Poker is a full-time job, says Kunal, talking about how it is like to play professional poker in India, and how being a poker player makes him a venture by himself.Rashi Varshney
If you watch TV these days, chances are you have seen actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui in an advertisement for an online poker platform. In the last couple of years, the number of companies offering online poker games has grown from just one - Adda52 - in 2011 - to 15 today. There's PokerRaj, backed by industrialist Raj Kundra, the Star Group-owned Pokerstars, Spartan Poker, Poker-Baazi, Realpoker, and Khelo365.
Online gaming in India is rising steadily, particularly card games. In fact, a KPMG report estimates that the Indian online gaming industry is worth Rs 4,380 crore as of FY 2018. This is projected to grow at a CAGR of 22.1 percent and reach Rs 11,880 crore by FY 2023.
This also means that card players in the country are increasingly taking to games like poker more than just as a hobby. Meet Kunal Patni, a professional poker player and the winner of multiple poker championships. For Kunal, ‘Poker is life,’ he says.
He says that the game is very popular sport outside India, with many tournaments happening internationally. While being a poker player in India is not easy as people consider it gambling and may even think it’s illegal, Kunal also has had some positive reactions to his job.
As a banker, he had never faced an issue while looking for a place to rent. “However, when I recently changed my house, the broker told me not to tell the owner that I was a poker player,” he recalls. Kunal chose not to lie about it and was instead surprised with the homeowner’s positive reaction, who was very enthusiastic about the game.
Kunal plays poker online, travels across the globe for poker tournaments, and says he earns thousands of dollars at each job. Sounds sweet, doesn’t it? But, his professional life was not always this smooth. Till 2014, Kunal had a regular job as a private banker, having worked for companies like IIFL, HSBC, Birla, etc., for over 13 years.
He entered the world of online poker in 2014 when he won the Asian Championship of Poker (ACOP) in Macau. Soon, his casual interest developed into a passion and career.
As they say, ‘passion is the difference between having a job and having a career’. “In 2015, I simultaneously played poker and worked at the bank for three months, but then realised this is a full-time job and decided quit banking,” he says.
That same year, he quit his job became a part of the first-ever team of Adda52 Pros in India, playing poker tournaments sponsored by the company, and become the second player in the Global Poker Index Ranking (GPI), a patent-pending ranking system that classifies the world’s top poker players.
In five years of his poker career, Kunal has learnt that the gaming industry has endless job opportunities for the passionate ones. Asked if millennials in India can choose poker for a living, Kunal’s reaction is nothing but positive. He is seeing a lot more youngsters between 18-25 years taking it up as a full-time profession.
“They are earning enough today that they can tell their parents that this is what they do, and they are flourishing and sustaining,” he adds.
Without divulging exactly how much he makes, Kunal says it’s enough to support his lifestyle.
Quoting, ‘Poker is an extremely easy to learn but extremely difficult to master’, Kunal says that it is very important to learn the game with research and practice. After all, he says, it is a game of skill.
“It takes less than 20 minutes to explain the game to someone, but as you play, you realise it is very difficult,” he says.
Sharing his own journey, Kunal says that when he won the Macau championship and decided to quit his job, he read books on poker to train himself.
“At that time, I thought I knew everything about it. But when I started playing, I realised that I only knew 10 per cent of the game,” he adds.
Kunal says that he plays five days a week, but his busiest business day is Sunday. “Online tournaments usually happen in the evenings. And, Sundays are the heavies days for online tournaments,” he adds.
From Wednesday to Sunday, he plays poker and takes Mondays and Tuesdays off to spends time with his family or studying the game.
Deciding to playing poker as a career needs a lot of concentration, says Kunal. He compares it to the stock market, saying that while you have to keep studying and training, just like trading, poker is all about how you manage risks. For instance, if you set aside Rs 1 lakh to play poker, you should not sit at a table with a minimum bankroll of Rs 50,000. Bankroll is the amount of money that a player has to wager for the duration of his or her poker game like stakes.
Kunal’s biggest win so far was in at the 2018 World Poker Tournament, where he was in second place, winning $96,000.
To new players, he has a small advice: start playing with small amounts (from Re 1 to Rs 100) and increase or move the bank roll for a larger sum of money.