Something you didn't know about... Aditya Agarwal
The Team PokerStars Pro chats about the exploding poker scene in his home country of India, his early years at boarding school in a Himalayan hill region, and why he's fine with his wife doing his clothes shopping...
Aditya Agarwal's passion for poker was first ignited when he tuned into ESPN in his university dorm and witnessed Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker take down the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event for $2.5m. After that, his engineering degree took a back seat to grinding online and fastidiously building his bankroll with the aim of perhaps one day turning pro.
These days the 33-year-old, who is married to fellow poker pro Shuchi Chamaria and is in fourth spot on India's all-time money list, is most passionate about helping to spread poker's appeal in India. We recently caught up with Aditya in his home town of Kolkata to hear more about his life in and outside of poker.
You were born and raised in Kolkata, yet you spent part of your childhood at altitude (2,000 metres) in the north of India. Why was that exactly?
I went to a pretty famous public boarding school called St. Pauls in Darjeeling, which is in the state of West Bengal. I was there with my brother, Rajat, for a few years. Darjeeling, which is famous for its tea, is like a hill station and the scenery up there is amazing; you can see Mount Kangchenjunga [third highest mountain in the world, straddling part of Nepal and Sikkim in India]. A lot of cities in India are pretty crowded and polluted so people go to these hill stations, or vacation spots, like Darjeeling because it is less crowded, beautiful and the air is much cleaner. It was amazing being there in that environment for a few years as opposed to being in the city all the time.
With card games being very popular in India, did you play much as a child?
Yes, everyone here plays cards as entertainment and as a hobby. We played rummy and some Indian card games like Teen Do Paanch. During Diwali, which is an Indian festival, everyone gambles on cards - it's a very big social thing and people get invited to card parties. I never played for money as a child but I knew that once I was old enough I'd be gambling on cards. Back then, though, I don't think anyone knew about poker as it took many more years for the game to come to India. Twenty years ago, the most popular card game during Diwali was Teen Patti, which is now being replaced by poker.
In your late teens you travelled 13,000km to study at Philadelphia's Drexel University. Was that a difficult adjustment?
My dad has a large family, including four brothers and five sisters, which means we have family everywhere. We have been travelling since we were young and I always wanted to study in the US as opposed to India. I made friends straight off the bat and it was pretty much smooth sailing. I really enjoyed my time there, although I was making one or two trips a year back to India.
Is it right that poker caused you to switch courses from engineering to marketing?
I went to study engineering but I got introduced to poker in my second year by the 'Moneymaker effect'. It was in the fall of 2003 that ESPN started showing the 2003 World Series of Poker and I really got into the game after watching it. There also used to be $5 and $10 Texas Hold'em games in the dorms and always enough people playing that a game was usually going on somewhere. Then one of our group won a lot of money playing online so we started playing online too. Back then poker was very soft and there were a lot of deposit bonuses, so we used these offers to build our bankrolls.
I was putting in a lot of hours playing poker whilst knowing that my parents would kill me if I dropped out, so I decided to take an easier Major in marketing so that I could do both. By the time I graduated, I was already doing well in poker and it was an obvious career choice to become a professional player. I also had the full support of my parents, which I am really thankful for. It might have been different had I been studying in India.
Had the poker boom reached India by then?
No, it took a few years for poker to reach India - it probably took off in 2009. While the boom started in the US in 2003 and spread to Europe and Australia, a lot of Indian kids were going to these places as students and playing poker. They would go back to India and share their poker knowledge. Another big reason for the boom in India was all the free poker games on Facebook. A lot of pros in India started off by playing these games.
How have you seen poker grow in India and is it close to going mainstream in what is set to become the world's most populous country?
Poker is getting very popular in India. The number of people playing has been increasing steadily, as has the number of Indians playing tournaments abroad. There are legal poker rooms in most cities now, and in my city, Kolkata, there are very upscale cardrooms. I've played a lot in India over the years, although I haven't played that much recently. However, I know that the games have gotten tougher than they were back in 2009. There are also three poker leagues in India with the goal of putting poker on TV and making it more mainstream. This just shows you how popular India has become; there are not many countries with three poker leagues.
Also, PokerStars is launching in India soon, which is something I get asked about probably at least three times a day. Once PokerStars arrives, I see it being a game-changer. It'll be huge next year. So many people are getting involved now. It's very exciting and in a few years from now I see it being mainstream. Take my wife; she had never heard of poker before she met me but I got her into it and she is now a professional player and we travel together to tournaments. I have done a lot of poker coaching in the past but now I'm pretty much exclusively coaching her.
How do you like to relax?
I'm not a very outdoor, active person. Actually, I don't like being out during the day in Kolkata with all the heat and the traffic. I enjoy reading and watching all kinds of TV, but mostly Sci-Fi films and shows. I don't actually play any card games other than poker. I'd simply rather do something else if someone asked me to play cards. Because my wife is also a professional player, we travel a lot and she absolutely loves visiting different cities. We both enjoy eating out, particularly fine dining. We have been married 18 months and have been away from home for about half of that so far. So, we don't have a routine per se. We live with my parents and my elder brother, but me and my brother sleep a lot during the day and are awake mostly at night playing online poker.
Are you the type of person who treats himself to a flashy present after a big win online or live?
No, not really. My wife tends to spend all my money and likes to buy my clothes as she thinks I have no fashion sense. I'm more than happy for her to keep doing it.