29 Jun 2020 shivani

HT Talks About Gender Inclusion in Poker with Nikita Luther, Amin Rozani

Recently, in a virtual discussion, Aditi Prasad, Senior Editor, Hindustan Times (HT), spoke with Nikita Luther, Professional female poker player, and Amin Rozani, Founder and Managing Director at Spartan Poker, about how poker, historically considered as a ‘man’s game’, is seeing increased female participation.

The discussion revolved around the changing perceptions around the game of poker in India, growing female participation in the sport, poker during COVID, and the things players can keep in mind to succeed in poker.

Here's a link to the webinar.

Perception of Poker in India

When asked what got her in the game in the first place, Luther humbly revealed how she didn’t know about the existence of the idea of playing poker professionally when she started playing the game at the age of 18-19 years. She was a college student at the time and was attracted to the play of intellect and strategy in the game of poker. She started playing on a free poker app on Facebook called Zynga, competing with her friends online.

Luther took up a job in the poker industry while learning poker and honing her skills of the game. To win her family’s approval on her becoming a professional poker player, Luther showed how poker is a game of skill, and discussed how it’s being taught by some of the top universities in the world. She roughly quotes Vishwanathan Anand saying, "sport, like chess, is a mind sport". She also added that her hard work and accomplishments in the game did most of the talking to win her approval of her family.

When discussing the existing journey of poker in India, Prasad highlighted how, among many other Indian states, the Kolkata High Court also recently ruled that poker is a game of skill. Rozani said that there have been different stages of taboo around the game of poker in India and that Poker has had a long journey with the Indian government, law courts, and audience. He commended players like Luther who have participated in and won international championships, like the World Series of Poker, to show that poker can be won with skills.

Once considered a taboo, Poker is now respected as a professional sport, unrestricted by gender.

Rozani added that the increase in the size of the industry is a clear indicator of acceptance of the game among a large audience. He, however, also stated that some effort is still needed in Tier II and III cities and towns to convince the audience against existing taboos and stigmas, and how more popular poker champions and a boost from mainstream media will help in this.

Luther also said how she personally saw people accepting her profession more and more with time, as their perception about the game changed. She attributes this change to penetration of technology and globalisation.

Stressing on poker being like any other sport, Luther highlighted how glamour, travel and trophies of the game mask the hard work, training and discipline required to succeed in the game. She said that a poker player needs to train like an athlete with a strict diet, sleep, study, coaching, and lifestyle modulation.

Luther quotes a famous saying, ‘Poker takes a minute to learn a lifetime to master’. She says that playing the game itself requires a combination of mathematics, statistics, probability, and game theory strategies. Game theory employs strategies and counter strategies to opponents’ moves. The game is mastered with the assistance of sophisticated AI solvers that find and simulate infinite game solutions that are intricate to study. “It’s like studying calculus”, says Luther.

When asked if such sophisticated tools are made available to the masses to learn and master poker, Rozani said that as an entrepreneur they have the responsibility to enable every player to have access to intricate gaming solutions and to learn the game, and this is the reason that they continuously strive to design an effective platform for all players.

Poker during COVID

During COVID, the trend has been to move to gaming, with Spartan Poker seeing a 30% surge in the number of hours spent on the platform. Requiring the platform to gear up to offer better services and to educate people to responsibly play the sport and enjoy the game.

In July, India Online Poker Championship will be hosted by Spartan Poker. Thousands of people across the country will participate in the series to play for the crown that will be given to the winner of the Main event. The platform is offering options to win tournament tickets for as less as INR 50. Rozani says that such poker tournaments are great opportunities for players at home to use their knowledge and skills of the game to make money, like they can do in the share market. Prize money in the series includes an INR 50-lakh prize pool in the Main event, an INR 50-lakh prize pool for the winners of the series’ leaderboard, and a crown (gold and gems) for the winner of the Main Event. Luther is also looking forward to playing in the series.

Like more and more activities like work, shopping are becoming digital, poker is also increasingly being played online. Even though physical poker series offer great experiences, an online tournament is more accessible, as one doesn’t have to take off from work or travel for a poker series, sayd Luther.

Going forward, will there be more women participation in poker?

Luther says that poker is a gender neutral game, as no gender has an advantage over another in the sport. She says that the reason the current ratio is skewed is because it’s the inherent nature of all sports.

However, in poker, Luther says, women actually may have an advantage, as it’s a game of patience, discipline and emotional stability, while men often tend to go for ‘ego play’. She also added that bankroll management is easier for women, while men, at times, tend to overspend. Rozani agreed with Luther.

Things poker players should keep in mind to succeed

Luther says that as poker is a skill game, for real money play, one should study, practice, and train with people who know the game. She added that even for female players there is no discrimination in the game, and, in fact, men are often shy to observe women intensely in a game, giving woman players an advantage. She even said that the crowd that the game attracts is often educated and analytical, and hence, there is little sexual discrimination.

Q&A Round

After the discussion, Prasad took some questions from the viewers.

What is holding back poker from becoming more popular in India?

Rozani says that it’s a fairly young game in India, compared to Rummy and Teen Patti. As now prominent personalities like Luther, Vishwnathan Anand and MS Dhoni are supporting the game now, there is potential to attract a larger audience. The industry is trying everyday to make the game more popular.

Luther says that India is a few years behind global trends. In the US and many European countries, poker is broadcasted on national channels, making it more accessible and inclusive. She says that globally, there is no age or gender bar for poker players, anyone above the age of 18 years can play poker, people from different professional backgrounds play the game, and India is catching up pretty fast. She says that it could be because it’s been only 5-6 years for the existence of online poker platforms in India, compared to 10-12 years in many western countries.

Where to learn to play poker?

One can easily learn basic, intermediate, advanced and expert-level poker through a simple Google search that gives access to various online learning resources and YouTube videos.

Who are other inspirational poker female players in the world

Luther is inspired by Kristen Bicknell, a Canadian poker player who plays highest stake games, inspiring other women to do so. She is one of the top women poker players in the world and she has been in top 10 players (all genders) in the world.

How can young players convince their families about their choice to play poker professionally?

Luther says that players themselves need to be convinced about it first. She says that one can start by bringing awareness that it’s a game of skill that is taught by top universities, and that it requires strategy and skills to play.

She adds that one should put effort into making constant progress and earn the trust of their family by building a bankroll, getting consistent results and growth, winning tournaments, making final tables, getting ROI, staying organized, and keeping records of ROI.

Are women more comfortable to learn in an online environment

Rozani feels that it is natural for anyone to feel more comfortable playing online, as there is less investment, e.g. in travelling to play a game. Luther thinks that playing online is more about other commitments than comfort, e.g. stay-at-home moms or other players who have more responsibilities find it more convenient to play online. She adds that the live poker environment is not an intimidating environment for women.

Is meditation important for long poker sessions?

Luther says that meditation is important to have focus and decision making abilities for long gaming sessions. She adds that meditation is an important tool to keep your mind sharp. It’s a part of Luther’s daily routine, besides workout and a healthy diet.

Stay tuned for more online gambling and gaming news.

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