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Poker in India is booming and how! Much has been written about the resurrection of the Goa poker scene, with the return of the India Poker Championship (IPC) in January 2015 and its subsequent record-breaking editions. Simultaneously, KN Suresh achieved a milestone for domestic poker, by winning a legal victory for poker as a game of skill in Karnataka. Suresh continued the efforts with Kolkata and has given hope to many other states with his legal acumen.
Thereafter, Bengaluru and more recently Kolkata have emerged as new poker destinations. The game is already popular in metros, such as Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, with youngsters and the swishy set playing home games and at private parties. Poker is no longer a game confined only to the big cities, but is fast catching on in Tier 2 and 3 cities like Nagpur, Varanasi, Agra, Chandigarh, Kochi, Jalandhar & many others, and this can be seen in the growing numbers of first-time players from smaller cities coming to play tournaments like the IPC.
PokerGuru spoke to three regular tournament players – Rahul Agarwal from Nagpur, Sarfaraz Singh from Jalandhar, Abhishek Jalan from Varanasi to find out how poker is growing in their respective cities.
Starting out at the beginning, as to how these youngsters got into poker, most stated that it happened through friends, college or free-to-play games.
“There was a game in my reliance mobile that time called Texas Holdem, so I started playing on it and then when I was curious, I searched online and got this 888poker.com. Then, there was this Aces Unlimited tournament series at that time and I played a freeroll of that on 888 poker, so I played and won that one” says Rahul.
Considering that poker is yet a new phenomenon in these cities, we found that most of them played private home games with a few others. Abhishek informed, “In Varanasi, since it’s a very small city, there are not a lot of poker players there. I taught poker to a bunch of my friends and now we have a group of 6-7 players who play regularly.”
Jalandhar seemed a bit ahead, as Sarfaraz reported, “Right now at our pro level in Jalandhar we have around 15 players. So according to availability we set up plans at each other’s places and we play 9-handed always, so it’s full. The buy-ins usually vary from 50k -1 Lac and stakes being 100/200.”
While, Nagpur has a mix of both lower and higher buy-in games, according to Rahul, the game is definitely very popular in the city with his poker circuit alone some 30 players strong. “30 players are there approximately who keep on joining games in rotation and we start with 10k for 100/200 and games go deep like 60-70k buy-in at the end of the day like daily.”
The players also said that they travel to tournaments, such as the IPC in Goa. Jalandhar again seemed to have it best, with Chandigarh running even bigger games. “We have like 4 players in our group who regularly travel for poker and IPC. The games in Chandigarh are more organized than ours. There are 2 major rooms set up in Chandigarh; they have games every alternate day. They collect rake though we don’t in Jalandhar. Drinks and food are on the house and they also have tournaments like 1-2 days in a week” Sarfaraz informs.
In contrast Abhishek says, “it’s a small circuit (Varanasi) and till now only I am the one who travels for poker like IPC and different cities to play some home games there.”
One thing that comes across clearly amidst all three is the desire to make poker more easily available to others around them.
“The game is popular here but people don’t have any means to play it and that’s what lacks in these cities. So I am preparing a platform so they get experience playing live and can then maybe go for live games and tournaments,” Rahul says.
Sarfaraz tells us, “We are also trying to establish a poker room here and probably we’ll have two poker rooms running in Jalandhar by the end of this year which will cater to players from all the way from Jammu (which has many poker players) to Delhi.”
All the players are visibly excited about the game and further participation. Sarfaraz also seems to know the legalities of the game in India and has even communicated with KN Suresh on the topic. He says that, “See, Suresh is very optimistic about poker being legalized all over India; he estimates it to be by the end of 2018. So he has agreed to support us with all the logistical requirements to run a poker room, like technology, staff but once it’s legal.
And with the hearings going on the case of Punjab and Haryana we really want to wait till that result before actually. And IPA as an whole, if we associate with it, I think organizing the games will become much better.”
No doubt, poker is all about competition, but it is also about camaraderie, with players bonding over the long hours spent at the tables. Poker is fast spreading all across the country with thousands learning the game every year. Given the current trend, the game is bound to grow from strength to strength in the coming years, flourishing not only in big cities, but also slowly into smaller pockets and probably replacing traditional games like teen patti.