Macau: Despite lavish poker parties and informal tournaments being the major attractions, particularly during Diwali, playing it as a proper sport or making a career out of it still remains a taboo, though some youngsters are trying hard to change that perception.
There is huge money in poker and youngsters are making somewhere between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore every month. One such player is Aditya Agarwal.
Agarwal, the face of Indian poker and who has managed to make a name for himself at the international level and earn millions of dollars, says that it is still awkward for him to tell people that he actually does "gambling" for a living.
"Coming from an Indian family, I was always in denial that I could actually take it up as a career. I always liked playing it but thought that once I complete my graduation, I would get a job. But by the time I graduated, I was already doing well and was making a lot of money. In fact, I became somewhat famous," recalled Agarwal.
"At that time, I thought that doing anything else other than this would be stupid and that's how I got into it," he told PTI.
Agarwal, who hails from Kolkata, had recently made headlines when he bagged a massive USD 96,445 at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, which is considered one of the biggest tournaments in poker.
"Although most other casino games are about luck, Poker is a game where you need to have some skills. Being good at mathematics is an advantage as there are a lot of numbers involved. You also need to understand the psychology of your opponents and judge their behaviour. Besides, mental fitness is a must to be able to make good decisions every single time. Sometimes for 10 to 14 hours at a stretch when you are playing tournaments.
"Best players are those who are good at all these aspects," explained Agarwal, who along with his brother Rajat, founded PokerGuru.In, a website dedicated to the game.
Agarwal started playing over a decade ago when he was student in the Philadelphia, USA, and recalled that the telecast of World Series Poker in 2003 on the television got him and many others hooked to the game.
"The World Series was won by an amateur. People watched it and got interested. I was 18 and in college. I started playing and gradually got better. I had a knack for the game. I started playing online as well and did well. It made me work harder and I also got mentors to teach me. Soon I was travelling the entire circuit," said the 31-year-old.
"In my first year of playing in 2003-04, I made USD 22,000, which was when I thought I was good and wanted to continue full-time. In India also it was booming. I came back here and was in Goa for two years, playing tournaments. Since then I have been travelling. I have also mentored a lot of youngsters," said Agarwal, who has toured more than 20 countries playing poker.
Agarwal was recently roped in as a Team Pro player for PokerStars and has been currently representing the company at the ongoing Asian Poker Championship here along with fellow PokerStars Team pro player -- the legendary footballer Ronaldo Nazario of Brazil.
Asked if there is possibility of more Indians taking up Poker professionally, Agarwal said: "At this point taking it up as a career is not too bright. In 2-3 years, if and when there is some telecast on television then things may change. Right now though there are many fresh graduates doing it for a living."
Besides Agarwal, there are a few others who are making their mark at the international level -- Amit Jain, Aditya Sushant, Vishal Chacko and Kunal Patni.
"The difficult part was convincing my parents that this was something I wanted to do as a profession. They were never against it, but wanted me to balance it with my studies. I think they were relieved that I completed my studies and then pursued it. Now they are proud of me.
"But now the challenge is to convince the parents of my girlfriend," he concluded with a smile.