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Bring your A-Game on-board

Bring your A-Game on-board
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Can poker become the next big league? This question is being asked rather seriously. Some say it is too ludicrous to contemplate but going by the...

Can poker become the next big league? This question is being asked rather seriously. Some say it is too ludicrous to contemplate but going by the numbers and popularity it is definitely gaining currency in India and in all seriousness is being looked at as a mind sport that can also garner a lot of eyeballs and money. As Poker Sports League (PSL) launches its Season 2, the enthusiasm is palpable among Poker enthusiasts. PSL’s successful inaugural launch has egged quite a few new players. In PSL Season 1, Delhi Panthers, owned by Rishi Kajaria of Kajaria Ceramics took home Rs 1.5 crore prize money. PSL is the brainchild of Amit Burman of Dabur, Anuj Gupta, founder of poker portal Adda52.com and Pranav Bagai, founder of India Poker Legend.

Indians are increasingly showing interest in poker and are making their presence felt with their poker repertoire and vying with the 100 million poker players worldwide, archaic gaming laws notwithstanding. The PSL is just into its second edition but with Anuj Gupta, co-founder, PSL says, “With over 20,000 qualifier participations pan India in the first year, it is a clear indication where poker is going.”

Poker that was often spoken about in hushed tones, in a way, has come out of the closet. People are more openly speaking and also flaunting their skills. Raghavan, a poker enthusiast says, “I fail to understand this thing about poker being labelled as gambling. Far from it, in real terms, poker, rummy and teen patti have morphed into mobile games and are very popular.”

Once considered (still in certain pockets) an unaccepted pastime, poker in its new avatar is turning into a legitimate career in India. Sample this: There are over 100 professional players in the country, who make a living out of poker. Today, most of the players are male but women too are making their presence felt, for instance, Nikita Luther, is a professional poker player from Delhi, who is making her mark in what is a male dominated sport. Sweta, a budding poker enthusiast from Hyderabad says, “Contrary to popular belief that poker is just luck, it actually needs much more skill, or why would there be so many schools that teach poker.”

Of late a number of online poker tutorials have sprung up that help newcomers. Sweta adds, “The future for poker is immense. Delta Corp buying Adda52 for Rs 155 crore is an indication of the popularity.” Professional players earn anywhere between Rs 2 – Rs 12 lakh in tournaments and the captain of the teams for PSL earn between Rs 5 to Rs 20 lakh.” The stakes are high and a number of corporate are getting associated with the league. (See box)

So can poker become the next big league, a la cricket league? “It would be too early to compare it with the cricket league but one never imagined that kabbadi would take of the way it has. Poker definitely has the potential and this is just the beginning,” says Anuj. He adds, “PSL is structured in such a way that it has all it takes be become an international tournament and a global brand. It has all the right ingredients.”

Commenting on the second season, Amit Burman, founder, PSL said, “The first season was only a trailer of what is set to become India’s first and only credible and fully carved out poker league. We received a sizeable response from both players and corporates last season. The interest is growing manifold.”

Refuting allegations that poker is based on luck, Ravi Vepuri, a poker enthusiast says, “Of course there is an element of luck but a lot depends on skill, math and probability.” Poker is gaining traction and is also being taught as a credit course in the universities of MIT, Berkley, Harvard and at the IIM, Kozhikode in India.
In 2013-14, the course - Competitive Strategy: The Game of Poker in Term-VI elective course having three credits was started at IIM Kozhikode. Presently, close to 200 students have opted for the course. Poker as a part of investment management and trading syllabus is gaining ground and many more Indian universities are planning to include it as a course.

What the acquisition of Adda52 has done is a renewed interest in the India poker story. The poker startup space is now more vibrant and is catching more eyeballs. Ravi Kiran, a business analyst says, “There is a profitable model in place and investors would be more interested. The poker industry is definitely poised for better things.”

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