Poker In Kolkata: Story Of The Game In The City of Joy

Known as the ‘city of joy’, Kolkata has been hosting poker for more than a decade. In earlier times, there were mostly home games, but after the city achieved a legal framework to run games, we saw the emergence of a dozen of clubs and players who further promoted the game awareness. As a result, more and more people got inspired and started recognizing poker as a mind sport. Popularity of the game has consistently been growing in the city and it’s mainly due to the kind of the games, the influx of players from different fields and the adequate infrastructure. Apart from businessmen, a lot of college students and salaried people have taken up the game and are trying to build their poker bankroll. This is really a win-win thing for the growth of the game in Kolkata.

Over the years, the city has produced some of the finest poker players in Aditya ‘intervention’ Agarwal, Aditya ‘Bitti’ Agarwal, Bharat Agarwalla, Anil Adiani and many others who have been inspiring the young minds and promoting the game in the city. Kudos to lawyer and poker enthusiast KN Suresh who created history by winning a landmark case in the state courts, providing poker legal status in Kolkata and later tied up with well-known local player Aditya ‘Bitti’ Agarwal to launch IPA Kolkata to offer exciting games and satisfy the growing needs of players. Agarwal is one of the earliest Kolkatans involved with the sport since 2008 and has immense experience and knowledge of the game, having collaborated initially with Bharat ‘Silent Assassin’ Agarwalla at the India Poker Series (IPS), which the brainchild of Agarwalla and the place where it all began in 2010. Agarwalla is a pioneer of the poker industry in his own segment. His contribution to the game has been immense over the years. He started promoting poker through his home games and then went on to contribute in a bigger way through ‘India Poker Series (IPS) to eventually promote the game at the national level.

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As for ‘intervention’, he is one of the most experienced professional players from Kolkata. Also, he is one of the few Indians who have been making news on the global poker circuit. Currently ranked 3rd in ‘India All Time Money List’ with $1,099,823 in live earnings, he was the first Indian to represent the country at the WSOP and is the only Indian to have scored most cashes at the WSOP ME. Also, he was the first Indian to join PokerStars as their Team Pro. Agarwal has played a key role in promoting poker in Kolkata and other parts of India by coaching and preparing young minds for the game.

Apart from Agarwal, there are other players who have made a mark in poker and one of them is Anil Adiani who happens to be in the live stream commentary team at the last edition of DPT for 2019. The lawyer-turned poker player has solid knowledge of the game. Known for his discipline and good reads at the table, he has inspired many people to take up the game and continues to do so.

While poker in Kolkata has seen several ups and downs over the past years, it continues to steadily grow especially after getting its legal status. We caught-up with Bharat ‘Silent Assassin’ Agarwalla, Aditya Kashyap and Prashant Jain Bhutoria to provide you more details on poker scenario in the city.

Excerpts of the Online Chat with Bharat Agarwalla

Talking about poker scene in Kolkata, Bharat Agarwalla said, I got introduced to poker way back in the early 90s. But that time there were barely a handful of players in Kolkata. It was only in 2007 due to Zynga Poker (Facebook Poker as everyone called it then) that it started to catch on in the “online segment”. Just after that, the live tournaments started in Kolkata and as it’s commonly known, I was instrumental in bringing all players under one roof or umbrella then. The mindsport has not looked back ever since then. In these last 10-12 years, players have become far more seasoned and mature. They play all formats of poker, live, online, Texas, PLO and are excelling in it. Poker will keep growing for sure in Kolkata, as the city has a lot of potent players and also the required infrastructure for it.

Speaking about the ups and downs of poker in the city over the years, he said, Live poker started in Kolkata way back in 2007-2008. Those were purely home games. The ones at my place (2-3 times in a month) were the ones everyone looked forward to, but I had restricted it to close poker buddies and not kept it open. Later, a few live rooms did open but they got shut down due to either license issues or due to harassment. After that the poker room owners got wiser and ran rooms professionally with proper paper work. Since then, it has been smooth for them. The private live games never faced any issues as they were amongst friends and usually rakefree. In Kolkata, the WB Gambling and Prize Competition Act treats poker as a skill game and is under the exceptions and thus allows one to play poker with chips and cards at a public place.

