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Poker in India

In India the most popular card games are Paplu (Indian Rummy) and Flush (Teen Patti). Poker has however become increasingly popular. In fact, for online play, it is already more popular than these traditional Indian games. In this article I will explain the history of how that came to be. First, because some India residents are already familiar with that topic, I begin with introducing the best poker websites accepting INR currency.

Rupee Poker Sites

In India players use global online poker rooms that support multiple currencies. When using a rupee site, deposits are of course made in INR. The games are however played in United States dollar (USD). This works as follows: when you sit at a table, your account balance is converted from INR to US$. When leaving the game it is converted back at the same rate. As the same exchange rate is used both ways, you do not lose out on currency conversion fees. This is why the websites below that accept Indian rupee (INR) are the best to use.

Dafa which operates on the world’s 2nd largest network – iPoker – is only the site I know of that is 100% free of currency exchange fees. This is because, while based in the Philippines, they have local bank accounts in most countries. From India we can fund our Dafa account with online banking or can make a domestic transfer in person at our local branch to their Indian bank account. The amount we deposit can then be used to play online.

At anytime we want to take money out of our account we can request a withdrawal by bank wire. However, depositing requires the use of an e-wallet such as Skrill and Neteller which will often involve an exchange fee. This is discussed in my article on sports betting in India.

How Poker Became Popular in India

For many centuries Ganjifa cards were used in India to play a variety of games. When in the mid 19th century Europeans brought us the now standard 52-card deck, we began inventing new games. Paplu (Indian Rummy) was one of the first and is still the most popular card game played here today. Others we invented include Seep, Mendikot, Dehla Pakad, Vazhushal, Langdi and our popular gambling game Flush, also known as Flash and Teen Patti or Teen Pathi.

Poker came to India the same way it came to much of the rest of the world. First, let me explain, there is no card game called poker. This is a name given to a family of card games that are all played by two or more persons. Some commonly played versions of poker are 5 card stud, Pot Limit Omaha and “the cadillac of poker” – Texas Holdem. Such games existed before today’s 52-card deck was even invented. What has greatly changed poker was the invention of the No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) variant.

ganjifa cards

Ganjifa is one of the earliest card games played in India that is similar to poker. It used a deck like the one above.

To make a long story short, in 1960’s gambling was illegal in much of the United States. A group of gamblers from Texas discovered No Limit Hold’em. They decided that because it is an easy game to learn, and because anyone can win in the short term, but over the long run skilled players win the most, that it was a good game to promote.

After playing it in backrooms and all kinds of shady places, in 1967, four Texas road-gamblers Crandell Addington, Roscoe Weiser, Doyle Brunson, and Amarillo Slim moved to Las Vegas where poker had already been legal for 36-years. They got a casino to spread the game and worked hard to promote it. In 1969 the first ever tournament was held. The following year this became the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and was held annually every year since. In the 1970’s the US media began covering the WSOP’s $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament. This helped the game become better known.

At no point did any entire country just start playing Hold’em as the recreational card game of choice. In fact, to this very day, in the United States, Spades, Hearts, Pitch and other social games are still probably more popular at kitchen tables than Hold’em is – the same way Paplu and Flush are so in India. But when it comes to playing cards for money, there is no game more ideal than Hold’em. Again, this is because it is easy to learn, and also because there are no partners – which makes it difficult to collude and cheat.

There was a poker boom that made No-Limit Hold’em hugely popular in the United States. Leading up to the boom was the birth of online poker in 1998, and the movie Rounders which starred Matt Damon and Edward Norton was released that same year. It started growing in popularity when the World Poker Tour (WPT) began airing high stakes tournaments on television in the spring of 2003. This is reflected in the number of entries to the $10,000 buy-in WSOP main event. It went from 613 in 2001 and 631 in 2002 to 839 in 2003.

The real boom came following Chris Moneymaker (and to be clear that is in fact his legal birth name) winning the $10,000 buy-in 2003 WSOP Main Event taking home $2.5 million USD (about Rs. 1.36 crore) in prize money. What was significant about this is he was an amateur player that worked as an accountant. He won his entry to play in the event in an online tournament that cost only $39 to enter. What helped is that ESPN had coincidentally expanded their television coverage of the WSOP this same year. This became the most popular poker tournament ever shown on TV. It reached a point where reruns were played on a near daily basis.

After watching this episode, players flocked to play online. Other high stakes tournament series were created and aired on television while the World Poker Tour (WPT) ratings also soared. The result was the number of WSOP entrants grew from 839 in 2003 to 2,576 in 2004, 5,619 in 2005, and 8,773 in 2006. The number of players playing online also grew, and it was around this time No-Limit Hold’em began to catch on in India.

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No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) Comes to India

High stakes No-Limit Hold’em tournaments were first broadcast to India in late 2004. The Travel & Living Channel by Discovery, which several of our satellite cable companies include, had the World Poker Tour (WPT) as part of its programming. Where it started to get big was when on 1-3 March 2007, another tournament organiser held the Asian Poker Classic, in Goa, India.

The 2007 Asian Poker Classic was a high-stakes tournament that cost USD $7,500 to enter and had a USD $1 million prize pool. While the 143 players that participated were primarily tourist, about 10% were Indians. A number of them played as sponsored players in what was called Team Maharajah.

A total of five Indians cashed in this event including Pranav Bathija from Mumbai who finished in third place. From here, those who had already watched the game on TV, saw the news that high stakes poker was now being played in India and they even began seeing Indians participating at final tables of televised tournaments. This increased interest in the game greatly.

Facebook becoming popular in India in 2008 was also a major contribution to the growth of Texas Hold’em in India. Many Indians became obsessed with playing Hold’em for free (no money involved) via Facebook apps and especially Zynga Poker. As some discovered they had a knack for the game, these players began migrating to real money sites.

By 2008, poker rooms were added to all the boat casinos in Goa. In 2009, Sikkim licensed India’s first onshore casino that used human dealers. This casino located in the Mayfair Hotel called Casino Mahjong includes a poker room that became India’s first legal place to play real money No-Limit Hold’em onshore.

Looking at the current status of poker in India, it is very easy to see that the game has a large presence throughout the country. We have a number of live tournament series that stop here including Asian Poker Tour, Indian Poker Series, Indian Poker Championship, and many leagues and card room specific events.

You can also see the presence of Indian poker groups on social networking sites such as Twitter, Orkut and Facebook. Another thing easy to notice is that when celebrating the New Year in the Hindu community, Teen Patti (Flush) is no longer the only game played; there is an increasing presence of No-Limit Hold’em at Diwali parties.

Dafapoker was one of the first global sites to recognize how popular No Limit Holdem has become in our country. They were quick to add Indian rupee (INR) as a currency and to offer Indians the ability to deposit and get paid via direct transfer to and from their Indian bank account. In doing so they have made online poker all that more accessible to Indians, and thus have played a part in increasing the popularity of the game in India.