Stakes high in pandemic, Diwali card games go online  

Exams and entertainment, conferences and idle chats, this has been a year of everything online. Now, add to the list card games that are an integral part of Diwali for so many people

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)


Exams and entertainment, conferences and idle chats, this has been a year of everything online. Now, add to the list card games that are an integral part of Diwali for so many people, including those who usually stay away from any sort of gambling.

COVID-19 has robbed many of the razzmatazz of Diwali parties, small and close-knit or lavish, glittering society dos with scores of people at different tables gambling away many thousands and even lakhs of rupees. But the stakes are higher this year with the pandemic and few are willing to take the risk of sitting closely to shuffle playing cards and pass around counters, coins or wads of notes.

Enter apps and websites such as Baazi Games, Stickpool and Pocket52 that offer a variety of games, including poker, rummy and that Diwali staple 'teen patti'. These apps give the user the opportunity to play poker or other card games either with family and friends or professionals.

As COVID-19 continues its spread Delhi, for instance, on Tuesday recorded 7,830 cases to take its COVID-19 count to 4,51,382 a 29-year-old entrepreneur in the city was among those betting on the online cards trend.

The lack of invitations for card parties was a "big shock", said the young man who was banking big on Diwali to make up for the loss of nearly Rs 2 lakh last year.

"Since last Diwali I have been telling myself I'll cover the loss this year. But due to the coronavirus, not many people in my circle are hosting card parties. I did call up people to check and even thought of hosting a party myself but there was no positive response. Everyone is scared," he said, asking not to be named.

He has a lot to choose from.

From "free-entry tournaments" to cash tables starting from "Rs 5 to Rs 100" and "Rs 50 bonus" on registering to "Diwali Contest Prize Pool of Rs 3 lakh", the apps promise to have something for everyone in this festive month, the time of the year when gambling not just has societal sanction but is also viewed as auspicious.

According to Hindu mythology, goddess Parvati won a game of dice with her husband Lord Shiva on Diwali and declared that whoever gambles on Diwali night will prosper through the following year. It is from here that the tradition of playing card games such as flush, or 'teen patti', and rummy in the run-up to Diwali derives its popularity from.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay at home and rethink their lives and has thereby affected the way they choose to entertain themselves. This has just accelerated the growth we were already projecting for the industry We expect and encourage people to maintain social distancing norms and enjoy gaming online this festive season," Baazi Games CEO Navkiran Singh told PTI.

Anyone who knows and loves playing poker is the target audience, added Pocket52 CEO and founder Nitesh Salvi.

And yes, apart from a regular poker player, some occasional and recreational poker players come and play during Diwali. We have Diwali Freerolls with guaranteed real cash prize pools worth Rs 3 lakh up for action this Diwali," Salvi told PTI.

While Stickpool has already registered a "five time" spike in its user base during the festive season, Pocket52 expects an increase of "40-45 percent" in its user base.

"We have seen a spike of around five times in the user base from the past few days as people are getting into the Diwali festive spirit. People want to experience the game of poker around this time and therefore the engagement and average time spent per user has also gone up from regular days," said Stickpool co-founder Vivek Singh.

Vishal Bhalla, 31, a regular at Diwali card parties who would end up hopping from one place to another and still never got to attend all the gatherings he was invited to, has also shifted to online poker.

"I just don't want to meet anyone. So there is no question of me attending any Diwali card parties this time. I, and my group of 14 people will be playing cards online. Of course, it won't be the same but it is the best I can ask for," said Bhalla, a PR professional.

It is the festive season and cards are fun but be cautious, warn the pros.

Since it is online and money is involved, there are certain things that a first time user should keep in mind while playing, according to Muskan Sethi, a Pro Poker player.

"Always choose a site or app that is recognised by the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF). Always consider risk versus reward, risk minimum for a maximum reward. Play with players who have a similar skillset as you. Follow all the rules, don't play under the influence of alcohol when playing for real money, and don't forget to have fun," said Sethi.

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