Winning the gold bracelet at the World Series Of Poker is not everyone’s cup of tea. But then, Nikita Luther is not just anybody. With over $200,000 in earnings in just two years, she is one of the most talented poker player in India and an emerging global icon. Here are some excerpts from our interview with the champion. When did you start playing Poker?
I started playing professionally in 2016. Before that, poker was a serious hobby for me. The game had an aura that I fond very appealing. First of all, it is a very challenging game. It involves mathematics, strategising and a lot of hard work. But I realised that the high one feels when we beat someone using our intellect, nothing compares to that. Adda52 reached out to me and made me their brand ambassador and also a part of their Pro Team.
What has been the toughest Poker tournament that you have been a part of?
It has to be World Series of Poker, Vegas, 2018. That was an intense tournament, with all of the world’s best professional players in it. The buy-in amount was for $3000 so you can imagine at what level the games were being played at.
Was it difficult to pick up Poker as a sport?
My parents were very sceptical when they learnt that I was actually considering taking poker up as a professional career. I had to convince them that poker is a game of skill, and not a game of luck as people make it out to be. There are courses in universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard where they teach poker and how to adapt your strategies, how to read a table even before a move is made. Even in India, IIM Kozhikode offers a course on poker, teaching how the game can be applied in business, focusing on calculus and strategies made using game theory. Once I started doing well and wining smaller tournaments, my parents and friends finally realised that what I do is cool, challenging and a great career choice.
What advice would you give to the youngsters enamoured by the lifestyle of a Poker player?
Please don’t assume that we have the lifestyle of James Bond and have an easy life. Playing poker at the professional level takes a lot of patience, hard work and practice. Poker takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master. Just like any other athlete, our success depends on the number of hours that we put in. Plus, we also need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How do you train yourself? Do you rely on some books or trainers etc., or do you learn as you play?
There are multiple ways to go about it. I have had one on one Skype sessions with some of the best coaches. Then there are platforms that deliver video content on a monthly basis. There are a few online courses as well which are really difficult and advanced. They are as tough as doing an MBA. Also, studying hand histories and taking notes surely helps a long way.
How do you gauge your performance? How do you get to know the areas where you need to work and improve?
You start taking mental notes, about what you did wrong, or where exactly did you lose a hand. There are 4 essential parts of poker – preflop. flop, turn, and river. Each of these parts requires very different strategies and these strategies have to be tweaked on the fly. In order to learn from one’s mistakes, it is very important to study your hand history and those of your opponents.
What are some of the most basic skills that every poker player must know?
These include preflop ranges, studying the pot odds, what your position is at the table with respect to the dealer, and how should it affect your strategy, what hands to bet big on, and on what hands to let it pass. Then there’s also forming basic strategies and bet sizing. But like I said, it takes a lifetime to learn from these mistakes.
How do you read a player? What all aspects do you focus on?
The process is something that cannot be quantified. Reading people is not only tough, but very subjective. One needs to focus on everything that goes on. This includes keeping a track of all the bets and their size, at what situation does a player fold, are they playing passively or aggressively, and finally, the cards at the showdown. The final part helps you to draw patterns, and once you have a player’s pattern, you have him or her.
What are some skills and tricks that separate the poker ‘sharks’ from newbies or ‘fishes’.
First and foremost, there is the training that goes into making great poker players into sharks. That is of incredible importance. Secondly, newbies play cards, whereas sharks will always play the players. The objective is to always get inside the mind of the player against whom you are playing.