Bollywood actress Minissha Lamba among other participants at the World Poker Tour in Goa

Nov 12, 2017, 21:25 IST | Gaurav Sarkar

Mid-day gets exclusive access to the first-time-in-India event - the World Poker Tour in Goa where members of an underground community are battling it out with the best

Poker fever seems to be flying high and strong in Goa where scores of players from across the country set up base for an entire week to participate in the World Poker Tour (WPT) tournament, which is being held for the first time in India. The tournament, which ends on Monday, saw the country's pros and amateurs battle it out to achieve legitimate 'Poker Pro' status and win lakhs of rupees in prize money.

The World Poker Tour (WPT) tournament is being held aboard the Deltin Royale, an offshore casino in Panaji
The World Poker Tour (WPT) tournament is being held aboard the Deltin Royale, an offshore casino in Panaji

From the US to India
Aboard the Deltin Royale, an offshore casino in Panaji, the mood seems to change by 9 pm — players at WPT tables begin to pull out their earphones, wear their sunglasses, and put up their jacket hoods to prevent their opponents from getting a 'read' on them. Others looked dazed, but mechanically kept shuffling their chips in their palms, anticipating the next draw of cards. "Someone in this room is going to have a serious impact on the future of Indian Poker. The next Phil Laak or Doyle Brunson might be right here," said Adam Pliska, CEO of WPT Enterprises, who started the tournament 16 years ago in the USA. "WPT had never been to South Asia and, hence, there was a gaping hole. For this tour, we decided to partner with regional poker houses in the subcontinent so as to tap into its culture and demographic. We wanted to crack the cultural symptom, otherwise we'd only have the pros attending various tournaments across the globe, and not garner fresh participation from new faces."

Looking across at the neon blue floor aboard the ship that houses over 30 playing tables, Pliska said he never anticipated the turnout to be so huge. "We are pleasantly shocked to see that 32 per cent more than the estimated number have turned up," added Manish Adani, business head of Delta Corp, which runs Adda52 — India's largest online poker portal with over a million registered players — and is the key partner of this tournament.

Minissha Lamba, actress and Texas hold 'em player
Minissha Lamba, actress and Texas hold 'em player

Big money, high numbers
With buy-ins ranging from Rs 20,000 to Rs 1 lakh, the week-long fiesta not only tested the mental endurance and patience of card players, but also their ability to compete under pressure. "Poker is becoming a culture today, one where working professionals, businessmen, and a major chunk of youngsters are taking to studying the strategy and skill behind the game," said Adani.

Being a tournament format, the number of busts seen every day is phenomenal. Siddharth Gupta, 27, a poker player from Delhi, was smoking a cigarette in the small smoking room at WPT, literally breathing a sigh of relief. "I just tripled up," said Gupta with a smile, who, before nailing the last hand on a pair of pocket Jacks, was bleeding chips. Seven hours later, Gupta went bust for the night when his pair of pocket Nines were beaten by another's pocket Kings. "Tomorrow's a new day," he said.

Adam Pliska, CEO of WPT Enterprises
Adam Pliska, CEO of WPT Enterprises

mid-day also spotted Minissha Lamba at the tables, who as the night progressed, also went bust. "Theoretically, knowing what you're getting into before every hand is important. But, at the end of the day, experience that comes from playing at different tables with different players is also factored in," said Lamba, who has been an active Texas hold 'em player — a variation of poker — for the last five years. "Just knowing the math behind the game isn't enough. You need to make the best-informed decisions. But, it is nearly impossible to predict how another person will decide to react to a hand. This is a game that requires a specific skill set," she added.

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Breaking the 3-card barrier
Culturally, India has always been a 'teen patti' oriented nation. Texas hold 'em is a western card game that has gained prominence in the subcontinent over a little more than the last decade. "The younger generation wants to play more of a skill-based game than just gamble," said Anuj Gupta, CEO and founder of Adda52.

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