When we hear the word ‘Poker’, we think of gambling. When we see a woman playing poker, we judge her for no apparent reason. So meet one of India’s top female poker professionals and the COO of the Poker Sports League — Nikita Luther — who is trying to take women towards a stigma-free game.
The young and talented Luther discovered she had a knack for the mind game in early adulthood. She has many achievements to her name. She has final tabled 4 major tournaments, which includes a runner-up finish in the 5k warm-up event in Deltin Poker Tour held in Goa. She has also claimed a trophy in 5k Ladies Finale Event at the India Poker Championship 2015 in Goa. She later became the first and only Indian woman poker player in history to have had won an international trophy in the Macau Poker Cup tournament.
“The more I played, the more I started loving this game.”
Excerpts from the interview:
Being a woman professional poker player is unusual. How did you decide to become one?
It was my hobby and did not happen suddenly. Once, during a friend’s birthday, to make the party more entertaining, I initiated a game of poker and soon realized that having a bit more of logic and common sense (than any of my friends), I was getting good at it. After that stopping me was impossible!
I have been playing it for the past six years now. How do I define the importance of poker in my life? Let’s just say – the game is very intriguing to me because when you play, you understand how mathematically inclined it is. Most of us have the mindset that poker is equal to gambling. Not at all! It’s all about skill elements derived from mathematical tactics, psychology and all the theorems, including game theory, probability, and decision-making strategy.
I am a foodie, feminist and also an avid traveller and in my leisure time, I enjoy reading books and playing pool
You can never be good at playing poker overnight. It’s a learning curve and you constantly give your time, patience, and tricks into it. Result? You will learn a set of ability to become strategically-developed day-by-day.
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What inspired you to join the Poker Sports League?
As a child, I was very fascinated with numbers and math. Even in school, I was that type of a kid who would top in class and get good marks. Today, I thank that it was the math aspects of it which really drew me to the game. As I grew more, learnt more, I felt like I am becoming more perceptive on the poker table – as in perceptive that changes body language, changes in people’s level of discomfort.
Eventually I started travelling, playing with different kinds of people. Yet, I never realized that one day I would make poker my primary profession. Playing with friends, friends of friends across India, swinging in the flow helped me update my knowledge. Then one day — one and half years ago — I was approached by an online poker company to be their brand ambassador. By then I was already representing India at an international level.
To be very specific, poker is not at all a gender-biased industry. Because having gender advantage won’t help you beat the opponents. It’s strictly intelligence that keeps you ahead. Irrespective of gender – anyone who can master the strategies wins!
So I joined the website and started representing India at the domestic level too. Every tournament I played in final-table — which is a procedure accomplishment in the community as that’s the table left for the ace player among a lot of budding stars – it is a huge honour to make it to the final-table.
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Then came one day when I was recognized by — Adda52.com — India’s largest Poker portal — founded by Anuj Gupta — who is also a co-founder of Poker Sports League. They approached to me and now for the last six months, I am their pro poker player and the brand ambassador as well. I also play for various poker tournaments in India and abroad.
I have come across many women who are interested in playing poker, but lack of courage holds them back from taking that extra step to go to the next level
Now I head the ‘Poker Sports League’ which happens to be a revolutionary development in poker in India. PSL is an IPL-style initiative — a unique platform for skilled ‘mind sports’, proposed by Amit Burman (Founder, Poker Sports League) earlier this year. The idea was to venture into a league which would be as entertaining as the other various sports like football, cricket, kabaddi leagues but foraying into the space of intellectual and mind challenges which would aim to popularize mind skill games.
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Currently, there are 3 women who work with me in the Poker Sports League team
Collaborating with Adda52, Poker Sports League was introduced in India for the first time. My colleague — Pranav Bagai (Founder of India Poker Legend) — and I helmed the responsibilities at the India’s premier tournament series with 12 teams with credible members owned by 12 experts.
What drives the Poker Sports League?
The league aims to give a platform to individuals, setting up challenges in their mind, boosting grit and decision-making abilities. The reason the PSL is an important event for mindsports in India is because this is the best shot poker players have to convince the country that poker is not gambling. It is largely a skill-based game. To change that perception, to change the mindset amongst people, it is the only ground-breaking stage, where we invite all poker experts to join in.
The other point of the league is to remove the stigma attached to it, to educate a wider audience about the fact that poker is a skill-based sport – not chance, not gambling.
Poker takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master
This profession is strictly male-dominated. Do women lack exposure and enthusiasm? Or simply get overlooked as society ignores their abilities of becoming smart poker players?
Which sport is not male-dominated? But I don’t feel intimidated by the fact that more men choose to play poker than women – it may bother some other female players — but for me it is a table where I play to win. In fact, the guy who plays against me gets intimidated seeing a minority beat him in a game. Most of them shy away because poker is very intellectual and calculated game, to play the games one has to be very smart and strong.
It has never been a challenge for me but I pity my competitors who lack conviction and think that women aren’t meant to play poker
To be very specific, Poker is not at all a gender-biased industry. If you compare it with the other sports too, there’s place for both women and men players, though women tend to be dominated in most of the spaces. Women are outnumbered but still fighting it out. In poker, it is more gender-neutral. There’s no place for discrimination.
I was well-aware of the fact that having gender advantage won’t help you beat the opponents. It’s strictly intelligence that keeps you uplifted. Irrespective of gender – anyone who can master the strategies win!
What are the future plans in this sport?
Currently, I am working on a pet project, called WOPOF — the women poker federation, a community of female poker players through which we would endorse the feasibility of female players, bring together some intellectual women and educate them about the incredibility of this game.
I have come across many women who are interested in playing poker, wanting to take it up as passion but lack of courage held them back to take that extra step to go next. I believe in grooming them and raising their skill-level.
Taking up the stint to the next level:
I constantly learn more about the game, even got the idea of getting digital coaching from UK’s accomplished players. Hopefully, that would improve my knowledge a bit more. As I have been playing in international tournaments with way tougher players, in way bigger tables – I try to mastermind my potential as much as I can. I am just trying to be the best in hoping to put India on the map and also eyeing to win a World Series Of Poker bracelet among international players.
My inspirations are Phil Galfond, Vanessa Selbst and Daniel Negreanu
What is your most memorable game?
I would always remember the day in February this year when I won a trophy at the Macau Poker Cup, the largest and most prestigious tournament in Asia. It is a huge career highlight.
How does the future look for women in Poker Sports?
I think the future is very bright, especially with the league coming up and female representation growing in every tournament. Each tournament in India sees larger participation. Poker is developing exponentially and women players are making it even stronger.
Women don’t get distracted by small egoistic battles. They have that edge there because poker is something that lets you take control over anything and everything that are part of the game
Why the number of women players in India is less?
I personally feel if women try a little harder, they would leave behind many men in the industry. Women have great potential in the game because they are level-headed.
Your advice to new-comers?
Having sharp integrity is the best trait. No winning comes without credibility, without losing. Take it step-by-step and keep on practising. The more you practice, the better you get. Always remember that great power and achievements come after years of hard work.
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