Pratyush Buddiga Interview

Pratyush Buddiga Interview

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The prospicience to succeed.

Continuing this month’s theme of speaking to nosebleed bosses, we sat down with the founder of the Brown Power Rankings, Pratyush Buddiga, just after he took down the Aria $25k High Roller for over half a million dollars. In this interview, we discuss his meteoric rise from spelling bees to Super High Rollers via lunch with George W. Bush.

Obviously we’ll get on to poker. But one of the other things you’re well known for is winning the US spelling bee (Pratyush won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2002, the winning word being ‘prospicience’). Apart from the odd spelling test in class, we have nothing similar in Europe. How do kids get into it?

I don’t know exactly how people get into it - other than seeing it on TV. Spelling tests happen from when we’re very young, but you don’t have the spelling bee until third or fourth grade. Personally, I saw it on ESPN and thought ‘wow this is sweet, I wanna win that’.

I started studying the dictionary and started competing. I competed in the class spelling bee in the third grade and lost to a kid who was like my arch rival. It basically made me really annoyed, so I started working really hard and it got to the point where four years later I won Nationals. I think for most people who do it, it’s a love of language as well as a love of competing. The fact it’s on TV really helps. I think poker players forget how cool people find being on TV! At the time, I was 9 or 10 and thought it was the coolest thing ever.

How do you get into the Nationals ?in the first place?

Each region has a champion. So at Nationals, there were something like 250 finalists. My state, Colorado, only had two - but other states have more -  California had like 19 kids. It’s the “best of the best”. There is some variance, so it’s not necessarily always the case that the best will always win. But it’s way more skill based than poker. I was definitely one of the five best in my age group. It can come down to which words you get asked, but that year I actually did know every word that was asked, so I do feel like I was probably the best. But you never know…

How big a deal is it when you win?

It’s huge. I did Sports Center (US TV Show) right after I won. I was also on The Today Show and on CNN - I even ended up on Jimmy Kimmel. And I met George W. Bush.

Holy shit, you met the president?

Yeah, I met him the day after. He was about to fly out to Camp David. So I went to the White House and got to talk to him and his wife for five minutes. The Iraq War hadn’t started, so everyone still liked him. At the time, I was pretty pumped to meet him.

If it had been like three years later, I’d have asked ‘Man, what are you doing?’ (laughs).

Pratyush 2

So, post spelling bees, what was ?your next ambition.

I started focusing on geography competitions next. When I was doing the spelling bee, I liked the geography bee way more. It’s not as popular - it’s on TV, but it’s on PBS, not ESPN. At one point, I knew every capital city in the world.
I ended up getting second at state twice. Even to this day, I don’t know if poker has ever made me feel as disappointed as that, even though poker involves way more money. At the time, it just meant so much to me.  In high school, I ended up winning the Nationals of that in 10th grade. That was a big redemption for me. Even though everyone talks about the spelling bee because it was so much bigger, winning the geography bee was huge for me.

How did the kids treat you at school. Did they think it was cool, or were you treated as a geek?

I definitely didn’t get any bullying. I would say I was fairly popular in high school - in retrospect, I’m not really sure why. Our school was pretty cool, I ended up being on homecoming court. I’ve always managed to not be too nerdy - I’m obviously still a geek, but I think I can hang with most people without coming off as too much of a nerd.

Turning to poker, you’ve been playing online for a good few years, but have recently hit the big stage - How did you go from playing small stakes to super high rollers?

I would say that getting coaching from Timex (Mike McDonald) and then moving in with him in 2012 took me from being just an average MTT reg to being good. But also, it sounds stupid but similarly to when I was a kid doing the spelling bee, when it was losing to a kid in 3rd grade that motivated me to try to win, the same thing happened in poker.

I was in Australia, staying with a few friends. I think at that stage I was improving at a normal rate. I’d become OK, but I wasn’t anywhere near being a very good high stakes player.
So it was Jan 2013, I was with Chris Brammer, Toby Lewis and Craig McCorkell at their  place. Bram was talking to Sam Grafton on Skype and told him ‘we have a special guest here. Shane“does not” Gamble’ (a play on Buddiga’s screen name ‘Shane Gamble’). So I asked him why he called me that and they all gave me some banter about how I fold too much and I’m too tight.
They are all friends of mine and they were doing it in good fun, but stuff like that bothers me a lot. Not in the sense that I was mad at Bram for saying it, but I’m a proud person and slights really matter to me. I have a list on my computer of every reg who I respect who has insulted me or said I was bad - it sounds crazy, but it’s just something that motivates me. What other people think drives me and gives me motivation.

