A WINNING HAND

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 04 Jul 2018 14:31:47


 

 

Nikita Luther, India's top woman poker player, tells what it means to play against the men and occasionally beat them at it

By gargi gupta

It was hard to miss the svelte figure of Nikita Luther on the gaming floor of Deltin Royale, the floating casino hotel on the Mandovi river in Goa, the venue of the second edition of Poker Sports League (PSL) held recently. She stood out among the throng of males huddled at the blue-felt covered tables, buzzing with excitement and the thrum of a high-stakes, high-adrenaline sport. For poker is a nearly-all-male sport - there are just two women in the 11 teams playing in the PSL, i.e, two out of 110, which is less than one percent. Even among viewers, women are a marginal presence - mostly, they are relatives or companions of the male players.


But Luther is not just a rare female presence - as chief operating officer of PSL, as a poker pro, and as a brand ambassador of Adda52 Live Pro, India’s largest online poker and card games website, she’s very much part of Indian poker’s inner circle.“I’m the only female Indian player to have an international trophy,” says the 27-year-old, speaking to the media on the sidelines of PSL. It’s been a hectic, tiring few days, with games beginning mid-morning and continuing into the wee hours, and Luther grabs a quick snack as we speak. “I went to Macao and played the Red Dragon [the main event of the Macao Poker Cup offering HK$10 million prize money] and won an event.” That was in early 2017.


“Last summer, I went to Vegas for the first time and played the world series of poker. I played multiple events, one of which was the Aria 2017 Poker Classic, a WPT500 Main Event. About 3,700 people entered and I made the final table with the chip leads.” To decode - Luther had the most chips and was one of 10 players to make it to the last stage of the tournament, called the final table. It’s a significant achievement, especially in Vegas - the mecca of poker. Sadly, she didn’t win. “I ended up fifth, which is sad but the structure on the final day became quite different and by the time I adjusted to it, I got some bad beats. But I made a record for India - male or female, nobody has ever made the final table with such a large player field.”
Delhi-based Luther, whose father was in the Indian Air Force, chanced upon poker quite accidentally - she was visiting a friends’ house and saw a game being played. She decided to join them, and won a few hands. It made her curious about the game so she went home and played a few games online. “As I was playing and researching the game, I noticed that there were patterns to it, that there was maths to it - probability - and that as long as you knew your odds, your strategy, read some tendencies well, you would win. That really blew my mind - that a game of cards can have skill and strategy behind it. I was hooked.” It helped that maths had always been Luther’s favourite subject.


That was nine years ago. Initially, Luther says, her parents were scandalised. “They said - what’s wrong with you - are you playing cards professionally? But slowly, I explained to them the nuances of the game, how it’s actually a game of intellect. My parents got interested and in the past two years, they’ve seen me accomplish so much,” she says, adding “Since I was 17 years old, I have not earned my own money. I am very proud of that.” Luther has a BCom degree from Delhi University.


But it hasn’t been an easy ride. Even now life is a hectic cycle of studying - Luther has been taking advanced courses in complex maths concepts such as ‘game theory optimal strategy to improve her game - travelling for games, and work on the PSL. “But it’s my passion, and there is the satisfaction of building something from scratch.” (dnasyndication.com) l