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A Poker Life: Mohsin Charania

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jul 11, 2012


Mohsin CharaniaPerhaps nobody knows the struggle of poker’s modern day ups and downs better than Mohsin Charania, who has run the through gauntlet of variance during his five-year career.

The 2012 EPT Grand Final champion is now riding high on poker, having increased his lifetime earnings to nearly $5 million. But the road hasn’t been easy, and there were times when he considered walking away from the game for good.
This is his story.

Overcoming A Rough Start

Mohsin Charania was born February 27, 1985 in Guelph, Canada, just an hour drive from Toronto. He didn’t stay long, however, as his family relocated to Chicago by the time he was ready for his first birthday.

The Charania family are Shia Muslims and early on, Mohsin used the church to avoid trouble in his low-income and sometimes dangerous neighborhood. He leaned on his mother, uncle and older brother and sister to guide him down the right path.

“Instead of having a lot of free time as a kid, I would go to prayer,” remembered Charania. “There was a lot of gangs and gang-related violence where I lived, so my mother shielded me from that by keeping me involved with the church. I also had my older brother and sister to look out for me, but that being said, I wasn’t exactly sheltered. You couldn’t ride your bike to school or it would get stolen. You couldn’t wear new shoes to school or you’d be going home barefoot. It was common to hear gunshots ringing out in the distance at night. We were living in a $500 a month apartment with two bedrooms for five people. It was a tough upbringing, but I’m very grateful for my family and what they did to provide for me and get me through it.”
Rather than turn to the streets, Charania focused on his studies. His family sacrificed so that he could succeed.

“Early on, I realized that school was my way out,” he said. “My family had moved to the suburbs and in order to afford the increase in rent, my brother started working and my mother took on a second job. I was getting up every day at 5 a.m. just so I could catch all the buses I needed to get to my high school. I focused on my grades and after graduation, I applied to a bunch of different colleges. Money was still very tight, so I went to an in-state school at the University of Illinois. They had a very good finance program, so it worked out for the best.”

Charania was blessed with a photographic memory and wasn’t exactly challenged by his college courses. It also didn’t hurt that he was much further along in his studies than most.

“Because I had worked so hard in high school taking advanced placement classes, I came into college with a lot of credits,” he explained. “By the time my second semester of my junior year came around, I was pretty much done with all of my core classes, which meant I had a lot of free time on my hands. I was hanging out at a friend’s house, watching the WSOP on ESPN when I discovered poker. They were headed to a home game, so I took like $40 out of the ATM and decided to tag along.”

Expensive Poker Lessons

At first, Charania was only playing 5 cents-10 cents stakes with his buddies, but after a few winning sessions, he was hooked. His grades didn’t suffer, so he continued to play and get better. Perhaps more importantly, he was introduced to bigger games by his friend Jason, who would make frequent weekend trips to the casinos to grind $2-$5 cash games.

“I took the $500 or so I had made in the home games to the casino and wound up winning something like $3,000. I went back and won again. With zero bankroll management, I sat in on the $25-$50 games, always buying in short and playing like a maniac. I ran that up to about $20,000 before I stopped getting action, so once the semester ended, I took all of that money to Las Vegas for the summer.”

Charania had won early and often during his short poker apprenticeship, but it was a summer in Las Vegas that taught him one of the toughest lessons of all.

“I was 21 years old, it was my first time in Las Vegas and everything was going right for me. I started off in $5-$10 games, but I very quickly moved up in stakes to $10-$20, $25-$50 and eventually $50-$100. I don’t think I had a losing session for two months. Even after some outrageous dinner bills, I had built my bankroll to $200,000. I figured it was time to play in what was my second real live tournament, so I bought in to the WSOP main event. I got chips early on, but it was clear that I had no real idea how to play a tournament properly and I busted.”

A $10,000 lesson is one thing, but Charania stuck around town too long to hold on to his newfound winnings. Before the summer was over, he found himself even worse off than when he had started.

“The summer ended pretty abruptly for me. In that same $50-$100 cash game that I had made all that money in, I went broke. I was playing with people like Kenny Tran, Brad Booth, Mimi Tran and other top players. There were a couple of brutal hands that I remember clearly, but long story short, my bankroll was suddenly at zero. I actually had to use my mom’s debit card just to book a flight home for the summer. At that point, I figured I was done with poker for good.”

