It isn’t everyday that you hear of an Indian female poker player making waves in the international circuit. Two such names Anju Abrol and Shilpa Bhagat ran a poker storm in the ongoing Asia Championship of Poker(ACOP) in Macau. While Anju became only the second female poker player to win an ACOP Spadie, Shilpa- Mrs.India 2013 put on her poker garb to finish in the money in Event 6 and make the Final Table in the Ladies Championship. OPN decided to chat up with this outlier in the male dominated poker industry who apart from having the huge responsibility of representing India at the world stage also manages to make her mark in the poker community. Crowned the Mrs.India last year, Shilpa Bhagat has been playing poker for the past three years recreationally. RUPAL BANSAL caught up in an exclusive chat with this down to earth, stylish Mom to 5 year old twins and soon expected to be an Ambassador for Indian poker.
Q1 Hi Shilpa, Thanks for talking to us. So tell us about your poker journey?
SB- I think it was around 3 years back that I first started playing poker. A friend had just moved to India and threw a party where we played poker. I had always loved mathematics as a subject and used to solve puzzles etc. The first time I played poker I loved the mathematical connect and was hooked. From there on I have been playing poker in home games and in smaller tournaments in Goa and in Vegas.
Q2- So was ACOP the first major tournament you played in?
SB– Yes. I have played smaller tournaments in Vegas and won money there. I have also made final tables of poker tournaments in Goa but had never played in Macau. ACOP was the first time I entered multiple events in a big international circuit tournament.
Q3- How would you describe your run? You cashed in one event and faired well in the Ladies Championship!
SB– I had not gone to Macau to enter in the ACOP. Kunal Patni is a friend and my husband was in Hongkong on business. So I also flew down along with my husband to cheer Kunal. It was on impulse that I entered the events. In fact, it was my husband who entered me in the Ladies championship while I was making the deep run in event 6. If I hadn’t had a deep run in the Event 6 then I might have had a better chance at the Ladies Event also. Since the Ladies event started in tandem with Event 6, by the time I hit the tables in the former, my stack was running low. But nevertheless it was a great run. A dream run, rather. It has given me more confidence on my aptitude for tournament poker and you can be sure you will be seeing more of me from now.
Q4- What is it a learning experience for you being amongst big names in the ACOP?
SB– Having been the Mrs.India for over an year now, I have learnt to gel with the crowd and yet make myself known. So I don’t let anyone judge me as weak or tight or merely a female poker player. I let my game do the talking. there were many big names at the ACOP this time around. I happened to be seated with a couple of very experienced Australian poker players with whom I discussed a lot about poker. What I am taking back as a learning is that poker is not only a game of skill but also a game of patience. Since I don’t play regularly so I will now work on the patience part of the game.
Q5- Are there hands that you would like to share with us?
SB– Yes, there is one hand that I would like to share which completely stands out for me and I will never forget. It was in the Event 6 and I was holding Pocket 10’s. The blinds were at 500/1000 and I was looking to raise around 3 BB’s. But I was raised to 9000 and me and the big blind called. The flop was a Rainbow 2/4/8 and I made a value bet of 9000. the big blind folded and the previous raiser moved All In. I took almost 20 minutes to mathematically decipher every aspect of it. My tournament life was in danger and on the other hand if I had won that won I would be second in chip lead. The whole rail gathered around me and stared me down for those complete 20 mins. But I held my composure took my time and decided to fold. My opponent agreed to show me his hand and it was a Little Slick- A/Q. I had put him on an Over pair or something similar. The learning for me here was that my over-thinking was a huge tell for my opponent that I am weak. This hand will always remain with me as a big learning.
Q6- How often do you play poker?
SB– I play occasionally in home games and every time we travel abroad or to Goa. But this finish has inspired me to play more. I can feel that I have the aptitude for tournament poker and will surely play more. But I don’t play online poker since I am unsure about the legality aspect in India.
Q7- So what keeps you busy off the felt?
SB– I run 2 NGO’s- Cuddles which works for the welfare of Cancer and Terminally Ill Kids and Utsah Foundation which works for the education of the underprivileged. The Mrs.World title has also kept me busy off late since I have travelled a lot for the same. Other than that, I have 5 year old twins and one of my kids is a great chess player. He inherits my love for mathematics and calculations and was very recently representing India at an Under 5 International Chess Tournament. So making him practise and refreshing his skills also keeps me busy. though now I would like to devote some time to practise my poker play too.
OPN wishes Shilpa Bhagat a great poker journey and hopes this is the push Indian female poker players need.