It was August 2013 that I first stumbled across the name of Mukul Pahuja.
Back then it wasn’t a name that was held in front of my eyes in bright neon lights - the names Blair Hinkle and Justin Bonomo had that electricity.
Instead it was scribbled on a piece of paper, almost like one of those moments that you ask a stranger for his name and forget it seconds later.
Then in November that name popped up once again. It was the final table of the World Poker Tour (WPT) Playground Poker Fall Classic in Montreal and he was two cards away from winning the whole goddamm thing.
The Poker Gods did not favor Pahuja that day but a $362,430 score, adding to the $872,625 he won in August, certainly softened the blow somewhat.
Two more WPT final tables would follow and another million dollars would be banked along with the accolade of the WPT Player of the Year for Season 12.
The Universe Rewards Those Who Take Risks
There are few poker players heading to the 45th Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) running as hot as Pahuja.
It’s interesting what the universe has in store for you but I know one thing for sure: it likes to reward those who take risks. And Pahuja is a risk taker ... albeit a very calculated one.
The 28-year-old from New York first learned to play poker in high school where he saw it as a great way to retain that competitive edge as he was winding down his athletic career.
By the time senior year had rolled around he was playing during class, and learning the ropes in the post-Moneymaker years that were the kickstart for many a great poker career.
But it was Wall Street and not the WSOP that first got its hooks into Pahuja.
He picked up a job working as support to the fixed-income trading desk at the Bank of America. A time in his life he looks back on with nothing but fondness and affection for the people that he worked with and the work that he did.
Then in 2009 things changed. Poker does that to you. It’s a monogamy breaker that manages to sneak its way into most relationships. In this instance, it was Wall Street that was pushed out of Pahuja’s life.
"How Much More Am I Capable Of?"
In the space of five tumultuous days in December 2009, Pahuja banked around $120,000 after fourth- and first-place showings at the WSOP Circuit (WSOPC) event at Harrah’s in Atlantic City.
Now here was a shot worth taking.
Pahuja is under no illusion of the importance of his wife Alexis at this point in his life. They both had great jobs in New York, they were surrounded by a loving family and a circle of friends they had known since they were pups.
Life was pretty rosy. But Pahuja had been bitten by the bug. Those two scores had gotten him thinking.
“How much more am I capable of achieving?”
With the full support of Alexis, Pahuja left his job on Wall Street, jumped in the car and headed down to South Florida for a shot at being a professional poker player.
“If it wasn’t ok with her, I would never have moved," Pahuja says. "If she wasn’t 100% into it I would have stayed in New York. She is the main reason why we are where we are today."
Out of All That Mess Something Unexpected Happened
The move to South Florida was not without its ups and downs. Most notable was Black Friday, which happened just six days before his moving date.
Fortunately for Pahuja although Black Friday affected his poker he wasn’t affected as hard as some of the more experienced online grinders.
“I wasn’t playing online that much. I was so busy in work that I only really had time for some live cash games and the occasional big live tournament.
"So Black Friday didn’t affect my direct income. But it did affect my mindset.
“The plan was always to move to Florida and grind online MTTs while supplementing my income by playing live cash games. That’s where the boom was being felt in South Florida at that time.
"There wasn’t a big live scene for tournaments back then.”
Pahuja was ready to heed the advice he was receiving from his fellow pros -- that he would have to find multiple sources of income if he was to flourish in Florida. He even had brand shiny new monitors ready to go in an online cart before the whole thing came crashing down.
Then out of all that mess something unexpected happened. The live tournament scene blew up, Pahuja changed gears and the rest we can say is history.
Freedom a Rare Thing When You're Earning Money
Now that could be the understatement of the century. Pahuja comes across as a very devoted man, in particular when it concerns his family and friends.
When he isn’t cracking skulls on the poker table you can find him lounging around in his pool with his dog and his wife. A man of simple pleasures.
But aren’t all great tales based on such fundamentally important constructs?
He still misses New York but, fortunately for him, the business affords him time to go back home to see his family and friends, especially when playing in Atlantic City. The place where this whole journey began.
His wife, Alexis, has not been that fortunate. People who play poker for a living should be forever grateful that their job affords them the luxury of freedom.
It’s a rare thing when you are earning money. But the pair have plans for all that to change in the future, and that’s great news for the poker industry.
The Network's the Thing
After working tirelessly on their new home in Florida the pair are ready to see a little bit of the world and we may get to see Pahuja at an EPT near you.
“We are hoping to get out to Europe later this year, or sometime in 2015. I will also try to mix in some poker and it would be great to play in an EPT.
"I played the PCA for the first time this year and PokerStars is such a well-oiled machine. Everything runs so smoothly, and so I am looking forward to that as long as our travelling schedule coincides with a worthwhile tournament.”
But before we get to Europe there is a little something called the World Series of Poker that needs some of his attention. There are great things expected of the man currently playing at the peak of his abilities.
“I am really looking forward to the series. I am going to be playing in most of the NLHE events. I don’t really play the other games, although I may splash around in some of the smaller buy-in PLO events.
“It’s the network that’s the most important thing for me at this time of the year. It’s great to get back to work with friends that I only see on tour. It’s like summer camp all over again.”
Only in summer camp they don’t hand out millions of dollars for beating your work mates in a game of cards.