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Entrepreneur Raj Kundra and Shilpa Shetty backed Viaan Industries enjoys a growing presence in the Indian entertainment, licensing and gaming sector. In the past two years, the company has made a focused foray into the Indian poker industry. If 2017 saw Viaan Industries tie-up with International Federation of Match Poker (IFMP) to launch Match IPL in India, the brand has since then, successfully hosted three editions of this hugely popular poker league.
In September 2018, the Kundra’s also announced the launch of their online poker site PokerRaj, and shortly afterwards, Match IPL Season 3 culminated with Pune Kings claiming the championship title. Several months into launch, PokerRaj signed up Bollywood and TV actor Anita Hassanandani as their first brand ambassador.
With an acting portfolio that includes performances in multi-lingual movies and serials, Hassanandani made her Bollywood debut in the Subhash Ghai directed Taal in 1999. She became more popular as ‘Anjali,’ the lead character of TV series ‘Kkavyanjali’ and has acted in hit shows like ‘Ye Hai Mohabbatein’ and ‘Naagin.’
Hassanandani made a name for herself on the domestic poker circuit as part of the Harman Baweja-led Mumbai All-Stars team that took down Match IPL Season 1.
Viaan Industries last month announced it`s first-ever international tournament tour – ‘PokerRaj International – The 100 Series’ that is to be held at Bally’s Casino in Columbo, Sri Lanka from March 22-23. An invite-only event capped at 100 players, the tournament features a $5,500 (₹3.93 Lakhs) buy-in and a generous $500,000 (₹3,57,32,500) prize pool guarantee. With $150K (₹1.07 Crore) reserved for the winner alone, the event promises great value for players.
Anita Hassanandani, in an exclusive chat with PokerGuru, talks about her association with the brand and her expectations from the upcoming series. Here are the excerpts:
Hi Anita, thank you for talking to us. How were you introduced to poker?
Card games always intrigued me. I played a lot of ‘Teen Patti’ and ‘Rummy’ before, while poker was fairly new to me. I was introduced to it by the ‘Gang’ and by gang I mean Harman Baweja and Abhishek Jalan who are also prominent players at Match IPL. Once I got a hang of the game, well, I hung! It’s a sport of immense skill and observation, something that really gets the mind engaged and that’s why I love the sport.
Do you play poker online? How is it different from live poker?
Yes, I do play poker online as well. The great thing is that you can play it on the go or wherever you are. I love playing online tournaments as well.
Online poker is very different from playing poker live, mainly because you don’t have opponents that are physically present, this would mean they can’t judge you or your playing style instantly. Now, this can be an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time, you don’t get judged by opponents and you can’t read your opponents as well. But for me, it’s all about the game, so I enjoy playing both, online as well as live poker.
You’re one of the few female actors to be a brand ambassador of an online poker portal in India, how does it feel?
It’s great! I’m truly glad that I am a brand ambassador of PokerRaj, especially because I love playing the sport and being associated with a brand that’s all about this skill sport is just amazing. There’s a lot of skill involved in poker and I’m really thrilled that I get to promote something that I love and something that engages the mind.
How has your association with PokerRaj been so far?
My association with PokerRaj has been fabulous. I’ve got to spend more time playing and understanding the sport and also got to know Raj Kundra better, he’s a great human being and a lovely person. I’m always excited to play on the platform, competing against players from all over India. I think the platform caters to all types of players – players who are interested in tournaments or cash games. I also think they have numerous promotions,that help the player get more value from what they invest. And I think that’s in-line with the brand’s promise – the player is king!
If you had to name some of your opponents from the Bollywood poker circle, who would they be?
To be honest, I haven’t played much with individuals from the Bollywood industry. Mainly because I yet feel I’m a learning player and don’t intend to lose most of my money (laughs). But, I have played against Harman Baweja, as he is the one who introduced the sport to me. Once my skills are a little more fine-tuned, I’m sure I’ll get to playing with more of my industry colleagues.
Does being an actor give you an added advantage to keep a poker face?
Yes, definitely! Being an actor does help when you are playing the sport live and it’s certainly an advantage. However, for me it’s a little different, I’m transparent as a person so it becomes a bit of problem, but I am working pretty hard on that. But to answer your question, yes, being an actor is definitely an advantage while playing this sport.
Who would you say is better at poker –your husband Rohit Reddy or you?
Rohit, my husband does not play any poker, he has zero to no inclination towards poker so that automatically makes me the best, the greatest poker player in the family! (laughs)
How do you feel about competing with 100 of the best poker players from around the world at the PokerRaj International The 100 Series?
I’m very excited to be travelling to Sri Lanka and competing and playing against 100 of the best players from around the world at Bally’s Casino. I think it’s a great start for PokerRaj and the direction that they’re going towards looks really promising. I always knew something like this would be on the cards, with Raj being Raj, he always thinks of doing things on a big scale, and there’s nothing bigger than taking a homegrown brand to the international stage. I honestly can’t wait for ‘The 100 Series’, I’m pumped and ready to kick some…cards out of the opponent’s hand.
What are your expectations from the first-ever international event hosted by PokerRaj?
Well, since I am the brand ambassador of PokerRaj I am expecting to automatically win the inaugural 100 series (laughs). Just kidding, I’m looking for some great action, some great players and obviously a lot of competition. I think limiting the number of players increases the probability of winning. I think as the brand ambassador, I’m expected to kick some ass too and hopefully, I do. I just can’t wait for the first-ever PokerRaj International ‘The 100 Series’.