In a couple of days, on November 12th, a large chunk of the Indian diaspora will be celebrating the first day of Diwali, the festival of lights.
Poker has become strongly associated with the festival, even in households that might eschew gambling the other 360 days of the year. Much of India, and indeed the world, is either in lockdown or about to go back into lockdown. So the usual family gatherings to share sweet mithai and to pour out rangoli designs are either unwise or flat out verboten.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t still gather around a digital card table. 9Stacks are releasing a “voice-enabled private table” feature on their software. This will be out in time for Diwali. It allows families to play the traditional game online in a more sociable format.
Borrowing from the Zoom revolution. And no doubt somewhat inspired by the success of the Virtual Poker League, these voice-enabled private tables are just what they sound like. A password-protected table for just you, your family, and/or your friends. Plus it allows you to use your devices’ mics to chat aloud amongst yourselves as you play.
Brag, patti, poker
British colonialism left a lot behind in India. Most of it bad. But among the more benign cicatrices, like the affection for paperwork-heavy bureaucracy, the British left behind three-card brag.
Brag, for the uninitiated, is a similar game to poker. Both are vying games. But brag has a couple of key features that make it stand apart.
Brag is played with three-card hands instead of five. You only have to pay a half bet if you play blind (i.e. without looking at your cards). And the betting doesn’t stop until everyone folds or someone pays double the bet “to see” the other players’ hands. Betting just keeps going round till this happens. In some brag games, the deck is not shuffled between hands. So remembering what cards came off in what order is one of the key skills of the game.
Three-card brag in India took its own path. It borrowed from poker and evolved into teen patti (literally “three cards” in Hindi). Teen patti is a game with as many variants as poker, but all based around the basic pattern of brag.
At Diwali, and occasionally other holidays, it is traditional for families to play teen patti for small stakes. And there are plenty of people who don’t stop playing after the fifth night’s celebrations.
Poker’s role in Diwali celebrations is relatively new. The game has slipped into the niche created by teen patti, and to some extent by gin rummy.
So, the rising popularity of poker as the skill-based card game of choice had a good base to build on. Patti and poker are similar, but poker is the one that gets TV coverage.
Plus poker is far more international. Second generation ex-pats are more likely to pick up five cards with their peers than three. That is true even in the U.K., the birthplace of brag.
Sudhir Kamath, C.E.O. & co-founder of 9stacks said, “this year Diwali is going to be very different owing to the global pandemic. […] Due to the concerns related to health safety, many will be celebrating Diwali at home. We further realized that there are a lot of recreational players who want to bond with their loved ones over a game of poker but during the lockdown, owing to the restrictions imposed, they were unable to do so. Hence, we believe this is the right time for our audience to enjoy “private tables” with their family and get the feel of hosting a poker party sitting at home.”
He acknowledges it’s not quite the same as sitting at home trading quarter-rupee coins with loved ones. But it’s the next best thing.
Indian poker has had a rough time of it lately. But you can bet that this weekend is gonna see a massive spike in the number of hands dealt. And 9Stacks is getting in on that action with some smart tech and smarter marketing.
Featured image source: Flickr