Poker players do all sorts of things when they’re not at the tables. This is the game that famously brings together people of all backgrounds, ages, interests and professions.
But there are few poker enthusiasts who spend their time more valuably than Tanay Samant. He’s trying to find a cure for cancer. For real.
“I’m part of a bigger team, so it’s not like a one-man army,” Samant said in a recent conversation, humbly attempting to rein in some of the interviewer’s journalistic hyperbole. “But yes, on a day-to-day basis, I am part of teams trying to cure cancer.”
A DRIVEN STUDENT
The 35-year-old Samant, from Morristown, New Jersey, has a PhD in Pharmaceutical Science and works in the field of clinical pharmacology and pharmacometrics. Ever since he was a young student in Mumbai, he was intent on studying science and, specifically, oncology.
After completing undergraduate studies in India, he did his postgrad in Texas before moving to New Jersey for work. That’s where he is now able to apply his incredible talents in building models for the pharmaceutical industry, specifically focused on drug dosage.
It’s part of the global, ongoing attempts to combat the disease that might affect around half the population at one stage in their lives. And it gives Samant every reason to stay driven and focused, to stay fighting the good fight.
“We work on new medications and new formulations and new therapies to make patients’ lives better,” Samant says. “That’s my main motive in life: the betterment of cancer patients’ lives. Fighting cancer and developing new therapies is something that is my true passion.”
FINDING MOTIVATION FROM SAVING LIVES
Samant’s father and grandfather were both doctors, working at the sharp end of the medical profession. With a penchant for mathematics and analysis, Samant always thought his own skills were best utilised in research, and he plotted a clear path through academia to lead him to his present role.
Although he doesn’t often see patients face-to-face, Samant and his research colleagues sometimes get to attend events or town hall meetings, where they can learn directly how their work impacts lives. Cancer patients stand up and offer their gratitude, relate personal experiences, and their very presence in the room tells the researchers how valuable their efforts can be.
“The stories that they tell are so overwhelming,” Samant says. “They’re so heart-warming. You get to see the actual impact on human life that you have, because of the work you have done. It is incredible.
“It’s not about money. It’s not about anything else. It’s about human life, that you have saved…The work we put in has a direct impact on human life. That is where our motivation comes from.”
It might sound like a cliche, but for anybody in a profession like Samant, whose work can very literally be the difference between life and death, other stresses and strains don’t seem to matter quite so much. It helps put things into perspective.
“The things we complain about are nothing as compared to getting a cancer patient two months, five months, 10 months additional lifespan,” he says. “They can see their children’s birthdays.
“Our day-to-day complaints — oh, my day wasn’t good because I had too many meetings, stuff like that — I personally try not to complain about it, because if you miss one meeting, you might miss an important point, and if you miss an important point, your work might be delayed a bit, which might lead to a delay in approval of drugs.”
A PASSION FOR POKER
But why is Samant’s story on a poker blog? Well, it just so happens that he’ll be taking a vacation from work at the end of January when he heads to the Bahamas and the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) as the holder of a Platinum Pass.
One of the ways Samant relaxes away from the demands of his job is through poker, having properly discovered the game a couple of years ago, during the pandemic. He has been on a diet of poker books, gifted from his wife, and poker shows on YouTube ever since, including watching all the coverage of the last PSPC, won by Ramon Colillas in January 2019.
“Wherever your passions lie, you find time,” he says, when quizzed how he fits poker into his hectic life. He describes a childhood in India obsessed with sports, particularly cricket, and then a quick courtship with college football after he moved to the United States.
He says poker tournaments, which he regards as sporting events, allow him to satisfy his competitive instincts, as well as play to his strong suits in analysis and modelling.
After watching from afar, Samant figured out that he too could play the event that had grabbed his attention in archive footage. He won a Platinum Pass freeroll on PokerStars.NJ, earning him that glittering sliver of metal, with which he can now play the biggest poker tournament of his life.
“I have seen all the PSPC coverage from the previous year and has been my dream to be able to play it,” he said. “But jumping from my usual $25 tournaments to $25,000 buy in tournament to play with the best in the world is completely surreal.”
POKER BUG BITES WITH ROYAL FLUSH
The poker bug actually bit Samant when he was with his parents, on a family trip to Lake Tahoe. He found himself playing the table-game version of Texas hold’em in a Nevada casino, and struck up a casual conversation with the dealer. “I asked the dealer has he ever seen a royal flush in real life,” Samant says, “and he was like, ‘No, I’ve never seen one.’ Maybe he might be a new dealer or something, I don’t know.”
However, two hands later, they all saw one. It was in Samant’s hand. And he had a $5 chip on the bonus circle too.
“It was a club royal flush, and I can’t forget it,” Samant says. “My mum was sitting next to me, and she had no idea about poker but she was just playing because I was playing. She was ecstatic. My dad came in and he was ecstatic.”
It’s the reason Samant will be in the Bahamas with his parents, who are jetting from India for their first ever trip to the Caribbean.
“If my parents are there, it will be good luck,” he says, adding that his wife Archita Bhansali has been an even bigger supporter of his poker endeavours. “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to progress so far.”
PINA COLLADAS BY THE POOL
Samant has graduated to “proper” poker now, of course, and naturally has the blessing of his whole family. In addition to a family history in medicine, Samant also comes from a long line of card players. His grandparents used to be keen on bridge and rummy, hosting around 15 to 20 people at their house every week. His grandmother would cook for all the players, and the games would stretch on long into the night.
“My parents and wife were completely supportive of me playing poker and they understand the science and the psychology behind it,” he says. “They’re super, super excited that I’m getting to play this, to be a part of this adventure…My mum is praying that I can win, but my dad is dreaming about sipping pina coladas by the pool.”Back to Top