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When Ankur Dewani lost almost 80% of his chips, and his best out of five cards were a pair of fives, one of the lowest ranking sequences in poker, he thought the game would be difficult to win. And rightly so, because his opponent had been betting aggressively.

Dewani was at a poker tournament, last year, at a casino in Goa. And the last card, which is called river, had been revealed. Poker, which typically involves two cards given to each player and five community cards that are revealed to all, requires players to come up with the best possible sequence of five cards by matching their cards with the community cards. Of course, the best sequence wins.

“I had a very nominal hand, and my opponent had just put all in when we reached river, which was rare,” says Dewani. “But I noticed that he was shaking his feet. And I realised, he had done that before, whenever he wasn’t sure of his hand.”

“By putting all in, he thought I would fold. But it made me feel that he didn’t have a lot. I called his bluff. He really didn’t have anything,” he remembers. Dewani won the game. And that tournament won him about Rs 9 lakh.

That is what it comes down to in a game of poker. Or so they say. A sharp mind that picks up cues and makes the right calls at a time when all is still not lost. Players call it skills—skills to bluff, to call a bluff and to play the best hand that you can.

Recently, poker has garnered much attention. Earlier this month, India’s first ever Poker Sports League started its qualifying rounds. Entrepreneurs and executives such as Kunal Shah, founder of Freecharge, and Amrish Rau, CEO of PayU India, have revealed their passion for poker. And India’s largest online poker game company Adda52 has just kicked off a five-day poker tournament called Deltin Poker Tournament (23-27 February 2017) in Goa.

And all of them—entrepreneurs, gaming companies and the poker leagues—emphasise on one common theme. That poker is a mind game, and it needs skills. They are going all out to change the perception that poker is a chance-based game, which amounts to gambling.

On that perception rests the survival of over a dozen Indian poker operators because gambling is banned in India.

Playing by the rule book?

India’s 150-year-old central law called Public Gambling Act of 1867 prohibits gambling. But it gives leeway to those games, which depend on a player’s skill rather than luck. What it means is—gambling is betting or wagering on a game of chance. Betting on a game of skill isn’t gambling.

Then, the states have their own approach, gambling being a state subject. Of all the states and union territories, only two states, Goa and Sikkim, have legalised gambling through licenses.


Moulishree Srivastava

Moulishree has over five years of experience in journalism. In her previous assignment, she was a Principal Correspondent for Business Standard where she wrote on technology and telecom. Prior to Business Standard, she was at Mint, where she wrote on various subjects — tourism, hospitality, real estate, science, cyber security and technology. Moulishree graduated as an engineer in Information Technology from Chandigarh Engineering College. She worked as a software engineer briefly but then took a detour and got her journalism degree from IIJNM, Bangalore. She will be based in Bangalore and you can reach her at her [email protected]

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