Eyebrows were raised when professor Deepak Dhayanithy suggested introducing poker as an elective at IIM Kozhikode six years ago. While the faculty committee listened to his proposal intently, the most obvious question arose: “Are you going to teach students to gamble?”
“It was a good question,” says Dhayanithy. “Because what most people don’t know about poker is that those who do well in the game are not winning by chance. They are working really hard towards it. This question called out the elephant in the room.”
He was able to convince the faculty body on the efficacy of using the game to teach strategy. So, ‘Competitive Strategy — the Game of Poker’ was included in the second year MBA elective course in 2014. Since then, the number of students who choose the elective has been on the rise, he says. MIT, University of Berkeley, Harvard and Yale offer opportunities, including courses on poker theory and analytics. Some of these universities offer online courses on poker as well.
Now, as online poker portal PokerBaazi hosts India’s first National Poker Series 2020, a live poker tournament in the end of April, with an aim to promote poker in India, the game is back in the spotlight. It has always been of academic interest globally, triggering endless debates that analyse whether it is a game of skill or luck. This 19th century game that is believed to have originated in the US, has caught on all over the world, from casinos to websites. India has a growing number of poker players, who take the game seriously, spending hours playing and mastering their skill. Several FB groups of online poker players exist, with an increasing number of members.
The premise that Dhayanithy built on was that playing poker demands discipline. “I was born and brought up in Chennai and I grew up playing cards. I have seen a few people who always won. This led me to the notion that they are not winning purely by chance.” Poker, according to Dhayanithy, can help students experience competitive strategy, complementing their learning from text books. “It can teach students plan, ploy, position, pattern and perspective — Canadian academic Henry Mintzberg’s five Ps of strategy. The game deals with probability, competition, resources management and decision-making challenges. As the student gains practice in the game, he or she also imbibes these concepts that have applicability in the real world, explains Dhayanithy.
- Much like poker, Bridge, a card game is popular in IITs and IIMs. “It can be employed as an effective tool to teach management,” says Professor Robins Jacob, former Head of the Department of Economics, St. Alberts College, Kochi and the former president of the Kerala Bridge Association. “It is a partnership game and one has to communicate effectively with a mimimum vocabulary of 15 words.
- One also learns team dynamics, and social interaction,” he says.
- Jacob says introducing Bridge at the school level would help children understand the importance of planning, sequencing and timing, which can be imbibed through the game. In fact, bridge is already taught in school in countries like Netherlands and the US.
Ashik Vadakkan, a business associate at 9 Stacks, an online poker company that runs tournaments for IIMs every year, is a recreational player. He spends about an hour a day playing. “It is exciting as it is pure mathematics. Poker is an easy game to learn, but extremely difficult to master,” he says. Ashik has been playing for four years. “I know of serious players who invest a lot of time in the game. It is a 4:1 ratio, where in they spend four hours playing and one hour to learn the subtler, more complicated nuances of the game. Many of them would easily spend up to 10 hours, playing four to five tables simultaneously.”
While live poker cannot be played in India, as casinos and “gambling” are illegal; online poker is legal as long as the website deduces taxes from the players. The Karnataka High Court had legalised poker in a verdict in 2013, which declared it could be played in recreational clubs. In States such as Goa, Sikkim, Nagaland and Daman, where casinos are legal, it can be played.
Corporate companies too are promoting poker as a mind game. “Poker helps you understand the opponents’ psychology and your own – for example, deep insight into how do you feel when you win versus how you feel when you lose,” says Dhayanithy.