UK poker’s rising star Mazhar Nawab talks about his game: “A lot of American players aren’t interested in playing anything after the flop”

With $270,000 in tournament winnings and victory at the Newcastle GUKPT, Mazhar Nawab is one of UK poker’s hottest properties

Mazhar Nawab is not the most obvious choice as a rising star of the UK poker scene. In a world where youth and online pedigree are the most valued commodities, the 35-year old from Sheffield has a face that doesn’t quite fit. So it’s no surprise he’s been described as the ‘best kept secret’ in British poker. But that secret’s becoming harder to keep. Since he emerged on the scene just over a year ago with a final table at a low-key £100 no-limit event in Walsall, Nawab has been steadily racking up the results.

He won a side event at the Cardiff GUKPT, made the final table at the GUKPT main event in Brighton and notched up a $67,590 cash at a Bellagio Cup III event in Las Vegas. But his biggest win to-date came last month at the sixth leg of the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour in Newcastle.

Nawab took the title after an epic 12-hour final table that culminated in a three-hour heads-up battle with Darren Fuller. And it was a real signal to the UK poker scene that Nawab had arrived. We caught up with Maz in Newcastle to find out how he’s leaving some of the young pretenders in his wake.

Congratulations on your win Maz. How are you feeling?

Maz Nawab: Tired. I played for 11 hours yesterday and 12 hours today and I didn’t get any sleep in between. But I am delighted to have won. I stuck in there with a very slow final table and came out on top.

Was this a tournament that you felt confident in all the way through?

MN: Yeah, it was really. As the blinds were getting higher with two or three tables left I managed to double up with K-Q against a lower pair. Then I managed to treble through where I had Aces against A-Q and A-K. From there I was in a great position going into the final table and I really felt comfortable with my progress.

Were you at your most aggressive as you got down to the last couple of tables?

MN: I think so. Once I got to the final table, on every raise I put in I would get re-raised all-in by the player to my left [Jonathon Butters]. I had to be careful not to make any moves at that stage unless I really felt I was ahead. I didn’t really know any of the other players at my table. I hadn’t seen any of them playing live before so I had to be a bit careful. But I did feel in control at that stage, definitely.

How was the heads-up? It went on for a while and at one point it looked like you may have let Darren Fuller back in.

MN: Well I did let him back in. There was a stage where he actually had slightly more chips than me [Maz started the heads-up with 1.5 million to Darren’s 500,000]. But I kept grinding away, got a nice lead again and then he re-raised all-in with J-3. I called with Q-J and it was all over.

It’s your sixth big cash this year. How long have you been playing the game?

MN: Around 14 months now. I started playing Sunday evening games round at my mate’s house for £20. Then I would play at my local casino, Napoleon’s, in Sheffield, where I played in a couple of tournaments a week. Things were going well and from there I started to go to a few festivals and just got into it more and more. My results have been pretty good from when I first took the game up.

Do you play professionally now?

MN: My family own a few shops and a bit of property in Sheffield and I still help out with all that, but I am playing more and more poker these days. I’ve only been playing online since February, but I have managed to take a bit out of a few sites since then, so that is going pretty well too.

Do you play a lot of cash games or is it mostly tournaments?

MN: I don’t really play much cash. I’m mainly a tournament player and I try to get to as many of the big UK festivals as I can. I’ll play anything from a £20 rebuy at Napoleon’s to the bigger buy-in events. I quite fancy the £10,000 WSOP Europe main event and I will probably look into playing a few satellites to qualify. I may buy myself in if I don’t win one of those.

You have been pretty successful in the US. How pleased were you with your cash in the $5,000 Bellagio Cup III event?

MN: That was one I really should have won. When we got down to the final three or four players we did a deal and agreed to play on for the other prizes; the $25,000 seat to the Bellagio WPT World Championship event in March and the bracelet.

I ended up heads-up with this Russian kid [Nikolay Losev] and we had about the same amount of chips. Then on one hand I bet on every street with suited connectors, that turned into an up-and-down straight flush draw. I ended up putting him all-in on the river. He called me with Ace-high, which I was really surprised about. But I suppose that is one of those instances where you have to say he played the hand well because he ended up with the chips. But I still think it was a very strange call to make for all your chips.

Did you play in many WSOP events while you were there?

MN: I only played in two. A $1,500 pot-limit hold’em and a $2,000 no-limit hold’em. I shouldn’t have played in the $2,000 event because I had only been in Vegas for a couple of days and I was in no state to play. Barry Neville convinced me to have a go, but I knew I wasn’t going to play well because I didn’t feel right. I got up to 20,000 in chips from a starting stack of 4,000, but then lost a load in a couple of quick hands.

Do you prefer playing in deep-stacked tournaments such as the GUKPT?

MN: I got down to the final couple of tables in Manchester and then finished sixth in Brighton. So yeah, I guess you could say I enjoy playing in these type of tourneys.

You’ve been successful in tournaments in both the UK and the US. What is the difference in the standard of live play in the two countries?

MN:I think it is better in the UK. I really do. A lot of American players aren’t interested in playing anything after the flop. They go all-in pre-flop all the time and a lot of the British players don’t like that style of play.

So if that is the case why do you think there weren’t more British bracelet winners at this year’s World Series?

MN: I think it is just a numbers game really. The fields in the WSOP events are so huge that a lot of the top Brits that were over there were choosing to play in the Bellagio events rather than trying for WSOP bracelets. At the Bellagio events in Vegas there were Brits at pretty much all the final tables. I think that proves the Brits can more than hold their own over there.

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