This year, the stakes are set to go higher than ever before as Diwali card parties, underground and online tournaments vie for the top spot in attracting players and the money that comes with them. With cash prizes up to 50 lakhs (cumulative money) up for grabs and much more moolah at stake at parties, these gatherings have already started creating a buzz on the city's card circuit.
And to ensure that one has enough practice for the big day, there are currently a host of meets and practice sessions, both in the virtual and real world, with social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter being used to keep players updated on upcoming tournaments and registration details. While the older tournaments feature the traditional card games of rummy and teen patti, newer ones cater to poker players after a dramatic rise in its popularity in the last few years. However, their motive is the same - to ensure no one misses this opportunity to deal a full house.
Leading the race is the Online Diwali Rummy Tournament organised by Games24x7.com, one of India's premier online games site. Touted as India's biggest online rummy tournament, it offers players the chance to compete for prize money of Rs 10 lakh. Their 2009 tournament saw 500 participants and a total prize money of Rs one lakh. Sachin Uppal, marketing director, Games24x7.com, says, "The Diwali Rummy Tournament 2010 is expected to be the biggest online rummy tournament of the year. The tournament is currently in progress and will culminate in a grand finale during the Diwali weekend. We expect over 4,000 players to participate and approximately Rs 10 lakh can be won in total cash prizes during this festive month."
Rahul Razdan of ibibo.com, which offers the very popular teen patti game and gets over a thousand clicks per day, says, "We enable people to seamlessly play their games with their friends. This is backed by social recognition elements like rewards and badges." He adds that the biggest age group is 21 to 35 years and the biggest draw is from users in Delhi, NCR, Mumbai and all the cities of Gujarat.
However, not many are as forthcoming. An event organiser on the condition of anonymity, says, "Where there is money, there is a crowd. But the problem is that the Indian attitude towards gambling is not positive. We have people who throw away lakhs and crores in a single night, but do not tell their families about it. So it makes sense to keep things quiet and not attract much attention." A similar tournament, to be held in Worli during the Diwali weekend, is expected to attract professional poker players from across the country and offer a cash prize of Rs five lakh.
However, the organisers prefer a word-of-mouth approach and do not want publicity. "We do not know what sort of people might turn up. We have a dedicated group of participants and they will bring in the people needed to make our event a success." Others plan to follow suit. Poker Planet's tournament held from October 10 -14 saw a Rs 6,500 buy-in, with optional 5,000 top-ups and re-buy for the first 90 minutes. With 300-plus participants and food and booze on the house, the event was a huge success. When asked if there were plans of any Diwali tournament, the organiser, Ankur Dewani, said, "Yes, we have noticed a huge increase in poker players. However, we do not wish to tell people about our tournaments as we do not know what sort of publicity and press it will generate and how people will react to them. We prefer the anonymity."
Texas Hold'em Poker is most popular
When it comes to a game that has climbed the popularity charts in just a few years, Texas Hold'em Poker wins hands down. The first poker tournament in Mumbai was organised by PokerAdda two years ago. It had Rs 5,000 buy-ins and 85-odd entrants (which roughly totals to Rs 4.5 lakh). Films like Casino Royale have added to its popularity. Vishesh Karnik, a management student and poker player, says, "Earlier, one had to make do with playing with a few players. Now, Mumbai alone has 5,000 players."
Poker enthusiasts have a choice of budget they wish to play with, and can pick a circle accordingly. Players can lose/win anywhere between a couple of hundred bucks to a lakh-and-a-half in a night. Vikram Verma, professional poker players, says, "Sooner or later, rummy and teen patti players begin playing rummy. There is more than luck involved. One needs to strategise and have skills to win. It's all about mind games."
In poker, it is the Texas Hold'em version that has managed to attract the masses and classes. Alok Kejriwal of Games2win.com feels that the game has become successful mainly because of its social features. He says, "You can play with anybody in the world, gain virtual cash and be listed on the leader-board. Your virtual cash can be diverted back into the game to buy more chips. You can even buy chips online by using your credit card or pay-pal account." Point noted.
Style, celebs at parties
Card parties have evolved too. From social gatherings for family and friends, they have now become new grounds for style and competitive card playing. Adding to their aura are personalised chips, folding poker tables and personalised cards. Taran Kumar, a rummy player, says, "My friend attended a party that was organised in a shack on a beach outside Mumbai with a Hawaiian theme. People won and lost lakhs but they all went home raving about the party."
There are also those who offer free booze and food on the house along with live music, stand-up acts, dance performers and even celebs who come to cheer the players. Homemaker Vinita Jain, who has organised a Russian roulette Night, says, "Style plays an important role these days at card parties and the more you show off, the better quality of players you attract." Anamika Gupta, IT student, recalls attending a teen patti night last year that was themed around the Amitabh Bachchan movie that was about to release. She says, "The host was dressed like Big B. It was the best party I have been to in my life." Glamour sure isn't passé.
Facebook, Twitter and TV help spread the word
The popularity of card games like poker and teen patti can be attributed to social networking sites. The Texas Hold'em Poker game application on Facebook had millions hooked to it a little over two year ago. From there, players had the chance to form communities revolving around the game and meet poker buddies through an online friends list. Soon, people began playing the game during free time in the office and then gradually moved to playing live versions in tournaments.
Networking sites like Facebook and Twitter also help players spread the word about new tournaments and meet-ups happening in the city. And TV channels broadcasting poker matches have also helped give the game a credibility it lacked earlier. Vaishali Tanna, medical student, says, "Channels now allow people to see the moves of poker pros like Daniel Negreanu, a Romanian-Canadian professional with four World Series of Poker bracelets and two World Poker Tour Championship titles. That's inspirational to watch and we can pick up a few smooth moves too."
Mumbai Poker Nights, Indian Rummy Club, Mumbai Nights Poker and Mumbai Poker Tournaments are just a few Facebook groups that are well known amongst city gamers who would like to be kept in the know about tournaments. Sunny Shah, college student, says, "They update their sites regularly. That helps us practice and stay on top of things."
Some groups even go on to publicise their practice rounds to ensure that their members stay tournament fit. Nisha Jha, college student, says, "There is a lot of money involved. It makes sense to keep in touch. Though a bit of luck is involved in winning the games, practice does help."