We’ve all fantasised about making a living out of something as indulgent as playing poker. This dream could actually come true for poker aficionados, though, as the Poker Sports League (PSL) takes its first steps in India, with a prize money of Rs 3.36 crore on offer.
“The league will comprise 12 teams, and each team will have nine members, including one mentor who will also be the captain and decisionmaker. Every team will also feature two wild cards and two professional poker players,” says Pranav Bagai, the creator of India Poker Legend and one of the cofounders of the PSL, who has teamed up with Dabur’s vicepresident Amit Burman and the founder of poker portal adda52.com, Anuj Gupta, to take poker to the next level in India.
“The beauty of the league is that anyone who can play poker can participate. We have organised qualifiers across almost all major cities in the country. There will be 72 online and as many offline qualifiers, with the players at the top of the leaderboards through this span of time advancing into the final draft, which will take place on May 7, for the week-long main event scheduled to begin on May 22,” he adds.
For a layperson, the biggest challenge in putting together a competition of this magnitude appears to be the legal aspect of it, but Bagai laid it down pretty unflinchingly, “We just had to take care of two things. First, the live events; they don’t involve any money and players only play for points, so the betting aspect of it is completely eliminated. Secondly, the prize pool at the Mega Final. It will be organised in a casino in Goa and TDS certificates will be given to players upon the purchase of chips. Plus, all this money will be exchanged within the casino, thus it’s completely above board.”
With a clean chit from the powers that be, the PSL also aspires to change the mindsets that surround poker in the country. “The biggest taboo about the sport is its card-based nature, which often leads to gambling comparisons. But that’s categorically not the case,” says Bagai. “Players across the globe actually study poker and treat it as a skill game that is based on probability. No doubt luck plays its part, but if you are a professional poker player, you can even beat the odds with calculated risks.This is the culture that the PSL aims to inculcate in our country as well. We have made the qualifiers free of cost and every player has to consistently perform well in a minimum of 24 events in order to stay alive on the leaderboard and progress into the draft. This way, we have tried to do away with the luck factor to the best of our abilities.”
Challenges And The Future
The league also falls in line with other sports in the country, including kabaddi, hockey, badminton and football, which have used league-format tournaments to garner popularity. But the PSL will take a different approach when it comes to broadcasting. “Our finals will last under a week, as opposed to other sports that span weeks or even months. Add a 12-hour per day game-time and things get even more complicated. So we have decided to broadcast proceedings digitally, with a 30-minute delay. We plan to bring in RFID tables to enhance the spectator experience, along with live commentary by renowned poker professionals,” says Bagai. He admits that popularising the PSL could be a challenge in the first edition, but is optimistic about the road ahead. “We are shooting a lot of footage behind the scenes and will continue to do the same during the two-day boot camp ahead of the Mega Final in Goa, and even during the time outs that will feature discussions between players and mentors. It could result in a fascinating post-event reality show that revolves around the lives of the qualifiers, the mentors and their journeys up till the end of the league,” he said.
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