From a Zynga game to Las Vegas: professional poker player Nikita Luther is raising the stakes of the game, one tournament at a time
Gold jewellery has been a fashion statement for ages, but Nikita Luther wears hers as a badge of honour. Nikita created history by winning a gold bracelet at The World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas last June. The 28-year-old player who is based in Delhi, also won a prize money of $88,000 at the three-day tournament.
Women are raising the bar and breaking boundaries across professions and industries, and the poker world is no different. Nikita Luther, one of India’s few female poker players, can tell you that.
“The most memorable moment for me was getting a chance host the Indian flag as many sportspersons have done before - to make my country proud,” she says.
Beating a field of 1,032 players, Nikita won the WSOP gold bracelet, which many call poker’s “Olympic Gold”. The only female player to win a gold in the 2018 tournament, Nikita beat 123,000 entries from over 88 countries. She is now India’s topmost female poker player.
Nikita also plays on Adda52.com’s platform, taking part in the company-sponsored tournaments. The Delhi-based startup lets users play games like online poker for real money.
All from a hobby
Seven years ago, Nikita discovered Zynga poker by US-based games company Zynga, and started spending four to five hours every day playing it. “Then, it was not for money but for points, and I was always at the top of the leader board,” she recalls.
A year or two later, Nikita had the chance to play poker for real money at a friend’s birthday party. As hesitant as she was, starting with a small amount, she ended up taking all the other players to the cleaners.
Soon, she discovered poker tournaments and started playing full-time.
“I thought if I can play poker for free for hours, why not take this hobby and turn it into a living,” says Nikita. Then began endless research and study as she realised how this is a game of skill and not chance.
Being a poker player is as intense as any other job, says Nikita. It is stressful and hard to ‘earn’ without dedication and skill. “The skills involve intricate concepts of mathematics, probability, game theory, strategy and psychology,” she adds.
And if you don’t believe her, you can look up academic courses on poker at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard and closer home, at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kozhikode.
Nikita says that to be a good poker player, you have to keep studying and training hard for the game. When she is not travelling for a tournament, her weekly routine involves playing poker three times a week. She also sets aside 20 hours to study the game the rest of the days. “The more you play, the better you get, so I practise a lot,” she says. To stay focussed, Nikita also meditates and practises yoga.
What is it like to be a poker player in India?
Poker faces a lot of ambiguity when it comes to legality in India, and is often associated with gambling. But Nikita says that she does not face a lot of problems, and educating people around have worked for her.
However, Nikita faces another struggle - being a woman.
“People will often raise an eyebrow or two because I am a woman,” she says, “People will often ask me, ‘You are a girl, how can you play poker tournaments?’ with surprise.”
But she laughs, "Poker is not a gender-biased game - it is a mind sport. In fact, I feel women have an edge in this game. We are more logical, rational and centred with less ego.”
Having played poker professionally for more than two years, with the rewards to show for it and $218,554 in tournament earnings, Nikita is flying.
Most recently, she won a Rs 6.8 lakh prize at the five-day Deltin Poker Tournament held last month, organised by Adda52.com.