When asked about the best places to play poker in Kolkata, he said, Playing poker in Kolkata is always a delight for all players (No matter whether they are from Kolkata or are those who visit Kolkata to play). The games are frequent (virtually everyday) and players of various age groups are the ones playing. The popular places are IPA Kolkata, Turn N River and the new kid on the block is Fenicia. There must be a lot of small poker rooms as well which I have not heard of. A lot of house games happen which are rakefree and these players do not play at the clubs or in Goa. I personally like my own house game (we play once a week) and it’s by Invitation Only”.

Talking about challenges faced by poker rooms and players, he said, I don’t think there are too many challenges being faced by the poker rooms or players in Kolkata as I am made to understand that these rooms are fully legit, so there are no problems by the authorities. The possible challenge could be related to payments as the owners must be giving credit and collection of it must be a little pressure on them.

When asked about his favourite players and why he likes them, he said, Kolkata definitely has produced a lot of talented players over the last 10-12 years, including the few who have emerged in the last 2-3 years. I personally have liked the game of Aditya Agarwal (Bitti), Aditya Agarwal (Intervention), Arjjun Singh and Anil Adiani. All are extremely accomplished in Live and Online. If I speak about myself, then it would sound pompous. I leave it to others to judge what they feel about my game.

Responding to ‘What can be done to further promote poker in Kolkata?’, Agarwalla said, “ Considering poker is legal in Kolkata, if the Online companies do long term tie ups with the poker rooms, then it would be a win-win situation. The same goes for other cities, that if other cities also open poker rooms as it is a mind sport and a skill sport, then with support of the Online companies, both could compliment each other.

Speaking about the issues with the perception of poker in Kolkata and India, he said, Issues with perception of poker were there earlier. But slowly and slowly, the perception is changing and the sport is gradually getting its due respect as a mind sport. The perception has changed mainly in the last 5 years and very drastically in the last 2 years (probably because of the emergence of the various Poker Leagues that are happening in the country). I am a strong believer that it is a mind sport and not a game of luck. This is the primary reason why I have promoted this sport so much since 2007/2008 and continue to do so.

Finally, sharing his advice for kolkata players starting their poker journey, he said, The only advise that I can give to the Kolkata players is that they should play the stakes which they can afford, never feel they are the best or the other person is lucky, do not get addicted to the sport, keep reading and watching videos, and also learn from the senior players when they are playing live in the same poker room. If the bankroll is dented and one loses the full bankroll, then there is no scope for ego, one should simply quit the game (never play on credit). I wish all fellow players good luck whether they be from Kolkata or any other city. Keep playing this gentlemen’s sport ethically and with a cool temperament, and with total honesty. The sport has a very long way to go in terms of popularity. It will keep growing for the next 10-15 years.

 Excerpts of the online chat with Aditya Kashyap

In order to gain more information on poker in Kolkata, we also caught-up with another Kolkatan Aditya Kashyap who has played all over the country. He said,  Kolkata, I think, is one of the finest cities in the country hosting poker for a decade. Having achieved a legal framework to run games, we have witnessed the emergence of a lot of clubs and players over the years, which has further promoted the game awareness. I think, notable changes over the years include the kind of games we see and the influx of players from different fields, i.e. as opposed to businessmen only, a lot of college students have started playing club games, grinding it out at 1k or 2k buy in games; employed and salaried people have started playing games, trying to build a bankroll, and of course, growth in the number of players wanting to turn pro.”

 Talking about the best places and challenges faced by poker players and rooms, he said,  “Having played all over the country, I can tell you, Kolkata hosts the most inflated games you can ever find. It is possibly due to massive credit infusion in the games, but you cannot find any game in the country where people open 15x and have an average stack of 25 buy ins. The swings become incredible. Some of the best places to play such games would be Turn N River and Full house. For smaller games, I think S-Cube would be a good choice for people wanting to enter into the field. That said, the same inflated scenario comes with its own challenge of credit recovery. I think, for club owners, that has been the biggest hurdle, which can obviously break a business. People delaying payment, players going bust and unable to pay or choosing not to pay. I sincerely hope that moving ahead we are able to streamline such operations and help set up a more disciplined line of payment.”

