Poker in India outshining old favorites like teen patti

20 August 2013

From Times of India


AHMEDABAD: With the holy month of Shravan beginning, tradition holds that people gamble during this month, to bring good luck for the rest of the year. This alludes to the legend that before Lord Krishna's birth, the realm was in disorder and chaos. This is what the gambling in Shravan, before Janmashtami, signifies.

Gambling in the city though has turned younger, smarter and more skillful. Poker, the card game which involves betting and individual play, is fast outshining older favourites like teen patti, especially among the younger generation.

Poker in India, internet and popularity

Poker has exploded across the internet over the last decade, thanks initially to poker websites, like, which grew to become the second largest in the world. Its co-founder, Jharkhand-born Anurag Dikshit, pled guilty to violating America's Wire Act. In what can be seen as testament to blurred legal lines, he forfeited some revenue and was awarded one-year probation in 2010.

Along the way came Facebook's Zynga poker, played with virtual chips. At approximately 40 million players worldwide, Zynga became the largest such social poker website. Then with smartphone apps, the game made the jump onto mobile platforms, allowing players to play from anywhere.

"Poker is a game of skill, although it involves luck too. A player who knows how to read risks and evaluate his hand will in the long term win over those who do not," said Krutin Parikh, 28, (name changed) an Ahmedabad-based businessman who plays poker. "Also now most youngsters play poker. Everybody is familiar with the rules, playing on Facebook also gives people practice. With proper practice of analyzing risk and playing, people who play online make the jump into playing in the real world," says Parikh.

"Many guys here are active on sites like One cannot use an Indian account to register and be paid on these sites, so some players use accounts in the UK or elsewhere, but play over the internet," said Amish Shah (name changed), 27, a businessman. "I know a student from Chennai who used his account in the UK, where he studies, to play and recently won $45,000. Others use relatives' accounts."

Globally, poker has turned into a huge spectator sport, especially in the US and Europe. This is done by "hole cams" which allow viewers to see players' hands in real time and watch bluffs, bets and folds - how players react to various situations and how they manage risk and gain. In India, one sports channel has televised 'World Series of Poker' - the game's holy grail - in the past.

Going uptown

The way this play takes place is also changing. "Frequent India poker nights are held, where a limited set of enthusiasts meet up at a secure location to play," said Meet Thakkar (name changed), 32, a city-based professional. "These are tournaments where players pay a certain entry fee, and top finishers win prizes such as high-end smartphones, tablets etc. They are much like tournaments in other sports."

Sources said that frequently, the location is a farmhouse, sometimes rented for up to Rs 50,000 a night, for the privacy they offer. These are sometimes organized by groups of youngsters who double up as dealers and arbiters for the rake - a percentage of the winnings of each hand. A good night can net organizers a healthy windfall.

No longer are gambling dens the destinations for young card players. In fact, such sites usually involve games like teen patti, considered a game purely of luck. "With the advent of the internet and Facebook poker, teen patti is on its way out, especially among youngsters," said a player. "It is still widely played in homes during Shravan though, but it's not as popular with the youth."

Illegal or legal?

While chips, cards and groups of people in a large room invite police action and subsequent gambling cases, the matter of whether the game involves skill, luck or both is trickier.

The SC had, in 2011, called rummy a game involving more skill than luck, as had the Gujarat high court. In the US in August last year, a New York court had ruled that "poker is more a game of skill than of chance".

"Since there is a huge debate in India regarding the legality of poker and the degree of skill involved in card games like rummy and poker, the elaborate and exhaustive opinion by (US) federal judge Weinstein, taking into account testimonies of expert statisticians and economists, will have a great deal of persuasive value on Indian and other courts in deciding the fate of poker," National University of Juridical Sciences student Jay Sayta wrote in his blog, on gambling laws in India.

Sayta concludes that, "the decisions of Supreme Court in classifying rummy as a game of skill and statistical evidence on the preponderance of skill in poker coupled with the specific exemption of poker from the West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competition Act should aid the Indian judiciary in recognizing the game of poker (especially the tournament variant of Texas Hold 'em poker, one of the most widely played and most challenging versions of poker) to be a game of skill separate from gambling."

According to a KPMG report, 'Online Gaming: A Gamble or Sure Bet?' India's overall gaming market (most of which is illegal and unaccounted) is estimated to be worth Rs 2,50,000 crore, around 3.5% of India's GDP.

Rummy and poker are seen to be very similar. A famous US poker player, Stu Ungar, who won the World Series of Poker thrice, was considered a better rummy player. Both games involve evaluating risk and reading opponent's reactions and betting patterns.

In the city though, ACP A division, P C Joshi said: "According to the Gambling Act any game where movable or immovable property is transacted is considered gambling." Rummy is not considered gambling at club levels, Joshi said. "We also monitor these to see that no transactions take place," he said. "As far as I know, poker, which involves betting is illegal. Most cases in western city parts are for teen patti, and these are run as organized rackets with large profits for the organizers."


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