Once I got back to Canada I was like ‘fuck this, I want to be one of the best MTT regulars. I don’t want people calling me Shane “does not” Gamble or laughing behind my back about how mediocre I am. If I’m ever lacking motivation I can just look at that list. In the last two years I’ve started watching videos and talking to people like SamuelBT on a regular basis, which keeps my game sharp.

The poker world is really ?bitchy right?

Yeah, Nobody thinks anyone is good apart from their friends. If you talk to some of the high stakes cash guys, they’re gonna say that literally everyone is completely terrible.

I’ve heard players who I know the whole world respects be called “the worst ever” by another great reg.

You’re really popular in the community. Do you think that people liking you has been a benefit to your rise up the ranks?

Yeah, especially in the beginning. People used to assume that because I was friends with Timex, that I must be good. But, I was actually quite shit, really. I think it goes both ways though. People might think too much of my game, but others might think that I’m riding on people’s coat tails. At this point, I’m starting to make something of a name for myself. But in the beginning, it was defintely name by association that helped a lot.

I played my first $100k in Macau, the guys who bought most of the action were friends of Pius (Heinz, 2011 WSOP Main event winner) or Timex, who are both two of my best friends in poker. They were like ‘yeah, fuck it - let’s go for it’ Normally I wouldn’t play $100k’s, but that’s how that happens.

Now that you’re playing the high buy-ins, what whets your appetite most, a super high roller with a small field or a really soft $1k with thousands of runners?

It’s hard to say. The big field stuff is way sweeter in terms of softness etc. Super High Rollers are way more fun and more interesting. But the best value is still obviously the regular tournaments.

Pratyush 3

How did your friend winning the WSOP Main affect your motivation?

It was a big motivation for me. It definitely spoiled me in thinking that poker was way easier than it actually was. My first six months as a pro, and my best friend wins the Main Event, I was like “alright, this is easy, I’m gonna win an EPT next month”. But yeah, it doesn’t work out like that.
It was definitely sweet to see Pius win it because he was my best friend in poker. We were in the same chat groups and he was the person I spoke most to about poker since mid-2010. It was the best experience I’ve had in poker for sure. Even if I won an EPT or won a Super High Roller, it wouldn’t be as cool as watching Pius win. The Main Event is just a special tournament. It’s easy to get jaded in poker and be like ‘whatever’. But it’s such a cool thing to see someone win the ultimate accomplishment and be financially set for life from poker.

Are you enjoying all the interviews and everything else that comes with becoming a rising star?

I don’t mind it. I’m not the best ‘on camera’ interview, but I usually have some good, well thought out answers to questions. I try to avoid speaking in as many clichés as a lot of other people do. I think it’s more interesting for people to hear opinions that are not filtered at all times. Sometimes I have to hold back when it comes to talking about strategy, but I really enjoy it. I do some coaching and I really like it. I’d enjoy doing more coaching if I didn’t think it would be bad for me.

So you’ve never thought of joining ?a training site?

If wasn’t so detrimental to my future earnings, I’d love to. I really love talking about poker, but especially if I want to keep playing high rollers, talking about strategy is basically the worst thing I could do.
If you’re trying to make it at the top, revealing strategy is pretty bad.

Are you learning any other games?

Every time I go to the WSOP, I tell myself I’m going to learn a different format. But honestly, I think I’m just gonna stick with MTTs for now and just try to become as good as I can. With the rake changes, I think MTTs are going to be the only good format left and I think the hours it would take to become a $25/$50 reg probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Finally, tell us about the ‘Brown Power Rankings?’

The BPR really started as somewhat of a funny way to rank the brown guys in poker because more and more of them have been doing well. Jason Mo (‘carrycakes’)?had been doing his HU power rankings which gave me the idea. After Ankush ‘Pistons87’Mandavia won the WCOOP 10k, I came out with a ranking. In MTTs, it’s kind of hard to say who’s “actually good” so it was more results-based with some “skill level” leeway.
The response was pretty hilarious though so I decided to keep doing it. Since it started in September, it seems like the Indians in poker have just been smashing and people talking about it as motivation for them to keep doing well. After I got 3rd in the ACOP Super High Roller, I think most people thought I would go to #1 for November, but there was still some room for someone to overtake the last spot depending on what happened in WPT Montreal.
The best moment was when I walked over to rail Mukul Pahuja deep in the main and he just holds up a #1 finger and mouths “#1” to let me know he was coming for that #1 spot. He ended up getting 3rd and I had to bump myself down a spot given his consistency all year. Although following my Aria high roller win, I’m back at the top!.
I think everyone has a lot of fun with it although as with any power rankings you get some people upset about where they’re ranked/if they’re ranked. Given that it’s mostly results-based it’s never going to be super-accurate, but it makes it more fun and fluid from month-to-month.

Tags: Pratyush Buddiga, interviews