The lights of Goa’s coastline hide more than they reveal. As the sun sets, the real action is no longer limited to cabanas on the beaches, but rather moves to a group of cruise liners moored close to the shore. Each of these luxury boats is designed as a legitimate casino or gambling paradise, and they put on a spellbinding spectacle, dancing a slow, almost alluring jig in tandem, resting on the calm waters of the Mandovi River.

The Deltin Royale, nicknamed Horseshoe Casino, is the largest of these boats, moored at RND Pier, Noah’s Ark, amid the flickering lights that surround Dayanand Bandodkar Marg’s tarmac ring in Panaji, overlooking the river. The placid and welcoming facade reveals little about the fortune hunter’s paradise within.

On board there is a lot to talk about – and not just at the buffets. The prospect of a night out in a floating mini city of sin elicits a wicked smile, rolled back at the tip of your lips. But that is precisely what is of concern, especially among heads of the Poker Sports League (PSL) – the inevitably grim, underground and anti-social perceptions that surround the idea of ​​playing cards and gambling. The resulting pleasures are within the reach of everyone’s imagination.

Hold all the aces
In the season two finale of the PSL tournament, which recently ended aboard the Deltin Royale, there was cause for celebration – with the Goan Nuts team scoring a cool INR 2 crore as champions. , after three days of exciting games like Texas Hold ‘Em, Pot-limit Omaha, Seven-Card Stud, Razz and other variations of poker.

The overall prize pool was INR 4.5 crore, of which the finalists of the Gujarat Falcons collected 1.2 crore INR, and the second finalists Rajasthan Tilters pocketed a nifty INR 90 lakh.

Players aside – there were eleven teams competing, with 10 players each – the star of the event turned out to be a five-time world chess champion and Padma Vibhushan award winner Viswanathan Anand, playing d ‘ an equal hand as a league ambassador, and doing his best to give the game of poker some credibility as a valid and deeply invigorating mental sport.

Anand has spoken at length with enthusiasts of the “mentally stimulating” and “intellectually stimulating” nature of poker, drawing parallels with chess on the aspects of decision making, intuition and creative strategy required by players. .

“Both games involve reading the other players at the table,” he says, eyes twinkling. Yet the deciding factor – for poker’s sake, is all about the money.

Goan Nuts lifts PSL Season 2 trophy

Chess wizards can generally be considered serious and selfless about profit. The point, however, is that a number of chess grandmasters – including Russian Alexander Igorevich Grischuk and German Jan Gustafson, as Anand calls him – regularly pick up bigger payouts while playing poker.

There are many other international chess players who are also poker stars, and there is really little to say in terms of degraded rankings or tarnished reputation, reassures Anand.

The grand master’s assertion is clear: “Poker is a game of skill and not of chance. He explains, quite simply, “On a lot of hands, skill takes over. The emphasis is therefore squarely on
probability, and on complex mathematics and mental calculations, he points out.

On the other hand, the only difference between chess and poker, according to him, is the factor of chance, adds the grandmaster. “Unlike chess, a lot of information is hidden on a poker board. This makes things all the more interesting.

“The whole idea of ​​my association with PSL is that I find poker no different from chess,” says Anand. Burman affirms their concerted goal: to give poker “the importance and acceptance it has long deserved” and to establish it as a mainstream competitive sport. The growing number of players online only adds to the prospects for the game.

Anand adds that poker actually has a large following all over the world and is popular even on television. Of course, for a spectator sport, poker can end up being boring – or captivating – like golf or billiards, for example. But it is only a question of preference and curiosity, reasons the great master.

Martinis on PSL prime
Despite all the high stakes, not to mention the endless rounds of rosé champagne and the best appetizers, things were pretty tense during the three days of play – 12 to 14 hours a day, straight up – leading up to the final. ; and the nerves were quite evident on the tables.

Beginner poker tells are easy to choose: pant leg pinch, nose rub, ear pinch, facial hair swirl, fingers in hair, knuckle crunch, eyebrow rise, twitching of nerves on the legs. temples, jugular beats, tapping of the fingers, cold folds of the arms, forced grimacing, etc.

If poker is indeed an intellectual contest, a study of the mannerisms of the players allows essential lessons of psychology. It’s no surprise that at the favorites tables all poker faces were flat, like cups of fiercely tilted watchdogs.

