There’s a brand-new crop of Indian players on the rise, who are making their mark on the stereotypically masculine sport of professional poker. The poker queens of India are smashing the glass ceiling normally associated with this emerging discipline in the country, one poker tournament at a time.
Within just a few short years – that have coincided with the rapid development of poker in the country – India’s professional female poker players have won WSOP bracelets, received honours from our president, and represented the game in the digital space. They’re not only making their mark in the poker world; just like Maria Ho and Vanessa Selbst, they’re proving to women across the world that they too have the determination and dedication to succeed in traditionally male-dominated industries.
India’s first professional female player is now a household name. Muskan Sethi has been flying high at the poker tables from a prodigious age, and her incredible success has inspired many other women (both in India and across the world) to take up the game.
Now known for her master bluffing skills, Sethi has played and beaten the best of the best in tournaments across the globe. After carving out a pro career online, the Delhi native got her first big break in 2014, when she beat thousands of other contestants to earn a spot in a televised poker tournament – Shark Cage. She may not have walked away with the $1 million grand prize, but the experience fuelled her to “take up poker seriously” after changing the course of her life.
Since 2018, Sethi has been an official ambassador for the global poker brand PokerStars, representing the brand’s Indian platform and earning a spot in its professional squad – PokerStars Team Pro. Her most notable achievement happened away from the poker tables, however. Sethi was the first female poker player in the history of the sport to be honoured by her country when President Ram Nath Kovind chose her as a recipient of the Women’s Achiever Award.
When it comes to women in poker, this formidable pro is outspoken. Additionally, as a Responsible Gaming Ambassador for India, Sethi knows that she has “responsibilities and expectations to live up to”. However, she doesn’t entertain “trolls or sexist remarks”, and firmly believes that other aspiring female players out there shouldn’t let themselves be “bothered by remarks passed on by spineless keyboard warriors…trying to pull us down”.
With a Bachelor in Commerce and a seamless corporate career path ahead of her, Kanchan Sharma made the unusual decision to make poker a full-time profession just a few years ago, and she hasn’t looked back since.
Sharma, a former Learning Designer, has been playing poker since 2017, when she was introduced to the game by a friend. Immediately attracted to the game’s “intrinsic nature”, competitive poker quickly began to be much more than a hobby to the Agra native, and she found herself putting in the grind for hours after work. After sustaining this for around “6 to 7 months”, she decided to take the plunge and go pro full time.
Now a rising star on the MTT (multi-table tournament scene), Sharma has so far generated career earnings of ₹93.88 Lakhs online, but she’s not a one-trick pony by any means. The 26-year-old has begun to dip her toes in the live poker scene, winning a personal best of ₹1.01 Lakhs in the 2019 BPT Main Event.
And the secret to her success? Her ongoing commitment to studying the game and grinding. As she succinctly states, “grinding is the only wat to cut down on variance…the sooner one realises it, the better”. Firmly in love “with the process and the game”, Sharma is keen to share her passion for poker with aspiring female players across the country. In her eyes, raising awareness about the game and “talking more openly about choosing it as a profession” will be integral in inspiring the next generation of female poker pros in India. And even though it may be a slow process, she’s “sure it will have an impact in the long run”.
Poker is first and foremost a game of strategy and skill and the attributes needed to be good at it are in no way defined by gender. Male players may have dominated the scene for much of the past few decades, but as Muskan Sethi, Kanchan Charma, and new breakout players like Shuchi Chamaria (the better half of Sethi’s ex-teammate, Aditya Agarwal) are proving, the future is bright for female players in both the Indian and international poker scene.
(Disclaimer: The article is sponsored, and hence promotes some commercial links.)