The 2023 Match Poker Asian Championships in Hong Kong was shaping up to be the biggest and most high profile event yet, with 12 national teams competing and Team India set to defend its title.
In November 2019, at the previous edition of the Asian Nations Cup held in Taoyuan city, Chinese Taipei, the Indian national team lead by Gaurav Gala were crowned Champions. The squad comprised of Gaurav Gala (C), Tanmay Bagga, Rishab Jain, Aditya Agarwal, Krina Gala, Taran Mundkar and Prateek Mishra.
The pressure would be on the Indians in Hong Kong as they were being billed as the team to beat. Our national team didn’t have their best performance at the 2021 Nations Cup Finals held in Macedonia last May but were determined to learn from their mistakes and do better in HK.
A strong squad was put together, bringing together players that have a proven track record of success in the Match Poker format both in the national league (MatchIPL) as well as at international events like the Nations Cup.
The original squad was:
- Jagdeep Singh (C): Arguably India’s best performing Match Poker athlete, Jagdeep has been competing at the highest level since the inception of the Match Indian Poker League in 2017 where he first tasted success with the Mumbai All Stars. He has since created his own team, the Haryana Hawks, and lead them to victory in season 2 and 4 of the national league. He has represented Team India on 4 previous occasions – 2017 Nations Cup, 2018 Asian Championship, 2021 Nations Cup Qualifiers, 2021 Nations Cup Finals.
- Shuchi Chamaria: Shuchi has been a regular participant in the national league, playing an integral role in the Pune Kings victory in season 3 under the leadership of Gaurav Gala. She then went on to represent Team India at the 2019 Nations Cup in Dublin.
- Harman Baweja: A Bollywood producer and movie star, Harman’s talents go well beyond acting as he’s proven time and again. Against the odds his ‘celebrity’ Mumbai All Stars team emerged victorious in the inaugural season of the MatchIPL, leading to him captaining the national team at the 2017 Nations Cup in Oxford where India finished 5th overall. Since then his team has finished runners-up twice in the national league, and this would be his second opportunity to play for his nation.
- Abhishek Jalan: Abhishek was a member of Harman’s Mumbai All Stars in MatchIPL’s first season and after tasting success he too created his own team, the UP Indians, who he lead to a podium finish in seasons 2 and 4 of the league. Jalan was also part of the Indian team in Oxford at the 2017 Nations Cup and is very excited to have the opportunity to play for the national team once again.
- Aditya Agarwal: Aditya was an integral member of the title winning Indian squad in Taiwan and after having tasted success there was desperate to help defend the Championship, and add another gold medal to his collection. He was awarded ‘Player of the Tournament’ after his solid performance in the inaugural season of the Match Indian Poker League which not only helped his team, the Jaipur Jewels, finish in second place but also allowed him to become a part of the national team. He has represented Team India on 3 previous occasions – 2017 Nations Cup, 2019 Asian Nations Cup and the 2020 Virtual Nations Cup.
- Abhishek Goindi: Abhishek was a member of the national team for India’s first ever performance in a Match Poker event – the Asian Nations Cup in Sanya, China in 2013! Since then he has gone on to really improve his skills and also teaches poker through his Poker Bootcamp. He has fond memories of his previous participation and representing India, is extremely excited to see the evolution of the sport over the past 10 years and having the opportunity to put on the blue jersey once again.
- Gaurav Gala: Gala lead the national team to victory in 2019 and wants to do all he can to ensure Team India continue to be Champions of Asia. He has been successful at the national and international level, helping bring the best out of the team and players. His introduction to Match Poker was in the 3rd season of MatchIPL where he took over the leadership and management of the Pune Kings, making them national champions!
- Loveleen Singh Bachhal: Loveleen proved himself playing for the Delhi Aces in MatchIPL and was selected to represent the Indian team at the Nations Cup Finals last May. Another strong performance by him lead to his selection for the upcoming Asian Championships, which will be the second time he is playing for Team India.
The team was focused and had been studying their opponents, reviewing strategy and discussing the various nuances of the format of Match Poker to give themselves the best chance of success. Regular zoom calls and practice sessions between the team members filled them with confidence of being able to put on a strong performance in Hong Kong, even with a very skilful line up of competitors.
Team India’s jerseys were being made by Sportsqvest, with Copter7 coming on board as the kit sponsor. Each team member would receive a jersey and a jacket, personalised with their name and number at the back, and initials on the front.