Many of them wore hoodies and dark glasses, giving the debates a rock star air. Then again, the different laughs and reactions around the tables for each winning hand – from low laughs and worldly sighs to measured coughs, muffled sniffles, and loud gratifying incantations – present an entirely different display of human emotions.

Either way, it’s not an easy-going game – mastering a hand of cards, at such a level, involves complete control over one’s emotional faculties.

The experience is certainly appealing – the toss and toss of the dice in the air, the spinning of the roulette wheel, the gentle gloved gestures of the dealers, the hushed consultations on the side, and all the flashing numbers, and the bells and the neon lighted whistles – in a setting capable of making the wisest men feel like a boy in a candy store, even if it is an adult fairy candy store.

There’s a lot of fun along the way: Away from their grim and uncompromising avatars at the tables, the players were quite fiery in person. The tongue-in-cheek names of the teams themselves made for a lot of shared laughter – think Punjab Bluffers, Rajasthan Tilters, and Goan Nuts (the “nut hand” is the strongest hand possible in any given situation).

Four of these teams – Andhra Bullets, Goan Nuts, Delhi Panthers and Chennai Thalaivas also won the Team of the Day award (a bonus of INR 10 lakh each) based on the best scores, each day of the tournament.

Amit Burman and Viswanathan Anand with the trophy

Freeroll with development
When it comes to legality, poker is completely above all board, says Pranav Bagai, CEO of PSL. The point to note is that onshore Goa casinos are only allowed to run automated or mechanized games and slots, and for live games you have no recourse but to head to the foreigner.

Meanwhile, with the ongoing political rumbles over unfair tax cuts for onshore casinos, online gaming portals such as Adda52, Poker-Baazi and Spartan Poker have made all the difference.

The bait is hard to ignore: India’s online poker industry is estimated at $ 150 million – while analysts predict casino revenues in Goa alone will hit the billion dollar mark over the next few years. years – a significant amount, given the almost nascent state of community growth.

The Poker Sports League, with its unique franchise-based format, is India’s largest poker platform, and in its second season this year, has attracted 20,000 players in addition to wild card entries representing 11 countries.

Adda52, incidentally, was acquired by Delta Corp for 155 crore INR in 2016, while Anuj Gupta, founder of the poker portal, joins Pranav Bagai and Amit Burman, vice president of Dabur, as co-founders of the Poker Sports League (Burman retains personal interest, with no direct involvement from Dabur).

As an added note, Delta Corp, owned by Jaydev Mody, also operates the Deltin Jaqk and Deltin Caravela offshore casinos outside of Royale, as well as the onshore Deltin Suites Casino hotel in Nerul.

The setting for the final

Anuj offers a word on the great leveling quality of poker: Absolutely anyone on the street can be a winner, and compete with aces like Kevin Macphee, a recognized poker hand and an international wild card with the Goan Nuts. . In other words, in the online world, everyone is a running champion!

Notably, season 2 saw two players (out of a total of 110): Niharika Bindra from Delhi and Sofia Lovgren from Sweden. Among the celebrities, Bollywood actress Minissha Lamba is a name often cited on Indian tours, while Chris Gayle and Shane Warne are well known poker hands among cricketers.

While mentors like Aditya Sushant of Bengaluru Warriors, Kunal Patni of Andhra Bullets, Sumit Asrani of Kolkata Kings and Akash Malik of Delhi Panthers bring a healthy dose of arrogance to the table, they also showcase the style choice of life of a poker player.

At the same time, the scholarly presence of mentors like Kanishka Samant of Chennai Thalaivas and Amit Jain of Mumbai Anchors, presents many reasons to support a career decision as a full-time poker player.

Their biggest challenge yet is the image of the game, reflects Burman in a moment of relaxation on the sidelines. He’s here for fun, he insists, adding that future plans involve more than INR 100 crore over the next five to eight years to maintain the league’s stature.

Burman’s vision might bring one to recall Kenny Rogers’ ever-enlightening words from the country classic, The player: “You have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run …” For now, with the advice of Viswanathan Anand, the Poker Sports League certainly seems ready to laugh until the bank.

Season 2 of Poker Sports League will air on Discovery India’s sports channel, Dsport, June 12-17 at 9 p.m. ET. Jaideep Sen was in Goa to attend the tournament, by invitation.

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