The Swings Continue

Charania had enough credits to graduate, walk and get his diploma, but instead he decided to prolong his education and add a couple of minors to his degree in finance. Once again, he found the classes to be a breeze and before long, he was back in the home game. The game featured future online greats such as Faraz Jaka, Andy Seth and Ravi Raghavan. After winning some in the game, he had his opponents transfer him funds online and after a few weeks, Charania was up big.

“I got a job offer for $70,000 a year as a financial analyst for JP Morgan, so I decided to officially graduate. I quickly realized that the reason they offer you so much money was because they work you extremely hard. I was putting in 60-70 hours a week to start out, but meanwhile, I was still winning online. I had won a few freezeouts and had moved up to playing $25-$50 cash games. After two weeks on the job, I just stopped going.”

His job was cutting into his time online, but he figured he could at least balance poker and law school. He did it for nearly a year, but in 2008, he went on a massive heater and, with more money in the bank than ever before, he decided to take a break from school.

Charania’s confidence was riding high. Not only was he winning online, but he also started to make consistent, deep runs in big buy-in live events.

“I was going deep in almost everything, but coming just short of the really big score,” he remembered. “It didn’t matter, though, because the game felt so easy. I was still making some money and I felt that it was just a matter of time before I broke through. I had that positive attitude for over a year, but the near misses started getting further and further apart and some frustration set in.”

It certainly didn’t help that Charania had surrounded himself with some of the best players in the game and they were seemingly winning everything in sight. Guys like Jason Mercier and Vivek Rajkumar couldn’t miss and Charania was left on the outside looking in. The tipping point came at the 2009 WSOP. Right before the final table of event number 45, the $10,000 pot-limit hold’em championship, the final tablists were asked to fill out bio sheets for event staff.

“They asked what my biggest poker accomplishment was,” he recalled. “I was so confident, that I wrote down, ‘winning event no. 45 at the 2009 WSOP.’” Charania finished in tenth place.

Time For A Change?

Charania then went on a prolonged downswing. At a time where he should’ve taken his foot off the gas, he kept pressing.

“I had delusions of grandeur. I thought it was just a matter of time before I won something big and got signed to an online poker site. It was happening for all of my friends, so why not me? I was playing all of these tournaments just chasing sponsorships, but in reality, I was playing over my head and getting buried in make up.”

During this stretch, Charania won a PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker event for $380,364, but all this did was clear him out of make up. After paying his backer and taxes, he was left with only about $40,000 to show for his efforts.

Live poker continued to be a struggle, but at least Charania had online poker to keep him afloat. Furthermore, he was winning many of his live buy-ins through online satellites, but that all changed after Black Friday. After setting up a place in Canada to continue playing, he was forced to sell his online action in order to continue playing live.

“I thought about quitting multiple times,” Charania admitted. “I wasn’t making any real money. I had enough to keep playing, but never enough to invest or even really enjoy. I began to question the point of playing and really considered going back and finishing law school.”

A Grand Victory

Charania continued to wrestle with the decision to play poker for a living, but a big score made his mind up for him. Heading into April of 2012, he’d won more than $2.5 million online, but just over $500,000 in the live arena.

Then, he took down Europe’s most prestigious tournament, the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo, for $1,785,780. In just under a week of play, he’d somehow more than tripled his live tournament earnings.

“It was exactly what I needed. It was exactly what I had imagined happening years ago. I was obviously happy, but also a little relieved.”

Moving Forward

With a big score on his resume and money in his pocket, Charania decided to put off law school and ride his hot streak into the WSOP this year.

“It’s hard to say what I would’ve done had the EPT Grand Final not gone as well as it did,” he said. “I just know that I have to put in the volume now, while I’m still on top of my game. I feel like this is a good opportunity to really put something together.”

Only time will tell if Charania is due for a return to the vicious cycle of tournament poker variance or if he will break the cycle and reach a level where he can sustain success.

“Part of me wonders if I’m in too deep now,” Charania confessed. “My friends who stuck with finance are all now making upwards of $300,000 per year and they didn’t have to deal with the swings and sacrifice the personal relationships in their lives. I don’t have any regrets for going down this road, but when I leave this game, at least on a full time basis, I want to leave on my own terms and I want to have something to show for it. Was it all worth it? I just don’t know yet.” ♠