India's most notable Poker series - National Poker Series (NPS) witnessed a fitting finale between March 23 & March 25 at the Majestic Pride Casino located in the waters of the famous Mandovi River. The competition witnessed a staggering 96,000 entries with a chunk of the entries coming from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana.
With the conclusion of the tournament, it was Shagun Jain from Jaipur, Rajasthan who claimed the top spot on the NPS podium (Medal leaderboard) with four gold medals and two silver (50 Points) and won a package worth INR 10 Lac, while Rohit Begwani from Churu, Rajasthan ended in second with four gold medals (40 Points) and a package worth INR 7.5 Lac. The third spot on the podium was taken by Dhaval Doshi from Mumbai with 1 gold & 3 silver (25 points) and has received a package worth INR 2.5 Lac. All the three podium finishers will be heading to Las Vegas to represent India on the largest stage of Poker in the world.
The final tables on the other hand, saw top Indian players battling it out for glory. The first final table was "NPS Super High Roller". The table was won by Kartik Ved from Goa who clinched gold, Vipin Pantola from Haldwani, Uttarakhand clinched silver while the third place and bronze medal went to Gokul Raj from Goa. They took home INR 22.09 Lac, INR 15.50 Lac and INR 9.97 Lac, respectively as prize money.
The second final table was the "NPS Main Event" which again saw Goa claiming top spot with Chirag Sodha (INR 44.84 Lac) clinching gold, the surprise came in the second spot with Riteish Kumar (INR 39.34 Lac) from the small town of Gumla in Jharkhand clinching silver while the third spot and the bronze medal went to Ashutosh Balodhi (INR 20.90 Lac) from Delhi.
On the final day of the event, it was time for the most loved event of the National Poker Series i.e., "NPS Golden Rush". The event which had an INR 550 buy-in and saw nearly 15,000 entries was won by Sankesh Kumar A Jain from Chennai (INR 9 Lac) taking home the gold medal, the silver medal was won by Arbaaz Ahmed (INR 7.01 Lac) from Bengaluru, Karnataka followed by the bronze medal to Dilip Kumar (INR 4.38 Lac) from Jalore, Rajasthan.
The game has witnessed tremendous growth in the country, thanks to the arrival of PokerBaazi.com which has helped establish a growing community of professional and amateur Poker players in the country. With minimal buy-in tournaments, PokerBaazi.com has found it's way to the remotest corners of the country, giving Poker the much needed boost it had been craving for years.
The Bridge had the privilege of speaking to some of the most established Poker players who helped us understand the scope and future of the game in India.
A Game Of Skill, Strategy, And Tactics
Apparently, the million dollar question that is on everyone's mind and lips in India is - "Is Poker a game of skill or chance?"
Various research papers mentions Poker as a game of skill. It is a game where experience, education, and basic mathematical analysis predominates the factor of luck. As every sport ever introduced to mankind, a certain element of luck always exists but players around the world try to mitigate this factor by constantly making superior mathematical decisions. The players are known to constantly educate themselves around the latest strategies introduced in the sport while constantly using their experience to gain an advantage over their competitor.
Winning at Poker comes down to simple application of the following rule - Put more money in the pool when you find yourself having a statistical advantage and put less money in the pool when you find yourself in a statistical disadvantage.
NPS Main Event Gold Medallist Chirag Sodha says - "If you look at it over a large sample size, Poker is definitely a game of skill. For example, if you know how to play Poker, just the basics, and then both of us sit and play - if we play ten hands, you might even win nine or ten. But if you play a thousand hands, I'll win 80% of them because of the sample size. With time, experience, and the company (of experienced Poker players), I have gathered that skill."
The top players of the country have a background in mathematics and strategy and come from Tier 1 colleges like the IITs and IIMs. Their education background helps them to adapt and make effective decisions on the table, allowing them to win big.
Riteish Kumar, NPS Main Event Silver medallist believes that having a background in Mathematics increases one's chance of excelling in Poker. He adds - "Yes, it (having a background in Science and Maths) definitely helps. Most of the players I have played with are from engineering background. In fact, most of the IITians have left their traditional jobs to play Poker."
Baazi Games' Co-Founder and Marketing Director Varun Ganjoo adds - "You can watch Poker, you can play Poker, you can come to Platforms like these and watch Poker and idolize Poker players because the game of Poker also keeps evolving. Like in cricket, there were Test matches and then came the 60-over ODI format got to 55 overs which became the 50-over format in the next few years. And we have T20 and T10 cricket. So, similarly, in the game of Poker there are different and aggressive strategies coming in every few months. So if you talk to some pro players they will confidently say that if we don't catch up with that trend, we will fall behind. So poker has all those ingredients to be a category of its own."
Poker And Women's Participation
At the National Poker Series, the tables were dominated by men. But the data suggests that Poker is being taken up as a profession and means of living by more and more women pan-India. There's a growing belief within the women's community that they have the required skill and education to topple this male-dominated game. There are operators worldwide that have special women-only events that enables the growth of women's participation.
While speaking with Chirag Sodha on this subject, he said - "I have a lot of friends who are girls who are telling me that "no, it's not disadvantageous for me". In fact, I personally think you can even make it into an advantage if you play the cards right. But honestly, there should not be a reason why a woman would be hesitant to play Poker because there's no edge that a guy has over a girl in this sport."
Pratibha Arya, an ambassador of the game in India says - "We need to have more and more women's only events in India. As more and more women start playing and winning, this will help motivate more women to take up Poker at a younger age."
Poker And India's Future
Poker is a game that will require you to invest only 5-7 minutes to learn the basics, however, it takes a lifetime to master. PokerBaazi.com has bridged the gap by providing learning modules that can help pave the path for an individual's career in Poker. Almost anyone and everyone can learn Poker and you'll ever need is an electronic device and a stable internet connection!
Since Poker is a game of knowledge, education, and basic numbers, it has the potential to be added in the education curriculum.
Rohit Begwani, an NPS Podium finisher this year adds - "I have poker chips at home and my children use them to play catch. No matter what you do in life, you need to know its pros and cons. As long as you know your limit, no matter what you do, it's all ok. All of it is changing now. 5 years ago things were completely different. Parents have problems when children lose money they've borrowed from parents or others."
The online Poker community is projected to have a national and global fanbase on the back of unprecedented growth the sector has seen in the last few years.
With more and more players coming out of the Indian subcontinent, it is fair to assume that it's only a matter of time till India is recognised as a giant in the game of Poker.
The views expressed in the article are those of the author's.