Top 5 Interviews That Rocked 2018

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  • Attreyee Khasnabis January 8, 2019
  • 6 Minutes Read

Poker in India has been through a rough year ensnared in a web of legal ambiguity and restraint. However, not all that happened was bad. In fact, a lot of incidents that took place on and off the felts contributed immensely towards the growth and development of the mind sport in the country.

In this feature, we will take a look back at all the people whose stories went a long way in taking the poker narrative forward.

One of the most inspiring stories of the year has been that of Nikhil Segel who was one of the eight Indians to win a Platinum Pass to the 2019 PokerStars Players NLHE Championship (PSPC). Segel participated in the #MyUltimateSweat challenge designed by Team PokerStars pro Jamie Staples and decided to accomplish three goals over a period of three months. Overcoming mental roadblocks, Segel successfully achieved his goals and became the second Indian to win the PSPC Pass.

The 49th Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) witnessed the biggest-ever Indian contingent in attendance. While seasoned pros like PokerStars Ambassador Aditya Agarwal, Paawan Bansal, Nipun Java and Raghav Bansal kept us glued to our seats with their poker expertise, the budding young blood announced their presence on the world stage in style. Among the rising stars, one particular talent well and truly stole the show – Nishant Sharma as he became the first Indian to crack into the top 50 of the most prestigious tournament in the world i.e. $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em MAIN EVENT – World Championship.

While players worked their magic on the felts to reinvigorate poker’s presence in the country, the people who work behind-the-scenes also played an important role in furthering the mind sport’s progress and popularity among the masses.

PokerStars’ launch in India has been one of the biggest talking points in the domestic circuit and CEO of Sachiko Gaming Pvt. Ltd (PokerStars India), Ankur Dewani was a crucial part of the process that provided a platform to the existing talent to display their prowess through live and online events.

Where global giant PokerStars made inroads into the Indian market, local poker start-up 9stacks wasn’t far behind. Following a successful Series A funding round which saw the company raise ₹28 Crores (approximately $4 Million), CEO Sudhir Kamath discussed the brand’s fund-utilization plans which would certainly help steer poker towards a better future.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t just the big brands that created waves across the Indian poker sector. Kolkata-based PokerLion, the brainchild of Navneet Makharia, presented proof of the unparalleled growth of the nation’s poker community.

PSPC Platinum Pass Winner Nikhil Segel – Talks About His Goals For Team PokerStars Pro Jamie Staples’ #MyUltimateSweat Challenge & How He Achieved It

47-year old architect based in New Delhi, Nikhil Segel has had an incredible year and his journey to winning Jamie Staples‘ #MyUltimateSweat challenge is a saga of his unmatchable grit and determination.

Nikhil Segel
Nikhil Segel

Segel’s goals for the challenge were to quit smoking, lose weight and reduce his high blood sugar levels. In his interview to PokerGuru, the recreational poker player had stated that he was going through a bad patch when he chanced upon Staples’ challenge.

“Since PokerStars got fenced in India, I wasn’t surfing and so I had no information about this challenge. Suddenly I saw Jamie’s video and it was like a Eureka moment because I was going through a bad patch and I was really spiralling down in terms of my smoking, my health, my weight. I saw it as an opportunity to have enough reasons to get things back on track. So, I then immediately made a quick video and said I’m in.”

Participating in the challenge, Segel not only turned his life around. He helped numerous others as well.

“Motivating others became a secret challenge which I told Jamie [Staples] about, and no one else knew about it. #MyUltimateSweatChallenge was Twitter-driven and I have found Twitter to be a very lonely place, so I realized that there would be a lot of lack of motivation and I realized that like me, other participants will also lack motivation. So, I added all the 149 contestants who entered Jamie’s challenge along with five to six judges and Twitter initially blocked me! I decided that I am going to comment, like, share the tweets shared by other participants and motivate them.”

It wasn’t easy, but Segel came through with flying colours, punching his ticket to the PSPC! His awe-inspiring story put poker in a positive light which too much like Segel himself was going through a ‘bad patch’.

Read the complete interview here.

India’s Best WSOP 2018 Main Event Finisher Nishant Sharma – Talks About His Experience at The Grandest Stage of Poker

Nishant Sharma‘s WSOP 2018 journey began with winning a free trip to Vegas via the 9stacks #LFGVegas contest. Sharma aka ‘DoJingBULLETS’ had already made a name for himself on the online felts by taking down Adda52’s Crazy Leaderboard-III, Godfather 2.0 and Whale, and his debut on the live felts of the Sin City was equally impressive.

Nishant Sharma
Nishant Sharma

The Mumbai-based pro eclipsed all previous records with his 34th place finish in the $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em MAIN EVENT – World Championship and banked a payday of $230,475 (₹1.57 Crores).

In an interview with PokerGuru, Sharma spoke about his strategy for the Main Event, “just wanted to play low ball game and not to take any high variance spot and it worked out perfectly for me.”

