Vinny Pahuja has played as a live poker pro most of his career, grinding in cash games in his hometown of New York City and in the Northeast. Starting in 2007 he started a successful foray into the live tournament poker circuit, where he racked up more than 50 cashes and four tournament wins while accumulating $905,916 in career earnings.He had started to play online sporadically during the last year with the Sunday tournaments and a few of the Wednesday and Tuesday tournaments. That will all change for Pahuja moving forward as he will now move back to his bread-and-butter, the live cash games that he built his bankroll in along with a few of the large tournament series. “Moving forward I’m going to play a lot more live cash just given this scenario and the world we live in now,” said Pahuja.Pahuja turned 32 in April so he was already keen to cut down on his travel. “Just the grind of traveling the circuit around has worn on me. I’ve never been staked either so I play on my own so that has always weighed on me a little bit too. I was planning on putting in a fair amount of volume this year, but after the 15th of April I have changed a lot of my thinking. As far as the Series is concerned I’m probably playing anywhere between 25 and 30 tournaments between the World Series and Venetian. I would say my average buy-in over the summer is going to be between $1,500 and $2,000. You will see me in pretty much all of those and obviously the main event,” said Pahuja of his summer plans.He continued, “Because I’m not staked I don’t see myself playing in a lot of the $5k or $10k buy-ins because it is just too high variance for me. That being said, I’m considering putting a package together and trying to see if there is some interest in some of the bigger buy-ins. That is something I’m actually working on the next few days. I’m definitely going to be out there for at least six weeks playing in a lot of events. Any no-limit event basically with a buy-in of $2,500 or below you’ll see me in.”That is what he is working on in the short term but read on below for an open discussion with Pahuja on what Black Friday means for poker and where online players might run into trouble with their transition into live cash games:Ryan Lucchesi: What are the cash games and tournaments like in the Northeast region where you live?Vinny Pahuja: I live in New York City so it’s pretty convenient in the sense that Atlantic City is two hours away and Foxwoods is about two hours away so it’s pretty central. I grind a lot in the New York City cash games as well. So for me it makes sense because the games in the Northeast tend to be much softer than the games you find in Las Vegas or California where the players are much more aggressive and savvy. I’m not sure why that is but the games and the tournaments here are much softer.Most of my family is located here as well and I have real estate investments and other interests that keep me busy. For whatever reason, when you go to Atlantic City and Foxwoods, many people will tend to agree that players on the East Coast are just a lot more passive. In a game like no-limit hold’em where aggression is really important you tend to do much better here. When you go out West you’re going to get a variety of different players and even your more recreational player is going to play more aggressively. It makes them tougher to play against. It’s kind of bizarre.RL: What has been your experience with the New York City cash games?VP: I started playing in them when I graduated from NYU back in 2003. Right when Moneymaker won was when it took off. The Mayfair was already closed for a while in ’03 but there were numerous smaller clubs that the hard-core card players were still involved in, and then when the poker boom took off a huge variety of clubs took off. And then in ’05-’06 New York City and the mayor cracked down on a lot of those illegal gambling houses.Just because of the sheer number of people in New York you still see a lot of investment bankers and traders and lawyers, guys who just have a ton of discretionary income and love to gamble who don’t feel the need to go down to Atlantic City, it’s just much easier for them to just roll out of their apartments. So you have these smaller games, and there are larger games too, but a lot of them are on an invite-only basis…Because a lot of the games are underground a lot of the operators of these games are a little bit more careful as to who they let in because of what happened in ’05-’06. I think they realize that there are more people looking for action but you are still seeing people being very diligent about who they are letting into their clubs.RL: Have any of your friends who play more online come to you for advice since Black Friday since you are an established live cash-game player?VP: Here and there, a buddy of mine who really, really focused on online MTT’s and sit-and-goes has definitely asked me about certain hands in certain spots. Questions like, “With 300 big blinds deep in this particular spot in a tournament is so easy to play but I’m not sure how to play it in a cash game given these stacks, what do you think?”I’m definitely seeing more of that, I’m definitely seeing more of my peers who really aren’t used to playing over 100 blinds deep ever are saying, “Hey, what would you do in this spot, or hey, what do you think of this?” A lot of people at first, if you read the forums on two-plus-two and others people were licking their chops when this happened. A lot of the live pros thought, “Oh, these internet players aren’t going to know what’s going on.” I think we’re selling a lot of these internet players a little bit short. Obviously there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve and some adjustment for them, boredom probably being the biggest issue that they are going to have to deal with. These kids are really smart and once they start talking to each other and once they start plugging their leaks, coming from an online background to a live background and playing much deeper and playing only one table I think you’re going to start seeing these games get much tougher.I think just to start out you might see the games a little bit softer just because the internet players are going to have to make the adjustment of saying, “Listen, I’m only playing one table, I’m playing much deeper, I can’t just four-bet and five-bet every hand like I was able to online.” People aren’t just going to give you that respect. I think at first there will be a little bit of an adjustment, but these guys are really smart and I see a lot of them making that adjustment.Live poker is pretty high variance because you really can only play one table at a time. I think what you’re going to see is that in the short term some of the variance is really going to dictate if somebody is going to make it. If you have someone who has $30,000 still stuck online and they only have $12,000 