Kolkata has produced many talented players over the years such as Aditya ‘intervention’ Agarwal, Mayank Agarwal, Aditya ‘Bitti’Agarwal, Anil Adiani and many others. When asked about his favourite players and why he likes them, he said, Kolkata has easily produced the finest players in the country and ‘intervention’ is the biggest proof of that. I think, favourites vary for each player. To me, I particularly hold Anil Adiani in very high regards, not only for his phenomenal reading and game, but also his ability to lead a disciplined life outside the table. I’ve seen such brilliant players go bust because of debauchery and other spending habits they inculcate during the highs of their game with inflow of money. As a pro, that’s the line which differentiates your longevity in the field. Bankroll management extends to off the table life also.”

Replying toWhat can be done to further promote poker in Kolkata and overall in India?’, he said, In pursuance to promoting poker, I think, the awareness in the last couple of years has been remarkable. I see people from all fields of life knowing about it, or playing it in house parties, some even organising regular house games amongst friends. In light of that, I think, the growth is fine and I wouldn’t personally want to push it too much, mainly because the darker side of the game is barely discussed or factored in. Being a game where only 5% make it profitable in the long run, people mostly end up losing more money than they should or can afford. The greed for quick money is dangerous and destructive unless one puts in the hours in studying the game and understanding its dynamics. I believe Indian games till date are mostly outlined with gambling instincts and bankroll muscle, more than a line of merit.”

Talking about the perception of the game in Kolkata and India, he said, I think, poker is still widely considered as gambling across the country. While we have had celebs and pro players endorsing it as a skill game, it still fails to create that impression – possibly because it somewhere reflects around the lines of teen patti or simply the age old notion of cards signifying gambling. Though there has definitely been some changes in perception over time, it is mostly there amongst a certain age group and in metropolitan cities. I think Match IPL and PSL being broadcasted might help the cause.”

Sharing his advice for poker players who are just starting their poker journey, he said, “For anyone starting their poker journey, I’d wish them good luck and advise them to take it slow. It’s a wonderful game which teaches you a lot about business and life, highs and lows, much like other sports. I’d strongly recommend being and playing in limits. Never let your wins or image lead you to build an ego where you feel embarrassed to go down in stakes and grind.While you should put in the effort in studying and not take losses to your heart, it is imperative that you don’t let your wins get to your head also. Learn to find a balance because the ride is volatile and only meant for the few with a heart of steel.”

Excerpts of the Online Chat with Prashant Jain Bhutoria 

Talking about poker scene in Kolkata, the young gun Prashant said,  “Kolkata has always been a poker action city as it legal here to open poker clubs, so a lot of people have been playing here live cash games since a decade now. Lately since  last 3/4 years, a lot of new rooms have had opened and shut too in a swing of winds time. Only a few have survived .The rooms which have survived offer plenty of action for any stakes of cash game, from 2.5k buy-in to 100000  buy-ins. Nowadays, a lot of recreational live poker cash game players have started , lot of home games have been happening, but more than that a lot of new and old players have started grinding online. Lately, the online poker rooms are becoming very popular with the part-time players to the professionals. More and more young people have started playing online on a regular basis.”

Replying to ‘What is it like to play poker in Kolkata and what are the challenges?’ he said, “Playing poker in Kolkata is fun. A lot of action is here. If you are looking for some action, don’t be surprised to get more of action here than Goa too.The one man show here is of DD (Diddy Thakkers room) . He runs the best poker room from ages now. His payments are the best and on time. The challenge is  mostly the credit here, otherwise it is the best place and risk-free place to play poker.” 

Talking about what could be done to promote poker in the city,  he said, “The only way to promote poker and give it boom is to make a good poker Bollywood flick. Trust me that will work more than a plague!”

Sharing his thoughts on the issues with the perception of poker in Kolkata, he said, “Well everything takes time.  Accepting new things is a challenge. People take time to accept new things in our country, the mass I am talking about. But things have been changing very quickly here now. Slowly and slowly, it is getting known. The term flush or teen patti has been disappearing from homes. It’s getting replaced with poker, which is a good sign.”

Sharing his advice for new players, he said, “New players should understand the game properly, not just with playing but also by researching and learning. It’s a great game, passion to pursue , they should go ahead and win!”