Nikita Luther is a typical math nerd. She loves solving puzzles, equations, and whatever else is grist for a mathematical mill. The Delhi-based 28-year-old is also India’s finest female poker player. And yes, the math helps.
Luther first devastates all our dreams by telling us it’s all mathematical. So, for those thinking they’re unlucky in cards, but lucky in love, or vice versa, sorry, it’s just math; luck shan’t be a lady tonight.
“I was that annoying girl in school who sat in the front and always had her hand up during math class,” says Luther, admitting that she’s the other kind of annoying now, as she continues to win hands at international poker tournaments. “I’m very aware of being one of the few women on the tables at professional tournaments, and I take full advantage of it,” says Luther, adding, “I factor in everything about an opponent, from the way they approach the table to the way they sit, and many other nuances, all of which helps me play against them.”
Given her game is so strong, it might surprise many to know that being a professional poker player wasn’t Luther’s first choice of employment.
“I initially hesitated against playing any kind of gambling game. But once I was introduced to online poker and realised it’s essentially a math puzzle, I was hooked,” she recalls, adding that she still played only online, for fun, initially.
The Bachelor of Commerce graduate first worked in marketing, but after finally playing for a “small amount” of money at a party, and finding out more about tournaments and professional playing (while also, incidentally, beating all the players), she gave in to the sweet rush of victory and began playing professionally, having done so now full-time for a couple of years.
“For practice, I alternate during the week between playing online and watching masterclasses by poker professionals and game theorists. The masterclasses I can do for a few hours at a stretch, but the playing practice can go on from day to night,” she elaborates with a laugh.
When not upping her game, Luther is out playing it, whether online or offline, in both domestic and international tournaments.She is the first Indian women poker player who bagged the World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet with a victory, and additionally, she ranks number one in the GPI India ladies of 2020.
Luther’s now signed on as the Team Pro for Spartan Poker, a leading digital gaming platform in the country, which is probably a winning move, given that COVID-19 is still running full house around the planet, with no signs of losing its hot streak.
Poker puns aside, Luther notes that while she loves playing online, continued social distancing could prove detrimental to many in her profession.“Now, of course, there is an added challenge to not playing in real-time as you can’t pick up many facial and physical cues online,” she notes, adding, “Observing the body language is a huge part of assessing your opponents’ hands, as well as their style of play, and that is obviously missing. But then I guess that only adds to the challenge.”
That’s not to say there weren’t enough challenges already. While poker tables aren’t stacked with as much toxic masculinity as one might think, that’s not to say it’s not there. “Most people are very nice, but there’ll always be some guys who dismiss me because I’m a woman player, and will think ‘who is this random Indian girl’, and you can always tell the one who are thinking that,” she muses, before adding cheerfully, “That doesn’t affect my game at all, but it does makes it even more fun to come out on top.”