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Investments, international brands and poker leagues – these have all contributed immensely to the growth and development of poker in 2018, but what would poker be without the players who play the game? Despite the legal backlash and clampdowns that the mind sport has witnessed in the last year, it is the people’s love for poker that has essentially attributed to its progress.
As we continue to take a reflective look back at the five major factors that led to the advancement of the Indian poker industry last year, number #2 on our list are the top-notch performances by our Indian players on the international felts that solidified India’s place as an emerging poker power.
These spectacular runs not only got the spotlight on India, but also drew the Indian audience to the mind sport, thereby adding to the popularity of the game among the masses. In fact, the number of Indian players who ventured to foreign destinations has also increased exponentially over the years. As local stars keep giving exceptional performances on the world stage, it has deeply inspired several players from the domestic circuit to take the international plunge.
Last year Team India jet-setted across the globe, to some of the premier poker destinations headlined by trailblazing performances at Las Vegas, Macau, Vietnam and Manila. Starting with a modest presence at the 2018 Macau Poker Cup, Team India upped the ante at the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT), Macau. However, the biggest-ever Indian contingent to appear at an international series was at the 49thAnnual World Series of Poker (WSOP) which saw established pros as well as newbies show the world what Team India had to offer!
On the heels of the stellar WSOP runs, yet another APPT series witnessed the confidence and prowess of Indian poker players, this time in the beautiful Filipino capital of Manila. The year ended with an incredible show by Team India at the inaugural World Poker Tour (WPT) Vietnam stop.
The most iconic poker festival, the World Series of Poker, is the Mecca for every poker player and for the last 14 years several Indians have made the yearly pilgrimage to the Sin City. This year an astounding number of Indians turned up at the series, resulting in a total of 56 cashes.
The series was a roller-coaster of fun and high-octane poker action. From Vikram Kumar ‘wrong-tabling’ to Nikita Luther’s bracelet win, to Jasven Saigal’s elimination at the hands of poker icon Phil Ivey and Team PokerStars India pro Aditya Agarwal nearing Berry Johnston‘s world record of 10 Main Event cashes, it was all there.
The Indian who truly stood out among the rest was seasoned pro Paawan Bansal. Apart from posting a total of seven scores, he also finished runner-up in The Closer $1,500 NLHE (30-min levels) 1M GTD event and banked a career-best score of $378,765 (₹2.58 Crores). His overall winnings stood at ₹3.03 Crores, making him the highest earning Indian at WSOP 2018.
Though Bansal was the highest scorer at the series, creating history for Team India at the WSOP 2018 were three rising talents, namely Nishant Sharma, Vivek Rughani and Kartik Ved. Qualifying for the WSOP through a promotion run by premier online poker site 9stacks, Sharma (34th for $230,475 – ₹1.57 Crores) and Rughani (88th for $77,695 – ₹53.12 Lakhs) cracked the top 100 of the $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em MAIN EVENT – World Championship. Meanwhile, Ved, who is also a protégé of Aditya Agarwal, ended his deep run in 128th place for $57,010 (₹39.35 Lakhs).
These brilliant performances proved to be a shot in the arm for the industry and we saw larger turnouts in the subsequent international outings in Asia and Europe through the rest of the year.
Macau has long since been a poker hotspot in the Asia-Pacific region and due to its proximity to India, it is also a favoured hunting ground for Indian players. The 2018 Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) that was hosted at the PokerStars LIVE Macau poker room saw commendable Indian participation with a total of 12 cashes being posted by our Indian challengers. At the helm of these outstanding performances was India’s poker pioneer Aditya Agarwal.
With a PSPC Platinum Pass up for grabs, Agarwal was up against Lin Wu and narrowly missed picking up the title. He finished runner-up and bagged an impressive HK$1,900,000 (₹1.57 Crores). Other Indians who also cashed at the series included Ashish Gupta, Raghav Bansal, Kalyan Chakravarthy, Benjamin Murry, Sahil Chutani, Arjjun Rohan Singh, Sumit Sapra and Kunal Jain.
The Indians kept the rail back home cheering and immeasurably contributed to revitalizing the growth of poker in the country.
While the APPT Macau was an electrifying tournament series, it was actually the PokerStars LIVE 2018 Macau Poker Cup that got the ball rolling in the Chinese special administrative region of Macau. The City of Dreams casino played host to the crème de la crème of Indian poker fraternity which included names like Aditya Agarwal, Kunal Punjwani, ZarvanTumboli, Sahil Chutani, SumitSapra, Rajeev Raut, Neeraj Kumar and Vivek Rughani.
Team India’s magnificent runs was spearheaded by veteran pro Raghav Bansal who final tabled the HK$80,000 NLHE High Roller for HK$845,500 (₹77.96 Lakhs).
All in all, with 20 scores in one of Asia’s most popular poker festivals, the spirited Indian runners just made the right moves to set the rest of their poker playing season in motion.
The Vietnam edition of the World Poker Tour (WPT) was the brand’s first venture in the historical Southeast Asian country. Just before this inaugural series commenced, Team India was seen gunning for the title in the first-ever country-based Global Teams Event at the WPT Korea. Though the Indian team didn’t make a very prominent headway in the event, they dug in their heels and made a phenomenal comeback at WPT Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City’s Pro Poker Club witnessed some top-class poker action from the likes of Sumit Sapra, ZarvanTumboli and Romit Advani. However, the undisputed champion of the Indian battalion was the singer turned poker pro Dhaval Mudgal who crushed the 679-strong field in the Main Event to win his first major international title for a gigantic payday of VND 2.42 Billion (₹76.02 Lakhs).
This was Team India’s last big international outing for 2018 and was a marvellous way of closing out the year in style.
The Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) series has always been a preferred haunt for Indian players. While the Macau edition drew in commendable numbers, the nine-day long Manila edition was more action-packed than its previous runs.
The Indian turnout was huge in nearly all mega tournaments at the series and both old hands as well as young talents came together to post a total of 42 scores at the stop. Chiraag Patel, Akshay Nasa, Kunal Patni, Sriharsha Doddapaneni, Ravi Priya, Anup Palod, Jasven Saigal, Jaydeep Dawer and Sam Srinivas Polishetty, were all seen in action. It was Sahil Agarwal who stole the show and pocketed ₱4,656,260 (₹60.67 Lakhs) for finishing runner-up in the ₱200,000 High Roller.
Team India’s trailblazing runs all through last year let the poker community know that the nation was a force to be reckoned with! Bigger scores, more outings, energised the railbirds and poker fraternity back home, motivating more players to take to poker, creating the right atmosphere for growth of poker as a mind sport in the country.
Additionally, the exposure that these international tournaments offer to Indian players have played a pivotal role in the growth of the Indian poker industry and the trend is very likely to continue in 2019. With several more events yet-to-come, including the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (January 6-10), 2019 Aussie Millions Poker Championship (January 15-February 4) and 50th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 2019, Las Vegas (May 28-July 16), this year too is sure to see the Indian contingent wreak havoc on the global scene.