Everything was set and the team was raring to go. The only thing left was to get to Hong Kong! Usually HK has been amongst the easiest countries to travel to, with visa on arrival for Indians that required no paperwork or application. However in the last couple of years, they have introduced a pre arrival registration form which everyone must fill in online (contains very basic information) and usually upon completion and submission you receive an instant approval. A single page confirmation is provided and this is needed to board your flight to HK and at immigration to enter the country.
When the Indian team began this process, 4 out of the 8 members had their pre arrival registration declined! This came as a huge shock and to make things worse there was no reason given for this rejection. There was no way to appeal it or re-apply either, the only option now was to try and get a regular visa for Hong Kong. Unfortunately the processing time for this is 4 weeks! Last option was for someone in Hong Kong to visit the immigration department and appeal to them to help and perhaps overturn these rejections so the individuals can re-apply and travel to Hong Kong.
President of Match Poker India, Varun Goenka, was already in Hong Kong and went to the immigration department with President of the Match Poker eSports Federation of Hong Kong, China, Ricky Cheung, to try and resolve this extremely unfortunate issue. As it turned out, there was nothing that they could do and even an ‘expedited’ visa application would take 2-3 weeks to be processed.
This meant that we had to now replace these 4 players who would not be able to travel to Hong Kong – Jagdeep Singh, Loveleen Singh Bachhal, Aditya Agarwal and Shuchi Chamaria. After a lot of investigating and asking around, we came to the conclusion that these 4 applications were declined because of where their passports are issued from. A very experienced travel agent informed us that there is over a 50% chance of pre arrival registrations from the North and East being declined, without being given a reason as well.
After 24 hours of absolute chaos and confusion, the balance 4 team members – Harman Baweja, Abhishek Jalan, Gaurav Gala and Abhishek Goindi, managed to find players that could travel to Hong Kong and wouldn’t have any issue with their pre arrival registrations. Sanskriti Lohia Jalan filled the role of the female member of Team India, and was joined by Siddharth Kadel and Areyann Gurbaxani to make up a playing squad for the national team.
Not the situation we’d have wanted to find ourselves in, especially as we began the defence of our title of Asian Champions in Hong Kong.
Harman Baweja took on the role of captain and was determined to keep the team fighting till the very end, appreciating the circumstances and composition of the team.
The opening ceremony took place at the Hong Kong Metropolitan University, emphasising the link between education and the sport of Match Poker. Each team captain was introduced and asked a couple of questions. Harman’s brilliant interview can be seen below:
The 12 competing nations were divided into 2 groups:
Group 1 – Taiwan, Hong Kong ‘B’, Philippines, Mongolia, China, Singapore
(Kazakhstan also had some players with immigration issues and couldn’t make it at the last minute)
Group 2 – India, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Korea, Vietnam
The first day of play saw each group playing 300 hands, divided as follows:
Session 1 – 50 hands
Session 2 – 50 hands
Session 3 – 100 hands
Session 4 – 100 hands
After the group stages, the top 3 teams in each group would progress to the final 6. The finals would be 100 hands to determine the new Champions and which teams qualify to the World Cup in Zurich later this year.
Team India was unfortunately not successful in defending the Asian Nations Cup, and failed to progress past the group stages.
The closing ceremony of the event was held at the iconic Olympic House in Hong Kong – a major milestone for the sport of Match Poker. Each participating player was asked to sign a big banner while news reports and camera crews took interviews and shot footage from the ceremony.
Chinese Taipei emerged victorious, with China in 2nd place, Israel in 3rd and Singapore in 4th. The Vietnamese team finished 5th and Korea in 6th. The individual award for Player of the Tournament went to Jack Wu from Chinese Taipei. Team Vietnam were also granted a qualification spot to Zurich and will compete with the qualified Asian, European and American national teams.
In addition to the national pride, qualification to Zurich and trophy & medals on offer, there was also a prize pool of HK$ 100,000! This was distributed among the top 4 finishing teams as per:
1 – HK$ 40,000
2 – HK$ 30,000
3 – HK$ 20,000
4 – HK$ 10,000
A humbling experience for the Indian team, full of learnings which we will no doubt implement in upcoming tournaments to ensure the tricolour is at the top of the podium once again.
The next Indian team will be made up of the winning team from the 5th season of the Match Indian Poker League, which is scheduled to be held in July. Daily online qualifiers will be running on PokerMatch India from Monday 13th March – register and start playing to win your way through to the national league finals and hopefully even Team India!