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Poker’s growth and development in India has been exponential over the last few years. Some of the biggest brands of poker like PokerStars and World Poker Tour (WPT) have already set foot in the country. Even so, the biggest challenge for any Indian poker player is to score at the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
With the 50th WSOP less than two weeks away, let us take a look at the Indian pros who have registered the most winnings at the mega poker series.
All of the names featured on our list are seasoned pros and some of the most established and well-respected names in the domestic circuit. Starting with Nipun Java and PokerStars India Team pro Aditya Agarwal, both veterans who have been a part of the industry for over a decade, leading up to Paawan Bansal and Aditya Sushant – players who rose to fame in the early 2010s and went on to quickly carve out a place for themselves within the fraternity. Amidst these heavyweights is Vivek Rajkumar – one of the very first Indians to score in the WSOP along with Agarwal – though his contribution to helping poker build a foundation for itself in India is undeniable, his eventual hiatus from the game has made him somewhat of an enigma.
While this list exclusively features the players who have cashed multiple times at the WSOP, the Indian roster is teaming with phenomenally talented players who have established many other records including Raghav Bansal, who was the first Indian to final-table a WSOP event in 2015, Nikita Luther, who was the first female Indian player to win a WSOP bracelet, and Nishant Sharma, who was the first Indian to crack into the top 50 at the WSOP Main Event.
Nipun Java: The Consistent Player
Total No. of WSOP Cashes – 29
Total Earnings at WSOP – $738,012 (~₹5.16 Crores)
Kolkata-born and California-based Nipun Java is among the early breed of Indian pros to rise in the international poker arena. A software engineer by qualification, Java’s first live cash at the WSOP came in 2010 when he finished 111th in the $1,000 NLHE for $3,363. Four years later, Java captured the limelight at the 2015 WSOP $3,000 PLO Omaha 6-Handed event. Outplaying a 685-strong entry field, Java went into the final day top of the stacks with 3,200,000. He went heads-up with Vasilii Firsau, and though he missed bagging the title, Java earned $270,509 (~₹1.87 Crores) for his runner-up finish, a payout that remains the biggest score of his poker career till date. Java’s score was also the biggest cash ever earned by an Indian at the WSOP until the record was smashed in 2018 when Paawan Bansal posted a runner-up finish at The Closer for $378,765 (~₹2.58 Crores).
Known for planning his tournament outings well in the quest for value-hunting, Java’s popularity assumed more significant proportions in 2017 when he teamed up with Aditya Sushant in the $1,000 Tag Team event, and the duo clinched their first bracelet for India! This was the first WSOP title win for India as well, and Java didn’t hold back – Playing as ‘Javatinii’ in the $1,000 WSOP.com Online Championship, he won his second bracelet at the event for $237,688 (~₹1.66 Crores).
In 2018, Java was adjudged the Global Poker Index (GPI), Indian Player of the Year. Today, he has more than $2.5 Million in live tournament winnings, of which $738,012 (~₹5.16 Crores) have been earned at the annual WSOP.
“I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the USA since I live here, and the stats are way skewed in my favour for that reason. Having said that, it still feels good in the sense that it motivates me to further improve on my results,” Java said, talking about how it feels to be ‘numero uno’ in the list of Indians with winnings at the WSOP. In addition to the 29 WSOP cashes, Java also has 23 WSOP Circuit cashes equalling $394,493 (~₹2.75 Crores).
But he prefers the WSOP by a wide margin. “Not only you have the biggest prize pools, and more prestige, you’re competing against some of the world’s best tournament poker players. It always gets me excited.” Java confirmed that he will be attending the WSOP for the entire duration, adding that he was always available for helping out first-time Indians at WSOP.
Aditya Agarwal: The Visionary
Total No. of WSOP Cashes – 41
Total Earnings at WSOP – $558,720 (~₹3.93 Crores)
For the longest time, Aditya Agarwal was among the handful of Indians seen playing at the WSOP – he happens to be the among the first batch of players from India to attend the WSOP consistently since 2006. Agarwal, who had moved to the U.S. for his higher studies and ended up turning poker pro, earned his first live cash at WSOP way back in 2007. In more than 13 years of playing the annual series, the poker pioneer has built a scorecard dotted with deep WSOP runs and is acknowledged by many as one of the toughest Indian opponents on the WSOP felts. If figures are to go by, then ‘Intervention’ has the maximum scores earned by an Indian at the WSOP – a tally of 41, amounting to $558,720 (~₹3.93 Crores) in winnings.
It was during 2015 WSOP that Agarwal clinched his biggest WSOP win when he finished 71st amid 6,420 entries in the $10,000 Main Event. The feat made him the first Indian to crack into the top 100 at the prestigious WSOP Main Event.
Besides being an icon of Indian poker, Agarwal is also a dedicated poker coach. Applying a vision that belies his age, Agarwal has passionately mentored a number of players and encouraged them to play at Las Vegas and other international destinations. Agarwal was handpicked by online poker giant PokerStars as its first Team PokerStars ambassador from India and is one of the few Indians who diligently plays the entire WSOP schedule every year.
Last year saw Agarwal play steadily throughout the series. After picking up a score early in the Big Blind Antes $1,500 NLHE, he went on to post seven more scores, bringing home the maximum cashes earned by an Indian in the 2018 WSOP. Agarwal also posted his seventh score at the $10,000 Main Event, finishing in 717th place (~₹13.60 Lakhs) which took his tally closer to the world record of 10 Main Event cashes currently held by Berry Johnston.
