got curious, and wanted to get better. It really wasn't easy back then... I started playing back in 2006, and there just wasn't as much material online like there is now. I experimented with cash games but I just wasn't good enough at the beginning. I started hosting small poker games, and that brought me a revenue stream to deposit online with... I ended up getting my head kicked in there too."
How fast did the success come?
"I would deposit four-hundred or five-hundred at a time - got my head kicked in a bunch - a lot of times I was playing the nightly schedule. I remember having a break in a turbo hundo and won like 3k off that - so that was pretty big at the time. I also won a seat to a World Series $1500 event - blew it with 75 players left. My buddy convinced me to buy into the last $1500 event before we were supposed to fly out, I wasn't even going to play it, but I bought in anyways and ended up making the final table for 70k. That was my first trip to Vegas. I had taken 10k with me, and that was all the money I had at the time. After that I started battling the World Poker Tour, but I was too aggressive with it. I basically shot the entire 70k off, and rebuilt from like 2k. I started depositing again, and went on a huge run on Fulltilt. It was different back then - it was actually possible to have a 100% ROI. I became that best MTT player on Fulltilt around 2010-2011."
"Last year I had a tough year and literally rebuilt my game from the ground up. I worked with some of the best players and tried to take the best qualities out of all of their games and formulate my own. I think I'm better now than I have ever been."
Do you think the underground scene in Toronto has helped your game progress in your earlier years?
"Actually, it has helped me a lot this year because I was playing high stakes underground games and it let me get my feet wet. So all of that cash play translated into myself becoming a better player in MTT's - especially now where the new live MTTs have made their structures a lot better - it just caters to better players. After playing a bunch of MTTs and what not, and having all the experience playing cash, it's just helped me out a lot. Having guys like Ankush (Ankush Mandavia a.k.a. pistons87), Cal (Calvin Anderson a.k.a. cal42688), and Griff (Griffin Benger a.k.a. Flush_Entity) to talk strategy with has really helped my game progress. It's good to be able to get their advice on tricky situations, and only certain guys like them are able to navigate through them. There may only be a couple times when you hit a brick wall but it's crucial to figure those spots out. Sometimes you get in these insanely weird spots that you never see anywhere else, and it's good to have a support team like that to consult."
How different is online compared to what it was 8 years ago? 3 years ago? How has the game changed?
"I think a lot of it is solving and stuff with HUDs, and it's made the game a lot more technical. It's becoming so much more mathematically solved. So many of these spots in MTTs involve short stacks and stuff that is already mathematically solved, but when you get deep - that's where a good player shines. You can't exploit a guy that only has 15bbs, but when you're deep and you have 150bbs - that's when it can get super technical."
"It's all groups now; the Toronto guys, the German guys, etc. It's all groups working together to solve these equations. If you're not a part of one of these groups - you don't have much of a chance at being the best. We're all working together to solve the game. It's hard to stay relevant. You'll see a lot of really good players come and go, because they don't have that support group. Look at some of these old timers - they can't even shake a stick at the new guys now - they're done - they're dead. You play against some of these guys from TV and what not, and you expect them to be super skilled - but they're not. The guys who are crushing are the one's studying the game, watching the videos, and talking to the top guys. It's not good enough to just peel a bunch of cards and gain experience - you need to actually sit down and study it... it takes a lot more than experience now. You see guys like Mooreman1 doing questionable shit in tourneys, and you have all these people criticizing him - but who are they to talk shit when he's crushing? Obviously he's doing something right by taking all these abstract lines, and making these so called questionable plays. People just don't know about all this. And what I'm telling you is coming from my own mistakes; I've seen and gone through a lot in this game. There are definitely levels to this. I've been studying harder to see how these guys are so good and why their strategy is so effective."
Do you have a certain bankroll management strategy? How many buy- ins should you have to play a particular MTT?
"It's more what is your skill level compared to what buy-in you're playing for. Let's say I'm playing way beneath my means (lower buy-in tournaments), then my ROI is going to be a lot higher. The best value is in these live tournaments and live events, because there are so many amateurs playing."
"It's different now; last year I came to a point where I was staking people and buying pieces, and I lost a bunch of money. And on top of that, things weren't going my way in tournaments. I decided I had a good track record and if I wanted to I could take a stake, and so that's what I did. It's very hard to get a live deal without an online stake. My online and live deal are separate but from the same guy."
If you could go back and talk to a younger version of yourself when you were first starting out in poker, what words of advice would you give your previous self?
"I would have put more of an emphasis on being involved in the poker community. And I would have stuck with cash games and not gone with MTTs. The (MTTs) are going to be less lucrative in the long run, but if you become a great cash game player your hourly would be higher, and your way of living would be better because you're dealing with less of a time commitment. An MTT grinder has to play eight to nine hours to get the job done, but a cash game player can get it done faster if they want. MTTs are just time consuming."
Most memorable moment in poker?
"It's tough to say, everything is relative. When Rounders first came out and was a big film at the time, that was the year I went to the World Series and I made that final table. I was suppose to go home the next day, but a friend of mine told me I just had to play the last event... so I played. I ended up getting seated at Johnny Chan's table - trapped him with aces and busted him... that was pretty memorable. And obviously the PCA was huge for me this year, it's a big deal just because it's one of the few tournaments where you can actually bank over a million dollars."
"Playing a lot of tournaments, and being able to evolve and get to this upper echelon is still a big experience for me. I'm really enjoying it, I'm learning a lot, and I think I have the tools to succeed at it in the long run. I'm so close now. I'm into all the EPTs and I'm making runs, I don't think I could let go of it, I just haven't got the satisfaction out of it yet. Until I can put down a major title, I don't think I'll rest. I'm not ready to part with poker until I get that."