Chip Chats with Bharat Agarwalla

Bharat Agarwalla needs no introduction in the Indian poker industry. The man behind India Poker Series (IPS) has been off the poker felt for few months. OPN India caught up with him for a chat about what he has been busy with and what his plans are for poker in coming days. He was recently spotted at the IPC in Goa after a long break and OPN caught up with him.

Hi Bharatji, Thanks for talking to OPN.bharat-agarwalla

Q1 You were seen after a long time in the tournament circuits? Why the hiatus?

BA – I had taken a sabbatical from poker since mid 2013. I was spending time with my daughter who was to leave for the USA in the Fall of 2014 for her UnderGrad. Now that she has left I have a more free state of mind and hence trying to come back to poker.

Q2 How was the IPC outing for you? Would you call it the revival of tournaments in India?

BA – The IPC Jan 2015 was a wonderful experience. The field sizes were double of what was seen in earlier times and the player more experienced and better now. There was enthusiasm amongst the players as well because they were seeing a tournament after well over a year in India. I personally was there more to enjoy and relax as I was playing after a year and half myself. So I enjoyed every bit of it playing poker and also reconnecting to so many old friends from the circuit who were for these 18 months connected only on Facebook with me. It was like a Re-Union for me.

Q3 IPS has been quiet for sometime. Will we see an IPS tourney soon?

BA – IPS is very close to my heart. It’s a baby born out of passion for the game. I do wish to restart IPS but am unable to take out the right amount of time for it. With paucity of time as my family needs my time and so does my growing business and social obligations I am not sure how I would manage it. Probably getting to partner up with someone who carries the same passion as me for the game would be the right approach. I think soon I will start the hunt for such a person.

Q4 You been inactive in the poker circles for sometime now. Could you tell us what’s been keeping you busy?

BA – True that, I have been away from the circuits for 18 months or so. I was initially spending time bonding with my elder daughter like I mentioned earlier. Then I have my business which is growing and needs more of my time as it’s a one man show for me and lastly I am active in a Club in Kolkata since the first quarter of 2014 and that again takes my time.

Besides I never compromise on my family time as I have my wife and my younger daughter back in Kolkata and my elder daughter makes her 1 month visit in Winter and 3 months visit in Summers which again is a time I like to spend with her without losing a moment. I do need to balance out things and see how I can sneak out time for poker.

The fitter Agarwalla in a recent fashion show!
The fitter Agarwalla in a recent fashion show!

Q5 You seem to have lost a lot of weight. Could you share some of your health regime with our readers?

BA – Post a foot injury in May/June 2012 where I fell off from a helicopter in USA when trying to get of it. I had gained a kilo a month for over a year. That led me to become bloated (I was already a little heavy from before that). My health otherwise was fine but I was on the edge of being obese. It was in September 2013 by when I had already taken a sabbatical from poker (since mid 2013) and was more a relaxed person, that is when a few friends pointed out to me that I should do something about my health before it rings an alarm bell. It was a sheer coincidence that they all said it separately and unconnected to each other within a span of a week. That’s when I thought I should give myself also some time and take care of my health. I first went to Jindal NatureCure Institute in Bangalore for a week in Sept 2013 for a Detox program. In a week I lost close to 6 kgs there. That’s when I realised yes I can lose some more. I set myself a few targets of losing 6-8 kgs in 3 slabs. So, the target was to loose a total of close to 28-30 kgs by October 2014. I managed to reach my target by July 2014 and since then all I have done is maintained that I don’t gain back anything (and infact lost 2 kgs more and thats 32 kgs for me). The basic key to it is drink lots of water, eat less salt, cut off needless sugar or sweet intake (no aerated drinks at all), reduced carbs, and eat lots of low cal things and ensure one is surely having all nutrition. Exercise is a must but I did none of it. Cheat days once a week is a must I would say. I encourage all people who read this to take out time for their health specially the poker players who have a poor lifestyle as they eat garbage and junk all the time at the poker tables. Last but not the least one has to stay happy and at peace to make everything work.

Q6 Do you think physical fitness plays a part in making a better poker player?

BA – Poker is a mind sport. But Yes physical fitness plays a part surely in making one a better or improved poker player. If you are healthy then you have better energy on the tables. Physical energy if drained out leads to poor mental energy. I feel much better at the tables for the duration I play now than I used to earlier.

Q7 What are your general view on the state of matters in the Indian poker industry? Do you see new players coming in, current ones flourishing?

BA – Poker industry in India is surely growing though at a slower pace than earlier. Infact its slower than my expectations. But yes! the newer players surely coming in. They are currently city based and yet to be seen venturing out to Goa which is the common turf. The high air fares and high hotel room tariffs are further detrimental to their travel. The rake in India is very high at 5% of each pot with a cap at 5000 and then the Bad Beat Jackpot amount is further taken out. The effective rake is close to 6-7%. Low competition is there because the numbers (players) are not enough and hence such high rake to bear the high cost of running a room. The rake needs to slowly come down to 3% or lower and the cap to 1500. If the cap also come down to 1000 then they can jack up the rake to 10% like they have at Vegas. Players get skinned in the rake is high and this reduces the number of players slowly and the pace of newer players coming in is not that high to keep increasing the growth. Its a slow process of evolution of the industry but we will soon see that happen as well. I am fairly confident about it.

Q8 How is the poker scene in Kolkatta?

BA – Poker in Kolkata …. hmmmm ……. there was a time when the players used to play only home games at friends houses …. that time I used to have a game twice a month at my place as well and play with my fixed set of friends. Then I stopped those games way back in 2011. Later a few games mushroomed in a club and at a flat. Then came the Amator which was the first organised poker room of Kolkata. Couple of more such rooms started but they could not handle the payments in time I am told. Amator continues to run daily games during the day of low stakes poker. There is a private high stakes game also I am told running somewhere in Kolkata but thats purely by invitation and amongst a fixed set of people who play by rotation. Kolkata has limited capacity (players) so not much scope to add many rooms but may be one or two more rooms at the most.

I think 2015 might see atleast one room opening up to give competition to Amator. Home games would have its own charm. I am planning to restart my home games once or may be twice a month like earlier days considering that I am gradually coming back to poker and that travelling to Goa is not always possible for me due to shortage of time. Obviously my games are confined to my friends and not a public poker room which are open to one and all. Spot cash is a key to any poker game and the game in my place is the only place which is of that nature since 2008.  Thats why my friends love to play poker in my private lounge.