Throwback 2020: Indian Poker Scene Before, During And Post Lockdown

Live poker in India had been booming with the influx of new players and recreationals in the last few years. The frequency at which live poker tournaments in the country happened shot up significantly with all major players hosting their live poker tournament series on a regular basis. Also, there has been a simultaneous growth in online poker with the traffic constantly growing with each passing year.

Lockdown Impact On Live Poker In 2020

The 2020 looked like a massive year for live poker in India and the poker scene was well-setup with several live poker tournaments lined up to take place in Goa and various other parts of the country. However, once the Coronavirus hit the country and led to the nationwide lockdown in mid March, the live poker tournament action came to an abrupt halt. Live games, whether tournaments or cash games, could not take place because casinos in the country were completely shut down due to the Coronavirus-led lockdown and thus the live poker industry faced an extreme fall in the revenue.

All live festivals in India, including DPT, DPT Xpress and the inaugural National Poker Series (NPS), got cancelled. A curb on gatherings and meetings due to the lockdown prevented people from meeting up at live scenes and playing their favourite game. As a result, the entire poker scene went virtual and many live poker players turned to online poker to follow their passion for the beautiful game.

WPT India Happening Online For The First Time Due To Lockdown

Due to the lockdown, many prestigious live poker festivals across the world were moved online, including the WPT India that took place online for the first time on WPT’s exclusive India partner and offered the Indian players a fantastic tournament experience. And we must say the festival was a huge success with guarantee-smashing fields across all the trophy tournaments. As many as 60,434 entries enrolled in the INR 13.5 Crore GTD series named as ‘WPT Online India’, resulting in a whopping prizepool of INR 15,15,24,396 that got distributed among 2,856 players.

While there were several big winners, the series had a dream ending for Kumar Sahaj who dominated a massive field of 2,573 entries in the 2.5 Crore GTD WPT India Main Event to win INR 50 Lac, the single largest payout from the series. In addition to the top prize money, Kumar also earned the prestigious WPT Trophy, a Hublot Classic Fusion chronograph watch worth U$10K, and a $5K WPT passport. The series had not one but two leaderboards. The bigger of the two was the 25 Lac Mega Leaderboard that was topped by Ashish Munot who scored 778 points to win 10 Lac uptop prize and a WPT trophy, while the second leaderboard, the Mini Leaderboard that rewarded low stakes, was won by Arjun Arora (2,152 points) to win 3 Lac and a beautiful WPT Trophy.

Overall Online Poker Scene During Lockdown

Online poker was growing at a good pace even before the lockdown. However, once the lockdown started, online poker games picked up the pace and we saw a never-before-seen surge in traffic, which was great for the overall poker industry as it created a lot of value for players and operators.

To combat boredom and isolation during the lockdown, people became a little tech-savvy and many of them discovered online poker as a great source of leisure and making extra money. Thousands of people, including some of those who lost their jobs or left it, embraced poker for fun and money. Many of these players even became regs and are now grinding it online on a regular basis. A lot of recreational players turned into regulars and there is already a big bunch of this new crop playing and crushing it online. Also, we saw many live poker players turning to online poker to follow their passion for the game. This led to an unprecedented jump in traffic and revenue for online poker.

The guarantees on all major poker sites got crushed and raised at the same time. To cash in the opportunity presented by the pandemic, leading poker sites like Adda52 not only introduced some amazing new tournament offerings and cash games, but also upgraded themselves with insane graphics and features to cater to the rising demand and ensure a better playing experience.

To sum up, the influx of new players in the ecosystem, recreationals turning into regs, the growth in overall skill level through coaching, more tournaments, bigger prizepools, more cash tables running almost 24×7, some big live events like WPT India happening online and PokerBaazi getting the APT online India were some of the best things to happen in online poker during the lockdown.

Indian Poker Scene Post Lockdown

After the lockdown has eased, people are back to normal lives again. There is a slight dip in online traffic, partly because of the southern states banning online poker. Huge guarantees and big player pools have burst, and things have returned back to somewhat how they were before the lockdown.

As for live poker, casinos have been reopened from November 1 with 50% capacity and mandatory Coronavirus precautions, meaning that the live scene is starting to pick up and hopefully we will see everything back. However, we must say that poker sites like Adda52 have done a great job by hosting some huge guaranteed online events and bringing big live events like WPT India online.

Anant Purohit, Naresh Veervalli, Smita Agarwalla & Pratibh Saluja Share Their views

We reached out to some well-known poker players to know their views on the poker scene before, during and post the lockdown. Here is what they had to say about the live and online poker scene.

