There are 1.25 billion people living in India and when it comes to their national pride, they tend to go a little off the charts. Games like cricket and field hockey, where India excels in international competition, have a following unmatched by any single sport in the United States.
Akash Malik can’t play either cricket or field hockey all that well, but he’s hoping to ignite the passion of Indian people this November with a deep run in the 2015 WSOP Main Event. Malik is one of a handful of Indian players still alive on Day 3 of the Main Event. He knows that if he does take his stack – which was top 30 at dinner break – all the way to the final table, it’ll mean big things for the game he loves in the country he calls home.
“It’d be huge. It would definitely promote tournament poker. It’s my dream – it’s every poker players dream. If I don’t do it, I really hope one of my mates from India does it because it’s going to be huge,” said Malik. “The way poker is growing in India is already huge, but if one of us makes the November Nine it’s just going to take off.”
Malik, who travels to Macau a few times a year to play, thinks the games in India are just as big as the games in what many believe is the unofficial home of poker in Asia.
“The cash game scene is very, very big. And the games are I would say are as big as macau, sometimes even bigger. And these games are happening every day. But the tournament scene is not very big, but that’s also growing,” said Malik. “The last tournament I went to in India, was, they’re much lower buy-ins, but they had a field of about 350 people, which is the largest I’ve ever seen. When I first started playing tournaments there were fields of 50 to 70 people.”
Malik is no rookie, but his path to poker as a profession is rather unique. In 2005 Malik was living in Texas while going to St. Mary’s, a private catholic school in San Antonio. He’d always played card games growing up so one night at a casino in Shreveport, LA, he decided to give Hold’em a shot. It went badly. Sort of.
While playing in a cash game Malik, who had never before played the game, made quads and even though he was bit of a noob, he got his chips in the middle. Unfortunately he ran his great hand into a straight flush and was left in disbelief. The dealer however gave Malik a ray of hope – one he didn’t quiet understand at the time.
“I just knew the hand rankings. I was just disgusted and I was walking away,” said Malik, who was about to be introduced to the concept of a bad beat jackpot. “The (dealer) told me to come back at midnight because he was sure I was going to win because it was straight flush over quads. I lost $120 but I won like $1,500.”
Even though he walked away a winner with a great story to tell, the experience of losing a hand like that turned him off from the game and he never gave it another shot during his six years in the United States. It wasn’t until he returned home that he realized his friends were into it, in what was the infancy of the poker boom in India.
“I pick up card games really fast because I’ve been playing card games since I was really young. But I never pursued it in America because this bad beat happened to me the only time I played there. I went back to India and a lot of my friends had started playing and I was just always good at it,” said Malik.
As if the story of winning a bad beat jackpot in a cash game wasn’t enough of an amazing start to a poker career, in May 2012 Malik travelled from New Delhi to Goa to play some cash games and decided to enter a tournament there that was part of the Asian Poker Tour. The $375 buy-in event only attracted 21 players and Malik cruised through the tournament to come out on top in the very first tournament he ever played.
He’s made his way to Las Vegas for the WSOP the last three years and played the Main Event each time. He has yet to cash but has had some success in Sin City.
“In 2013 I chopped two tournaments at the Venetian. I chopped one with two people and then one seven ways. So 2013 was a very good year for me but last year was not good for me,” said Malik, who cashed only once last summer for $6,722. As Day 3 of the Main Event rolls on, Malik continues to work his way through the field and carries a stack of around 255,000 at dinner break. Should he make the November Nine there’s just one small problem.
“We have ESPN but the WSOP does not come on because I don’t think the laws would permit it,” said Malik. There is an alternative though and it could break the internet. “Everybody just streams it on WSOP.com.”
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