Most of us brush off poker as a fickle game of gambling based on luck or chance. It’s clubbed with slot machines and betting at a casino, but professional players would tell you that it requires a level of skill to play. A skill that bored Indian millennials are picking up to distract themselves from the pandemic. Apart from new users, many Indians that were previously into poker are rejoining the game due to more time on their hands during the pandemic. Since live poker is unfeasible in a world of social distancing, players have turned to Real Money Gaming (RMG), where poker sites charge players an entry fee that can be as low as RS 2-25 to join.
Some companies that offer card-based real money games are Adda52, RummyCircle and Ace2Three. These companies form the clique of the initial wave of real money games in India. In March, when the lockdown barred the whole nation from stepping out, most online cash games noticed an influx of new users from different cities in India. The founder of GamesKraft, Prithvi Singh confirmed this, he told the Economic Times in March, "More people are playing rummy during the lockdown."
Indians found solace in poker during the pandemic as it’s mentally demanding
Maria Konnikova, the writer of The Biggest Bluff, a book that details the intricacies of poker says that poker deserves the same level of respect as mentally demanding games such as chess and scrabble. It's a game that challenges the player intellectually. In an interview, she tells the GQ, "It's about the process. It's about decision-making. It's about skill. That's what makes the game beautiful."
In her personal experience, it made her more meditative, mindful and zen, although, not all of us are guaranteed to reach this sort of higher consciousness through a game, it’s definitely a good mental exercise. Konnikova, however, considers it more than just a game, she looks at it as a way of reaching acceptance. She tells the GQ, "It's so liberating to let go of the outcome rather than dwell on it and replay it over and over in your mind and say, 'What did I do wrong? Why did I lose? ' But those questions don't matter," she concludes with a profound realisation, "In poker, all I can do is focus on the things that I can control."
While playing poker, the mind wanders less
A Pune-based psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani has similar reasoning as to why online poker is a better distraction than other low-involvement games. He tells the Economic Times, "There is a whole lot of uncertainty right now. In such circumstances, this serves as a distraction. Compared to playing chess, scrabble, etc., when you're gambling and it's fast-paced, the mind wanders less." It's hard to think of the crisis surrounding us when your money's on the line.
The pandemic has been a difficult experience for most, so to escape the ‘pandemic blues’, people are turning to distractions to maintain their sanity. Among other activities, poker had become a healthy pandemic distraction for a few Indians, some seasoned poker players told Bingedaily about their experiences on how it helped them.
Indians on how they started playing poker
Most poker players traced their journey to over 10 years ago when online poker was up and coming. “I started in 2008, during college. At the time, my friends and I used to pay for about 7-8 hours daily, sometimes more, depending on our mood. That went on for like a year in college, then work started, and we hardly played anything till lockdown came.” Abhishek, a 30-year-old, businessman tells Bingedaily.
Poker enthusiasts admit that when they started learning the game, they’d spend almost 3-4 hours to 12 hours on the game. The ‘poker fever’ had their friend circles religiously playing together and obsessing over the game. “Poker was just beginning to gain popularity and fame and I had a group of friends that were as obsessed about playing poker as I was back then,” Dipesh, a 28-year-old, algorithmic trader, tells the Bingedaily.
“We played almost every chance we got, sometimes skipping classes and discovering underground clubs as well. Back then we could play as long as 12-hour games and it continued into college as well.” He continues.
While the whole world halted due to the lockdown and jobs and schools temporarily shut down, we found ourselves with an abundance of time on our hands. Many poker players took this as a chance to jump back into the game to pass time or rediscover an old interest but now that we’ve entered the unlock down phase, the trend is slowly fading.
Poker was a quarantine distraction at the beginning of the lockdown
Hrithik, a 23-year-old, aspiring snooker player tells Bingedaily that he kept himself occupied with online poker during the first month of the lockdown. It was as if the lockdown prompted ex-poker players to make a grand comeback to the game. “It was like the old days where people formed new clubs among their social circles and gamed intensely for hours,” according to Dipesh, who admits to sometimes have played the game until breakfast the next day.
He further elaborates on the nostalgic distraction, “It was a back to college moment as there wasn't much else to do and because poker can keep me occupied for hours together, it was a great way to keep busy.” He continues, “However, now the club games, which had multiple social circles playing together have died down.”
Not everyone was on this recreational poker spree, as for some it meant serious business. Professional poker players such as 34-year-old Siddharth turned his passion for the game into a career when he quit his previous job as an AVP in Moody's Analytics.
He tells the Bingedaily how, for him, poker is more than just a lockdown distraction, “Well, I think to most people who turn to poker to kill time it certainly is a distraction. But since I play for a living I treat this as my work and fortunately, the pandemic has boosted online traffic in poker. I see more and more new players playing high stakes poker where I play.”
With three months passed since the initial lockdown, it seems the brief quarantine obsession has started to die down as companies are opening up and work presuming to normalcy.
Poker companies on the pandemic surge of users
Indian poker companies have taken notice of the fact that more Indians are joining online poker platforms during the pandemic as in an interview with MediaNews4U, Varun Mahna, Founder & CEO of PokerDangal stated that time users spent on PokerDangal had gone up by 70% during the lockdown.
However, he says that the challenge is that since the RMG platform requires the disposable income of the users, they may be hesitant to spend much of it on poker as they’d rather spend it on necessary items or save it for a rainy day during a crisis such as the Coronavirus. But he concludes by saying that the skill-based gaming sector will continue to grow larger in the months to come due to the new user base.