UK poker star Rajesh Modha talks exclusively to PokerPlayer: “If you can’t do anything about a situation you shouldn’t worry about it”

It was his first live tourney and he’s only been playing 18 months, but Rajesh Modha was a worthy winner

Rajesh Modha started playing poker about18 months ago, making a modest profit playing low stakes MTTs on Ladbrokes. Then he entered a $9 Poker Million satellite, won through to the televised heats and progressed to the final where he took out favourite Mel Judah before bagging the $1.2m first prize.

I bet you’ve been inundated with interview requests since your win…

Yes. I’ve done interviews with the radio, local newspapers, The Sun. It’s good but tiring, although the pluses outweigh the minuses.

And it’s great for the game.

I didn’t know anything about poker until a year and a half ago so I must be the luckiest man in the world.

You only started 18 months ago?

Yes, my brother taught me the basics but I didn’t like it the first few times we played. Then we started playing no-limit, which really opened my eyes. I joined Ladbrokes and started playing in small tourneys. I couldn’t play much because I was working, but I took time off work for the World Cup and started playing more.

What made you think of playing in the Poker Million?

I just saw the list of events happening, spotted the words Poker Million, and my eyes lit up.

Did you know it was a big TV tournament?

I didn’t know the exact format, I just knew it was called Poker Million and that the first prize was a million dollars. I only started looking more into it when I got through the daily final and into the weekly final, which was a $1,000 buy-in MTT. There were around 160-170 people playing and I had to come first or second to qualify. I knew I’d have to play well and get lots of luck along the way.

And you ended up beating Surindar Sunar heads-up?

Yeah, we’d already both qualified for the Poker Million at that point and I offered to do a deal a couple of times but he turned me down, so we played on and I ended up beating him, qualifying and getting the extra cash.

When you realised you’d qualified and that you were going to play in front of the TV cameras did you try and get lots more live experience?

I didn’t, because the casino in Northampton doesn’t do poker and I don’t have a circle of friends who play. People kept telling me live poker’s a different game but I didn’t really have a chance to find out. The first time I played live properly was in my televised heat.

So how did you manage to keep so amazingly calm?

That’s just how I am, it’s how I’ve lived my life. If you can’t do anything about a situation you shouldn’t worry about it. And if you can do something about it, stop worrying and do something about it. Obviously I was trying my hardest to keep up a good front and I knew I didn’t have the skills to beat most of the players I was up against, so I came up with lots of different strategies to throw them off my trail. I thought if they didn’t know what I was holding they couldn’t play me.

I noticed you always thought about your decisions, even when it was obvious what you were going to do. Was that a deliberate tactic?

Yeah, and I’ve read a few books about what people look for – facial expressions and bet sizes, so I was trying to keep from being predictable.

What was going through your mind when Mel Judah moved all-in on the final table with A-K? Was there ever a chance you were laying the Kings down?

He went all-in and I was thinking ‘why would the chip leader move all-in when he doesn’t need to risk his chips?’ He’d never have done it with Jacks or Queens because the pot wasn’t even that big compared to his stack. So I was thinking he might have Aces, and I’ve gone out in tournaments before like that, but what are the chances? Then I thought he might be on A-K or K-K, and even with A-K he might hit his Ace and I’d have been out. Eventually I put him on A-K. I just wanted to think about it. I didn’t want to make a rash stupid move.

And was it at that point you thought you could win it?

I never really thought about it and, to be honest, I was much happier winning the heat than the final, just to prove I could do it at that level.

So it’s not about the money?

The money was never a factor. It’s great, but given the choice between the title or the money I’d have taken the title. I love sports and winning’s very important to me. I didn’t want to come second.

We had an email from a reader who won the tickets to the final in our compo – Chris Holmes…

Yes, he’s one of my good friends. I met him online as well – he lives in Northampton like me.

He said you were playing in a $10 rebuy on Ladbrokes on Saturday night. That’s after you’ve just won $1.2m. Is that right?

Yes. I got in about 6pm, logged on and played the $10 rebuy. You can’t forget your roots. And money is only good enough to pay the bills. I don’t think it contributes too much to your internal or external happiness.

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