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The multi-talented Aditya Kulkarni from Mumbai makes the cover of our weekly Monday Motivation column. A commerce student with a law degree and a diploma in journalism, Kulkarni is a widely respected online reg in the circuit, and rightfully so. On Sunday, the former junior state-level cricket player overcame a 326-entry field in PokerStars India`s INCOOP – 59 Sunday Special to win ₹3.58 Lakhs.
Talking about his run in the event, 37-year-old Kulkarni revealed that he finds INCOOP a high-value series, although the Sunday Special was a tough tournament to crack. “The tournament was good. It was stacked with more regs than other sites. The final day was full of regulars. I had to just play the spots correctly, hang in there, and not make mistakes.”
One of Kulkarni’s most memorable poker moments is his runner-up finish in the Asian Poker Tour#38 Super Highroller in January. He earned a career-best ₹14.51 Lakhs in the PokerBaazi-hosted event.
His poker journey began 8 to 9 years ago when he started playing poker on his mobile while commuting in Mumbai. He admits to having mistakenly equated poker with Teen Patti. “Then I realized poker is nowhere close to Teen Patti. There are a lot of mathematical equations involved. I also discovered that there are online poker sites in India where you can play for poker for real money.”
Kulkarni reveals that even though poker has been his primary source of income ever since the pandemic began, he’s still a recreational player. Armed with a law degree, he might not be a practicing lawyer but does offer legal consulting to some clients.
The fact that poker tournaments start at night and run late worked in Kulkarni’s favor since he could work through the day and play peacefully at night. The lockdown months allowed him to put even more volume. “The lockdown really helped me focus on poker. It helped me grind more, study more, and helped me get more insight into poker. And right now, I can consider playing poker for a living for a certain period.”
He points out that while the job market was down and many people struggled, poker players could play comfortably, earn good money, and keep busy.
Like several accomplished poker players today, Kulkarni has a strong sports background, having played junior state-level cricket. He attributes this to be a significant reason he prefers the MTT nature of poker. “My temperament is not to play cash games. The whole competitive nature comes from playing sports right from childhood, and I find tournaments enthusing and challenging.”
This is why PokerBaazi’s National Poker Series (NPS) that unleashed a sportified set of events is hands down his favorite MTT series. “The NPS on PokerBaazi was the best series I have played to date. It was very well-managed, featured tournaments from micro to higher buy-ins, and was very value-oriented. This is the kind of series that should be there in the future. They gave a sporting feel to the series, which was a terrific concept.”
Despite the gambling tag that currently surrounds poker in India, Kulkarni feels optimistic about the game’s future in the country. “With our population, even if 10% start playing poker, it’s more than enough. Some of the sites are taking good steps to grow, and I feel that in the next 5-10 years, poker will become much bigger, more mass-oriented in India.”
He explains that the TDS system in the country is a dampener, but players have to take them in their stride. “Poker is growing slowly in India, but I think for someone starting out young in the game, it offers them the chance to make decent money sitting at home. Unlike many other sports, you don’t need much natural or physical talent for poker. It does need mathematical skills, but if you work really hard, you can earn good money and get success in poker.”
But what about poker being banned in the southern states, like Karnataka, as a recent example? How does he feel as a lawyer about poker’s future? “India is a conservative country. It is quite obvious that poker will meet with a lot of opposition. The gambling tag around poker is a very prevalent opinion, which is understandable since unless you start playing poker, you can’t grasp just how competitive and skill-based it is. The point is to educate the masses. I think the next generation will adapt and accept poker for what it is,” he says.
Kulkarni predicts legal hurdles like PILs and bans against poker will continue unless the Supreme Court comes out with a favorable decision.
A poker player’s journey is arduous, and Kulkarni counts family support as one of the most important contributing factors to success. He feels blessed since his wife, family, in-laws, and friends support him in poker and constantly encourage him to achieve the best he can. No, he doesn’t have a poker circle, but he does reach out to players like Neel Joshi, Akshay Nasa, and Sahil Mahboobani to clear his doubts and for poker advice.
As for long-term poker plans, Kulkarni doesn`t have any. “I’ll play poker as long as I enjoy it, and right now, I’m trying to make as much as I can, trying to improve and understand the game. But I’m not sure if I will ever take to it for a lifetime.”
As for the players Kulkarni admires are India’s poker veteran Aditya Agarwal and Danish Shaikh. Then there’s Neel Joshi among the younger crop of players. “He (Neel Joshi) has been crushing it at the domestic and international events at such a young age, and I really admire that.”
We asked him to share a winner’s quote, and Kulkarni smiled, insisting he had none. Still, he advised players to keep moving forward relentlessly, take success and failures as a part of their life and poker journey. “If you keep going for what you want to achieve, things will come through in the end.”
Hats off to Kulkarni for his humble and focused approach to the game!