Straight A’s to Pocket Aces: Pratibha Arya’s rise to Baazi Gaming Pro amidst Indian Poker Boom
For many poker players around the world, what draws them to the sport is the thrill of playing and the riches it brings. For Pratibha Arya, who is a part of a small yet rapidly growing league of women poker players in India, it is the calm that she experiences while playing that has her hooked.
Talking about how the game has made her grow as a person, the Delhi native says, “Ever since I started playing poker, I have become calmer and wiser. It has taught me the importance of good mental and physical health and how they can directly impact one’s life. I learned to deal with my bad days in a better and more positive way.”
A straight-A student who had her heart set on becoming a software professional, Pratibha’s high scores in mathematics and computers led her to pursue a master’s degree in computer science.
It wasn’t until she was in her last year in college that she gave poker a shot at an online gaming platform in 2017. Soon enough, she saw that it was more than just good cards that had her winning. She had an ace up her sleeve: her mind.
A journey of grit and passion
Pratibha’s journey since then has been a whirlwind of tournaments and championships, both online and offline, and some sweeping stakes.
Looking back at her early days in the sport, Pratibha says the mental acuity required to excel in poker drew her. “I took it up as a challenge. The time I was investing in playing poker was fetching me good returns. Plus, the ease of working at my convenience and without any pressure didn't hurt,” she quips.
As she got a chance to play from home, even her family had no qualms with her switching careers. Starting out as a rookie, Pratibha made up for her lack of experience by getting more information about the sport from books and talking to friends.
But nothing beats actually playing the game. She describes her early days as gruelling, starting small before moving to higher stakes as she gained more confidence. It wasn’t long before she was winning tournaments with the quintessential poker face.
Taking the sport to new heights
From playing her first tournament in Goa in 2015 and bagging Rs 65,000 as prize money, to representing India at the IFMP Asian Nations Cup in Bangkok and then at Poker Nations Cup in Oxford, she has come a long way.
Pratibha recently joined hands with, India’s biggest poker platform, and will be serving as their 'Baazi Gaming Pro'. "My job will be to promote the game in multiple ways, stream, create learning content for aspiring poker players and so on," she adds.
She feels that being a secure platform, PokerBaazi evokes players' trust. "They think more from the player's perspective and have some very player-friendly features, especially for those who are new to the field," Pratibha reasons.
One of the biggest factors that have helped PokerBaazi make strides in a niche industry like poker is that it helps younger players realise their potential. Agreeing, Pratibha, says that the portal features some of the best satellites (low-priced qualifiers to big tournaments) and big prizes on offer for players who play regularly on the platform.
“It was the first platform in India to introduce an automated Responsible Gaming feature which allows players to set up a deposit limit and even the game limits themselves," says Pratibha. She feels that features like Responsible Gaming can keep players from overstepping their budgets and keep the sport's credibility intact.
Not to forget, interested players can pick up poker knowledge and get better at the game with round-the-clock free entry tournaments hosted on PokerBaazi, which let users level up their skills while kicking off their winning journey with zero investment.
In an industry that from the outside looks like it is susceptible to gender stereotypes and misconceptions, Pratibha has been a trailblazer. How difficult was it for her to reach here? “I don't feel any different as I mostly play online and while using a moniker. Even in live games, I've never felt any discomfort,” she says. Pratibha has featured prominently in live events hosted by PokerBaazi in Goa, which are set to return with post-pandemic restrictions easing up in the state and their live room, PokerBaazi LIVE having reopened recently.
At the same time, she felt the country's poker community could come together to fix the gender gap. “For starters, poker players could start talking more about how poker is a sport involving skill and not just chance. Organisers can also host more women-centric tournaments to encourage them to come forward. As more women start playing, others will be encouraged.”
India playing big on poker
Pratibha feels that the Indian poker industry is teeming with opportunities and we have just scratched the surface.
“Growing steadily with every passing year, the Indian poker industry has a lot of potential and we have tapped just 1 percent of it. Right now, what we are experiencing is a paradigm shift with higher guarantees and smaller buy-ins,” she explains.
The popularity of the sport, according to her, has risen with online platforms.
“Most of these platforms are user friendly, offer ease of transacting and some like PokerBaazi even offer instant withdrawals. Given how the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to stay home, we saw a big influx of players over the last two years.”
While the Indian poker industry is home to some big-name, big-ambition players, it's yet to match the size and impact of the poker scene in other countries.
“Once the industry is more regulated, which I am sure will happen sooner than later, there’s nothing that can stop poker from becoming a mainstream sport. India has already made its mark on the international stage, so it's only a matter of time before Indian players get more recognition globally, which undoubtedly brings more exposure,” says Pratibha.
As she looks forward to playing again in live tournaments, Pratibha says, for her poker is always going to be about skill, tact, discipline and mental strength. “Unlike what some people believe, the sport is not about easy money. It’s like any other sport, where determination and hard work is key to doing well.”
If she were to shell out a piece of advice for aspiring poker players, what would it be? Don’t get swayed by the glamour and don’t take the wins or losses to your heart, she adds.