Not Just a Card Game, Poker Gradually Becoming a Sport in India

Rafael Nadal, Cristiano Ronaldo, Shane Warne. What’s common between all of these sports greats? Poker. 

Published29 May 2018, 01:51 PM IST
4 min read

Rafael Nadal, Cristiano Ronaldo, Shane Warne.

You know what’s common between all of these sports greats? No, not that they’ve achieved great success in their respective sports – tennis, football and cricket – but that all three are keen poker players. Yes, poker – a card game based on both luck and skill.

But what most people don’t realise is that poker is not only about chance, but also one that involves a combination of skill, mathematics and decision-making.

The Stigma

You think of poker, you think cards and then gambling. But what many fail to understand or ignore is that the game has developed into a mind sport. Besides the two cards dealt to you, understanding your partners’ playing patterns, knowing the best approach to a hand or even noticing another’s change in facial expression could help a player win.

And this stigma was also one of the biggest roadblocks that the organisers of the Poker Sports League – with a one-of-its-kind format and world’s largest Poker League prize pool – had faced.

Dabur Vice-President and PSL co-founder Amit Burman said, “People think anything played with cards is gambling which is something we needed to remove. And this is why chess champion Viswanathan Anand has also joined us to show that poker is a mind sport, not just a game of luck but also skill. The roadblocks we have faced is to convince people, to convince sponsors and convince companies to join us.”

Five-time world champion Anand’s involvement with the league was mainly aimed at bringing a certain amount of credibility to the game.

The whole idea of my association with the league lies in the fact that I find poker no different from chess and through this alliance we are hopeful that we are able to give the sport the long due prominence and acceptance. The sport has been internationally acknowledged and recognised, and Poker Sports League is an attempt to furnish a platform for the immense poker talent we have in the country.
Viswanathan Anand
Chess champion Viswanathan Anand playing a few hands with IIM Kozhikode Associate Professor Deepak Dhayanithy.
Chess champion Viswanathan Anand playing a few hands with IIM Kozhikode Associate Professor Deepak Dhayanithy.
(Photo: Poker Sports League)

In just its second season, the league saw over 20,000 participating to grab five spots in 11 teams. And these franchises – named after the different states in India including Goa Nuts, Punjab Bluffers, Rajasthan Tilters – battled it out for a prize pool of Rs 3.6 crore.

Growing Interest for Poker in India

From being played in empty classrooms and hostel hallways with small amounts of money to the traditional hands around the time of Diwali, India has been no stranger to poker. However, in recent years a majority of its growth can be attributed to the internet.

Not only can you play with millions with the click of a mouse, computers make the entire process much faster.

When you play live, you play about 15 hands an hour. But when you play online you may end up playing double the number of hands in an hour. A 25-year-old youngster who has been playing poker for 4 years has the poker age of a 45-year-old.
Deepak Dhayanithy, Associate Professor, IIM Kozhikode

“And because they're putting so much volume into their game, the statistical effects can kick in. If you play well, you may not win every hand or every tournament. But if you play well, over a period of time when you take multiple decisions, you will have a positive expected value,” he added.

Another clear sign of the games’ interest in the country is the fact that the revered IIM Kozhikode offers its MBA students a poker-based elective course called Competitive Strategy: the Game of Poker. While the game has been held in close affection in the world’s top universities like Harvard Law and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it was only introduced at IIMK in 2013-14.

Strategic Management Associate professor Deepak Dhayanithy said:

I’ve been aware of poker as a sport, competition and game for about 20 years now and in that time-span, it has gained a lot of credibility. A lot of poker players in India are good and a lot of them come from stellar educational backgrounds like IITs, and many even come from the business world.

“They've done well for themselves in international competitions and gained great reputation in the online world,” he added.

The number of students from the batch of 2014-15 to 2017-18 has also seen an increase from 60 to 180, with 180 being the maximum subscription allowed for an elective.

Poker Sports League became the first league to get a dedicated TV broadcast of Texas Hold’em poker in India.
Poker Sports League became the first league to get a dedicated TV broadcast of Texas Hold’em poker in India.
(Photo: Poker Sports League)

In its second edition, the Poker Sports League too received clearances to became the first league to get a dedicated TV broadcast of Texas Hold ’em poker in India.

In addition, since the start of the PSL, three other poker leagues have been introduced in the country, indicating a growing interest for the sport in India.

And so as the sport slowly receives more credibility, one can expect poker to gain recognition as more than just a card game in the near future.

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