Big Games, Big Money, Big Skills: Meet the Online Baazigars of Indian Poker
A regular festive tradition, playing cards at Diwali is now a more high-stakes affair, with a greater number of people across India taking to Poker. In fact, we can even say that Poker has replaced Flash as the card game of choice during festivities. While the physical game is making a place for itself in homes across India as part of tradition, the online version has been around and consistently gaining traction for over a decade now. It’s even a source of livelihood (more than comfortable) for some who have decided to dedicate their lives to it. Meet three champions of Indian Poker who are conquering the game, one virtual table at a time.
31-year-old Rubin makes several trips to Goa every year for global poker tournaments and recently traveled to Vietnam for the Asian Poker League. But long before he was a tournament hopping big-league player, he was a computer engineer in the making who discovered he had a knack for the game playing online as “kornkid”. Eventually, he made the hardest decision of his life, dropping out of college and working at a friend’s startup.
A change in job and a move from Chennai to Delhi, while still playing poker on the side, Rubin realised he needed a more aggressive strategy. He moved out of his parents’ house and went all in after building a sufficient bankroll, taking up poker full-time. There were ups and downs, but with his hard (and more importantly smart) work, he won the country’s biggest ever online tournament until then - the main event at PokerBaazi’s Poker Premier League’18 – and ended up bagging Rs 35.4 lakh! Rubin just bagged his biggest Live win at WPT Vietnam’19 and took home a whopping Rs 27 lakh by placing second in the tournament.
About his future plans, Rubin says, “I am planning to go for more live events in the future as it offers great exposure and you get to travel to new places. Other than that, I guess I’ll do the usual: grind online and keep the bankroll boosted. There’s just so much value online, in addition to the comfort and ease of online gaming.”
Whoever said practice makes perfect must have been talking about Ankit ‘akj290’ Jijodia. A 26-year old poker pro and perfectionist to the core, he completed a 40-day online marathon grind in 2017, playing minor tournaments to seal loopholes in his game, following which he topped the first major tournament he played. A three-pronged strategy of watching YouTube videos, studying the big players and sharpening his game through free online tournaments helped him develop his knowledge and paid dividends.
Cash games aren’t his style. He plays at least 300 tournaments every month, and that’s just online. He has also played live in Goa, been to Manila twice, and visited Vietnam for the Asian Poker Tournament. He plans to continue making it big in the Asian poker circuit, while new opportunities in India such as the Baazi Poker Tour are also on the cards. Through it all, he continues training for his long-term goal, the World Series Of Poker.
“Poker takes years of unidirectional focus, untiring hard work, top-notch gaming skills and a never-say-die attitude to master,” he says. He should know. After all, it took a lot of courage to bid goodbye to his family business to focus on playing poker. But his parents were supportive of his decision, and that helped him hit stellar shows over PokerBaazi's tournaments Endeavour and Baazi Super Sundays. It was then that he knew poker was his way forward in life.
Prashanth Sekar, 29, was first introduced to poker in his final year of engineering. It was a hobby that would slowly become his life’s mission. He started playing in 2013 at live poker clubs in Bangalore, and it was in 2017 that he started playing seriously, grinding online as Iveyleague, alongside working as a product manager at an online gaming startup.
He played it slow and smart, working on his game, talking to better players and steadily moving up in stakes from buy-ins of 200 all the way up to 2000. His first big win came later that year at PokerBaazi Live in Bangalore.
He started researching, reading books and watching videos, taking coaching to improve his game. Towards the end of 2018, he began to hit a bad patch with several unfavourable results that lasted until February 2019. Not one to give up, he used a deposit offer on the PokerBaazi website and got a free ticket to the first edition of Game Changer tournament, India's biggest online poker tournament with a guaranteed prize pool of Rs 2.39 crores. He went on to ship the tournament, taking home Rs 33 lakh!
He started playing poker professionally only a few months ago, but if his steady journey doesn’t sound impressive, here’s something that might. Before he started playing full-time, Prashanth had already raked up over Rs 1 crore in winnings!
From left to right: Rubin, Prashanth and Ankit
What you should know if you've just started off your Poker journey
According to these three Indian Poker champions, beginners need to keep in mind a few guiding factors.
Rubin says, "It takes a lot of effort and commitment and often requires you to put everything else aside. But that’s the dynamic of the game, and of the profession. If results are what you are looking for, then keep learning, keep experimenting and most of all enjoy your time on the felts!”
Ankit asks aspiring poker players to: “Work on your basics with a single-minded focus and other things will take care of themselves. There will always be failures a.k.a. downswings, but with poker, you'll always come back a stronger person.”
Prashanth’s advice is to: “Take your time through it, work on your game for at least a year and when you're confident enough to make a lot of money consistently, go professional full time. And don’t forget to do your research.”