• Shivani Rao

Bet On It

Poker is a hugely popular card game that combines the principles of gambling, strategy, and skill. Expert Poker players often combine the knowledge of probability, psychology, and game theory and the game becomes a lot more than a pure gamble.

Historians and gaming enthusiasts believe that Poker originated in the early 19th century in the United States. Until recently, it was considered to be a derivative of the Persian game of As-Nas. The As-Nas cards pack includes five individual card designs, each with a different background colour and these designs are repeated either four or five times. Thus, the As-Nas card pack has either twenty or twenty-five cards. Although there is a striking similarity between the gameplay of As-Nas and Poker, the notion that Poker is derived from it was challenged in the 90s by prominent Gaming Historians.

In Poker, one or more players are usually required to make forced bets, either an ante (a small amount by each player into the pot) or a blind (a partial bet put in by one or more players), sometimes both. If at any point during a betting round, one player bets and instead of calling the bet, all opponents fold, the better is awarded the pot and no cards need to be shown. This is what makes the clever technique of bluffing possible.

Poker as a game now played world-over, a number of variations exist which exhibit a similar pattern of play but not quite. Some of these variations are straight, stud poker, draw poker, community card poker. The most popular type of poker these days is Texas Hold-Em since it is really easy and fun to make a tournament of.

The popularity of Poker has seen a surge because of the growth of social and digital media. A number of online platforms such as PokerBaazi, Spartan Poker and Adda52 have made the game of Poker highly accessible and appealing to the masses. Many industrialists and media companies such as Raj Kundra (PokerRaj) and the Star Group (Pokerstars) have ventured into the online Poker space.

Although online poker applications and websites have made it much easier to sit on our comfortable couches in pyjama shorts and play to our heart’s content, live poker still holds an old-cinema charm that virtual games can never recreate. Live poker games come with an added garnish of socializing, jokes and chuckles outside a bland chatbox and the opportunity to observe and evaluate the minute details of our opponents’ behaviours.

It is well-established now that Poker is a very appealing and fulfilling hobby to take up, given that one follows the very basic rules of playing it harmlessly. But is it a very affordable hobby to pursue? Well, for a sensible and balanced player, all that is required for a game of poker are poker chips, playing cards, a poker table if one wants to go fancy and a dealer button if one wants to go even fancier.

With increasing popularity, Poker is also seeing a higher level of representation in the media that is different from its stereotypical images of either a casino with classily dressed gamblers or the hoodied, brooding, tech-savvy poker player who always has his earphones on.

Pokerface with Gopal Datt is an innovative poker chat show wherein each episode features one actor/celebrity and one poker player, and engages both in a conversation about their journey to fame and fortune. Powered by 9stacks, Pokerface with Gopal Datta is providing more visibility to the hobby and passion of poker and celebrating the love people hold for it.

There have been studies of the relationship between Poker and Mental Health also. It often provides people with an escape from frustrating work environments, family troubles since the game demands a high level of concentration and involvement. As Paul Seaton of pokernews.com puts it, “In a world where escapism is part of aspiration, poker continues to offer some people who have issues away from the table, tools to work through them, thereby helping them become healthier versions of themselves in the process.”

The reasons for taking up Poker as a hobby are quite simple. Poker can make you money, it is highly accessible online and offline. Poker is also a less stressful form of human interaction, which is perfect for ambiverts who want to be around people but not go completely extroverted. Moreover, it is a mentally stimulating game that challenges your cognitive abilities. Adda52’s integrated brand campaign with Chris Gayle highlights this idea through its tag line, ‘Banao Dimaag Ko Ameer’ (make your brain rich). Poker is also now being taught at the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode to inculcate leadership and entrepreneurial skills in students.

If you are thinking about taking up Poker as a hobby, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose, are the golden words for poker players just starting out. If you’re starting with Poker as a simple hobby to pursue after a long day at work, or if you’re looking to turn it into a substantial money-making source, one must remember to not risk their livelihood for a hand of poker. Continued practice will make you better at Poker as it will at every game or activity you take up. Other useful tips for poker players would be to pay close attention to their competitors’ behaviour and understand their psychology and base the game on it and to learn the fine art of bluffing.

In recent times, the game of Poker has seen massive popularity. It is more accessible today than it ever has been before, and an almost ideal choice for a hobby. It can be learnt easily through friends or online tutorials requires almost minimum equipment and is the perfect balance of fun and strategy. Next time you’re looking for a way to relax, give this wonderful game a chance and you might find yourself with a new favourite hobby.