However, this wasn’t Sharma’s only big score at the series. He followed up his magnificent run in the Main Event with a 19th place finish (for $20,336 – ₹13.95 Lakhs) in The Closer – $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em (30-minute levels) – $1 Million Guarantee.

Talking about his second big score at the series, Sharma said, “I played The Closer where I finished 19th which could have been better if I wouldn’t have taken the high variance spot but that’s okay, we always learn and will get them next time.”

Sharma’s dazzling performance at the series motivated many young players in the domestic circuit to break out of their shells and venture out onto the international scene.

Read the complete interview here.

PokerStars India CEO Ankur Dewani – Talks About The Brand Entering India & Its Association With GPL India

2018 marked online poker conglomerate PokerStars’ debut foray into the Indian market. With a population of more than 1.3 Billion people, India was a natural choice for the brand to establish its presence in, however the process was not easy.

Ankur Dewani
Ankur Dewani

Originally scheduled to launch in 2017, the release was delayed as the brand was unable to find a local partner for a joint venture in running the local operations. Eventually, the site was launched in April 2018 in association with the Sugal & Damani Group, which is the largest state government lottery operator in India.

Commenting on the steady growth of poker in India, CEO of Sachiko Gaming Pvt. Ltd (PokerStars India), Ankur Dewani had said, “We are very excited to have finally brought PokerStars to India. It’s heartening to see the growth of Poker, and it is 100% thanks to early adopters, enthusiasts and those that have discovered a passion for the game. Obviously, it’s been well supported by the industry operators and hopefully PokerStars India will be the next growth catalyst for the game.”

An avid poker player himself, Dewani understood the needs of his fellow players and the requirement of the industry as a whole.

“We always want to make sure we provide the best possible experience, so we wanted to focus on getting things right for players!”

Discussing PokerStars India’s association with GPL India, Dewani elaborated, “our objective is to provide a free to play platform for enthusiasts across the country…..The aim is to make poker accessible, mainstream and to include the widest audience, hence free to play with a long schedule giving everyone enough opportunity to participate and back their favourite city, mentor, or just for a shot the massive PSPC prize pool.”

Dewani’s vision for the company and poker community is truly commendable, “We want to grow the game by making it available to all. We want people to enjoy the sport like it is enjoyed all over the world, alongside other much-loved mind sports and games of skill. I’d love to see poker growing three, four, five times over but our focus is on doing things right for the customer. If new players enjoy the game and experience, then word of mouth will spread. We’ll focus on doing what’s right and hopefully the community will grow along with us.”

Read the complete interview here.

9stacks CEO Sudhir Kamath – Talks About The Company’s Achievements & Future Plans

One of the biggest stories to emerge last year has been one of online poker start-up 9stacks. The Delhi-based start-up that was launched in April 2017 closed out a successful Series-A funding round led by WaterBridge Ventures in September 2018 which was a milestone for the brand.

Sudhir Kamath
Sudhir Kamath

CEO Sudhir Kamath discussed the requirements for successfully acquiring VC investments, “A successful angel round requires a high-potential market and a strong management team.”

Kamath also pointed out the factors that the company focused on to achieve this milestone, “In the first year of operations, our biggest challenge was to establish player’s trust and get known in the market. We experimented with the product and marketing strategies, but always had policies that made the experience safe and reliable for the user.”

He specified the areas in which the company is looking to invest its accumulated funds which includes marketing, product development, industry consolidation, and other real money games to help steer the company towards a booming future.

Read the complete interview here.

PokerLion Founder Navneet Makharia – Talks About Prospective Plans & Ventures

2018 saw a mushrooming of poker sites on the Indian gaming map and one such newcomer was Ability Games Group owned and operated site, PokerLion. Contrived by founder and director Navneet Makharia, PokerLion strived to offer players not only ‘the ultimate gaming experience’ but to also remove the stigma that the society has labelled against the skill-based game of poker.

Navneet Makharia
Navneet Makharia

Explaining how the idea of operating an Indian Poker website came into being, Makharia stated “The fact that I knew poker before venturing into playing on virtual portals helped me understand the games on these websites, and the hardships that new players had to face. These issues made me mull over a possible solution and I decided to create an error-free online poker game website for Indians.”

With the intention of eradicating the negative opinion that poker has been draped in, Makharia discussed his strategy for accomplishing his ideal.

“Poker is a game of skill and not luck, and this is what I tell everyone I meet….Unfortunately, poker is largely considered taboo in most Indian states. Assam, Odisha and Telangana were the first to prohibit poker and then it was banned in Gujarat. We are eager to remove this taboo and popularise the game just like the other common sports in India and for this, encouraging people is crucial. We are working on this plan and lining up numerous promotional offers so that more people can find out that poker involves more skill than luck.”

Read the complete interview here.

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