Paawan Bansal: The Adventurist
Total No. of WSOP Cashes – 9
Total Earnings at WSOP – $496,806 (~₹3.44 Crores)
In the summer of 2008 when Paawan Bansal joined university at Singapore and was first introduced to poker, he didn’t know then, that a decade later, he would make heads turn at the WSOP. Bansal, who claimed his first title at the 2015 Asian Poker Tour (APT) Finale PHP 17,600 NLHE Battle of the Nation’s Team Event didn’t start playing professionally until a year later. In 2017, he stepped onto the WSOP platform for the very first time. Bansal ensured that his Vegas trip counted – he returned with two scores, and one of them was the 124th place finish at the $10,000 Main Event ($53,247 ~₹37.15 Lakhs)!
The rousing debut notwithstanding, Bansal was back with gusto in 2018. After weeks of disciplined playing, he picked a total of six cashes, but the best was yet to come. Just as the series was on its home stretch, Bansal became the crowd favorite for the title at The Closer $1,500 NLHE (30-min levels) $1M GTD event. Even though the Bansal got beaten to the finish line by the at-the-time youngest WSOP Main Event champion – Joe Cada, he earned a mind-boggling $378,765 (~₹2.58 Crores) for his second-place finish.
The runner-up finish catapulted Bansal straight to the higher echelons of Indian performers at the WSOP. He ended his 2018 WSOP outing over ₹3 Crores richer and also emerged as the top performing Indian at the series! Today, with only nine WSOP cashes that have earned him $496,806 (~₹3.44 Crores), he’s considered one of the best poker professionals from India and is ranked sixth on the country’s All-Time Money List.
Vivek Rajkumar: The Elusive Player
Total Number of WSOP Cashes -14
Total earnings at WSOP – $377,997 (~₹2.64 Crores)
At a time when poker had just broken ground in the Indian consciousness as a mind sport, Vivek Rajkumar was already waging heated battles in international events. Having acquired an interest in poker after watching Chris Moneymaker win the 2003 WSOP Main Event on TV, Rajkumar stuck to playing online for the first few years. The youthful-looking player took to the live circuit only after he turned 21 and misled many of his opponents with his innocent looks and poker face on the tables.
For nearly a decade starting 2006, Rajkumar built a glittering resume of poker accolades. Beyond WSOP, Rajkumar took down the 2008 Borgata Poker Open $10,000 NLHE WPT Event for $1.42 Million (~₹9.96 Crores) – a payday that remains his best performance and the highest score by an Indian till date.
After Aditya Agarwal, the Vegas-based Indian American was perhaps the only other Indian who started cashing at the WSOP as early as 2007. His best-recorded cash at the WSOP came in 2013 when he finished 197th ($42,990 ~₹30.06 Lakhs) in the $10,000 Main Event and he followed it up, two years later, with yet another 197th ($40,433 ~₹28.27 Lakhs) finish at the same event. He seems to be on a self-imposed sabbatical since. However, despite his elusiveness and disappearance from the WSOP, with 14 WSOP cashes worth $377,997 (~₹2.64 Crores), Rajkumar still commands a lead over many other Indian pros and is ranked fourth among the top-earning Indians at the WSOP.
Aditya Sushant: The Maverick
Total Number of WSOP Cashes – 17
Total earnings at WSOP – $255,392 (~₹1.77 Crores)
Young, Chennai-based pro – Aditya Sushant is undoubtedly one of the most talented poker players in the country and its no surprise that he has 17 WSOP cashes on his poker resume, accounting for winnings of $255,392 (~₹1.77 Crores).
Sushant’s rise in poker underlines his zest to take chances and back them with sheer hard work. He hitched a bus ride in 2010 to participate in a poker tournament at Goa and ended up earning his first live score. He also ran into Aditya Agarwal who discovered that Sushant was not just an incredibly talented player with strong potential, but he also had the drive of a champion.
Agarwal’s mentee earned his first score at the WSOP in 2014 – a modest, 94th place finish at $1,000 NLHE Turbo that earned him $2,293 (~₹1.60 Lakhs). Though he could only manage one more score at the WSOP that year, it was just the beginning for Sushant who has returned to the WSOP year-after-year since then. In 2016, Sushant finished 216th at the $10,000 Main Event to bank a whopping $42,285 (~₹29.57 Lakhs) and the following year he gained stardom in a single tournament. Teaming up with Nipun Java in the $1,000 Tag Team NLHE, Sushant took the event down to win his very first bracelet! The win remains his most outstanding WSOP performance till date, and the paycheque that Sushant earned, of $75,319 (~₹52.67 Lakhs) is the maximum he has earned at a WSOP event till now. But Sushant is also not the kind to bask in past glory – he moved on quickly and was back at Vegas in 2018 when he final-tabled two events. He finished eighth in the $1,500 NLHE and posted a ninth-place finish at the $1,000 WSOP.com ONLINE NLHE Championship.
The achievements of these Indian pros give a very clear idea as to how much the mind sport has matured within the country over the past few years. With the largest-ever Indian contingent expected to be in attendance at the 50th WSOP, we are looking forward to many more deep runs, final table finishes and possibly another couple of gold bracelets!
Content & Images Courtesy: World Series of Poker
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