to their name. They might go to live games and play in the $2-$5 and $5-$10 and potentially they aren’t going to be rolled for those games. If they start their live cash-game career on a downswing, and it is a very normal thing, you can play your next 10 or 20 sessions and just not do well. Unfortunately, variance is going to dictate in the short-term a lot of guys who end up surviving. It’s one thing to just say, “I know I’m good enough to play $5-$10” and it’s another thing to be rolled for $5-$10.If you’re playing multiple tables online you can you can navigate through some of that variance due to the fact that you’re playing multiple tables and you can really get the maximum out of your hourly rate. When you’re playing live there are only a certain number of hands you can see live and that really increases your variance. I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to see a lot of people who unfortunately go broke and you’re going to see some people who take a lower variance approach and either sell off part of their action or just play smaller.For example, my brother just moved down to Florida with his girlfriend and he just turned pro. He’s good enough to play $5-$10 or higher but I told him, “You need to approach this in a very, very careful way. While you’re good enough to play $5-$10, and you may be bored playing $2-$5 and even $1-$2 occasionally you need to be smart about the games you play and take this and treat it for the long run.” That is the advice I gave to my brother so it’s the same advice I would give to someone else who doesn’t have $50,000 or more to spend on playing live cash. The guys who approach things patiently, those are the guys who are going to last.This has to be tough for a lot of the guys who are in the early 20s and they have been playing professionally for a couple of years now. They have paid their dues online and climbed up the curve to the point where they are world class as far as online MTTers are concerned and now they have to sort of start from scratch again. They have to learn a game, whether it be live MTTs, which is really difficult to have a career just playing live MTTs because of the variance. What a lot of guys will end up doing as a default is that they will play live mid-stakes cash. Variance doesn’t differentiate between those who play good and those who play bad so in those situations game selection and bankroll management for these guys is going to be really critical.I consider myself pretty lucky because these are skills that I have coming in as a live cash-game player before I decided to jump into live tournaments. I had a good run there but it is exhausting. Game selection and bankroll management are just engrained in my mind when I go to play somewhere. Unfortunately a lot of these online guys are going to have a rude awakening and the guys who are prepared for it and who are savvy and smart and rolled and are conservative with their bankroll are going to be more likely to survive to the long term than some of their peers.RL: What do you think the future holds for online poker?VP: The market is just too big in the states for there not to be legalized online poker at some point. Whether that is 18 months down the road or three years down the road I think something is going to happen and I think most people would probably agree with that. Whether or not it is to the scale that Full Tilt and Stars crated the last 3-5 years, I don’t know. I don’t know if the infrastructure will be just U.S. players playing against U.S. players, but I will say this, some of the guys either need to step away from the game and do something else, whether it is to go back to school or pursue other jobs. Guys who haven’t finished college are going to have a really, really tough time.It’s a scary time. A lot of my friends who were predominantly online grinders, they lost a very, very good job. It was a job that a lot of people thought was impervious to the economy. The poker economy as a whole is huge in a way but it is also very isolated. It was very hard for any player to fathom the amount of how serious this issue really was. It’s a shame. I feel really lucky. I only had $1,200 on Full Tilt at the time, and I didn’t have anything on Stars because I used my remaining balance to buy in to the PCA . Some of my friends had thousands online or more.It will be pretty interesting to see what happens at the World Series . Some people are looking at Black Friday as an opportunity and some people are looking at Black Friday as a means to change careers. You have to look at it on a domestic level and an international level. I think on the international level you’re still going to see huge growth. I don’t think it has stopped at all on an international level. Domestically it’s an interesting issue. It depends on how people’s bankrolls look like after the World Series . You might see the industry as a whole shrink. I think you will see that some of these sites who were just living off of the American market will exit. You’re going to see a lot of people who were playing professionally exit as well.Once there is regulation and infrastructure in place where the government is taxing and regulating and people feel comfortable putting in money and taking it out on their credit cards there will be resurgence, until that happens I don’t think you will see a particular resurgence of the game in the states. That’s just my guess, I could be wrong. I feel like poker will eventually come back in the States and I think the poker world will be ready for a new injection of recreational players.RL: What do you think the future holds for your poker career?VP: I’ve already started to make a little bit of a transition away from focusing my entire time on poker. I do have some real estate commitments with my family that need my attention over the next couple of years. I started to transition away from the circuit grind, which is why you haven’t seen me on the West Coast at all this year. For me poker is always going to be a pretty big part of my life. It’s been a great run for me, in the past four or five years I have met a lot of really awesome people playing on the circuit and I have gotten to go to a lot of places that I wouldn’t have otherwise.Now that I’m a little bit older and I’ve got some responsibilities at home that I need to take care of, poker may take a backseat to some more important obligations I have. I’m always going to love the game and that’s why my focus in the short term after the World Series will be live cash games. It’s a new challenge and I think it’s going to be really interesting because for so long I removed myself from the cash-game world and I was just focusing on tournaments. I really enjoyed it but I feel like the cash games are always going to be there and they are going to offer consistent income if you’re a solid winner.
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