Anant Purohit

A prolific MTT crusher with tons of big scores to his name, Purohit said, Before lockdown, poker scenario was quite normal. That means it didn’t get much attention as people had jobs or business ventures which included meetings, etc. They were traveling and in their free time were spending time with family. That all was the priority. During lockdown, in my opinion, they got to know about the game as it is as good as any job, needs skills and learning and has monetary benefits, so a large number of people got to know about it, which helped the poker community to grow a lot.

Talking about the live poker, he said, Pandemic has affected in a manner no one expected, because of the nature of this virus. The way it has impacted live games is unbelievable. Live games, whether tournaments or cash games, have seen a notable downfall which has affected casinos, poker rooms, cash festivals. The charm of meeting fellow players has gone and most of the live poker scene in India is lost at the moment. However, the live poker is starting to pick up recently from last couple of weeks. Hopefully, we will be able to see everything back in previous manner soon.

Naresh Veeravalli

A well-known name in the live cash game circuit, Veeravalli has more than proved his prowess in online MTTs during the lockdown. Since the lockdown, he has won over a dozen of titles on Adda52 alone, including shipping Adda52 Millions AF for or INR 7.52 Lac, AOPS Godfather for INR 10.30 Lac, The Ballers for INR 5,29,382, The Mint for INR 3,29,962 and WPT Weekender for INR 4,39,040.

Sharing his views on poker scene before and during the lockdown, Veervalli said, Poker scene has been booming quite a lot in India since the past few years with the influx of lot of young people and recreational players, which is great for the growth of the game. During the lockdown, we saw lot of influx of new players and guarantees getting crushed, which was great for online poker.

Talking about the poker scene after the lockdown, he said, Once the lockdown eased and people started going down to normal lives again, we saw some dip in numbers due to the southern states banning online poker and slowing down of recreational due to the tedious grind in online poker.

When asked about the live poker scene, Veeravalli said, Live poker is the one that took the biggest hit. People lost opportunity to travel to play their favourite game, with poker rooms in Goa taking a hit and some big ticket events being cancelled. But the sites have done a good job of bringing those live events to online felts. It was a lot of fun playing those events and turnouts were great.

Smita Agarwalla

Reacting to the poker scene before and during the lockdown, former Godfather champion, Smita Agarwalla said, Poker has been growing in popularity among the younger generation. We now have many young engineering grads who left well-paid jobs to take up poker. The lockdown has promoted many new players to try their hand at online poker. Having had a lot of fun and maybe some winning streaks, some have become regs. More importantly with more time available, people are putting in more time at the tables, including me. As a result, this has led to an increase in the average skill level of all players. We are seeing many new players win tourneys also.

Like many poker enthusiasts, I loved playing poker live in Goa. Live has a much slower rhythm but much more engagement in each hand. There is so much more to observe like other players’ posture, expressions and body language and thus get a read on them. The pandemic has made all this impossible. Online is the only format we can play now. Players who are good at live poker are not always so good at the online format. Take Negreanu for example. He just doesn’t do as well.

Pratibh Saluja

We also reached out to Pratibh Saluja, a very consistent performer on the virtual felts who had won the AOPS Mini Leaderboard in July this year. Sharing his views on the poker scene before and during the lockdown, he said, Just before the lockdown, I remember how the live poker scene had been booming. The frequency at which live tournaments took place shot up significantly with all major players hosting their series on a regular basis. There was also a simultaneous jump in online traffic.

During lockdown, however, things were different. On the downside, live poker took a permanent halt but on the upside, the online streets saw traffic like never before in India. The guarantees on all major sites got crushed and raised at the same time. In addition, Indian websites introduced afternoon majors which too ran their course for a brief period. The biggest plus, in my opinion, was the addition of new players in the ecosystem, myself being one of them. A lot of recreational players turned into regulars and there is a big bunch of this new crop who have starting crushing the game this year itself, bearing testimony to the ever-rising talent, general awareness and acceptance of the game.

Talking about the post lockdown scene, he said, Post lockdown, the lockdown bubble of big guarantees and big player pools has definitely burst and things have stabilized to somewhat how they were before lockdown. Having said that, big players are trying their best to keep up the mojo with sites like Adda52 that hosted WPT Online India and Baazi getting the APT online the following month. Heading into 2021, the game looks tougher and more competitive than ever before. This is a great sign for the poker industry in general and bigger things are hopefully yet to come!

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