When people talk about women in sports in our country, they most likely refer to the likes of Sania Mirza and Mithali Raj. They are stars in their own right but also belong to more popular sporting streams. Poker – a member of the mushrooming online gaming industry, estimated to be worth $1 billion by 2021 – is probably the last thing on people’s mind when they think about women in sports.
The reason? Well, the card game is generally considered synonymous with gambling, and mostly looked down upon. But Muskaan Sethi picked up a flair for the card game at the age of 11, and is now one of the most prominent names in domestic poker circles.
Known for her master bluffs, the Delhi native has rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names internationally. She is also recognised for being the first female poker player to receive the Women’s Achiever Award from the President. Muskan also holds the honour of being appointed as India’s Responsible Gaming Ambassador.
“As a woman poker player and as a responsible gaming ambassador, I have a lot of responsibilities and expectations to live up to. I do not entertain trolls or sexist remarks,” she tells MAKERS India, adding, “Other women too should stop getting bothered by remarks passed on by spineless keyboard warriors hiding behind their computer screens, trying to pull us down.”
A passion inherited from grandmother
Muskaan recollects that she picked up nuances of Poker by obersving people around. She particularly observed her father and her grandmother, who, in her opinion, are equally great with card tricks. “My dad and my dadi have been a great influence. I grew up watching them play and think that I have inherited the skills from them,” she adds.
The passion for poker grew on her with time, and eventually taking the shape of a full-fledged vocation in the light of a tragedy. “My mother’s passing away was a big jolt for me. I had wandered off my purpose, and I had started spending time indoors,” she recalls, “The only viable escape for my mind was poker. It chose me and I followed.”
Brushing up her skills with YouTube videos and online tutorials over time, Muskan has built a career that has taken her to the forefront of poker stardom. And it just so happens, that the 30-year-old is also the face of PokerStars India, an online poker platform which boasts former Indian Skipper MS Dhoni and poker pro Sharad Rao as its ambassadors.
“My turning point,” Muskan chimes in, “was when I was in the running for $1 million on the Poker TV show called Shark Cage, for which I travelled to the UK. I made it despite thousands of participants on PokerStars. I was the loose cannon between the big pros on UK’s National TV. That experience changed the course of my life and made me take up poker seriously.”
Poker – a $1 billion opportunity
Muskan, whose card skills have taken her to the popular poker destinations across the world – Las Vegas, Amsterdam, Nottingham, Barcelona, Prague – now works with poker coaches, strategy software companies, mindset trainers, and nutritionists.
According to Muskan, the image around poker is slowly shifting. From a game often advertised with scantily-clad women, it has matured to a skill-based mind sport.
“The shift has become visible now with time. It is in tandem with the need for young talent in the gaming space. People, who could not imagine playing poker, now their children are taking it up as a profession, and I believe this is because of the sensitisation done right by the online gaming industry,” she says.
By 2021, online gaming in India is estimated to be a $1 billion opportunity, according to Google-KPMG. And India is expected to have more than 310 million online gamers by then.
Muskan notes, “The industry has been compounding profit at a lightning speed- not because of the money involved but because of the participation of young guns in the field who not only have commendable skills but also have mastered the art of bluffing.”
In this scenario, poker deserves a rightful place among skill-based mind sports, like chess, she adds. “The game requires patience and practice,” she continues, “Learn from every possible piece of informative material available online regarding the game, and then choose to seek professional help. I do not sit back thinking ‘I have done or practised enough,’ I keep polishing my skills religiously online.”
And this, while she juggles a million different roles, shatters gender-based stereotypes, donates a portion of her earning to DoggyDoo (a community she runs for stray and abandoned pets), steers the perception of poker from gambling to a mind sport, and paints the green table pink.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)