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IIM professor Deepak Dhayanithy speaks about elective course on poker

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Deepak Dhayanithy

Professor Deepak Dhayanithy, strategic faculty member of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Kozhikode, who formulated an elective course called ‘Competitive Strategy: The game of poker’ (CSP), recently spoke to online poker portal 9stacks on completion of six years of the first and only course on poker in a premier Indian educational institute.

Commenting on the occasion, Dhayanithy notes, “I feel satisfied when I teach this course. Managers are professional decision-makers and poker is a great mental sport to teach them the skills of decision-making. I am happy to bring the two together.

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Most people think with the certainty of hindsight that business is very deterministic. But it is not. The challenges in business strategies are in a constant flux, and the managers have to constantly adapt to the changes happening in the world.

Poker is a great way to teach probabilistic decision-making. It may be new in India, but courses on poker strategies have been being offered in Harvard, MIT and other universities across the USA. And these courses teach approaches that are relevant in a variety of business settings, ranging from stock markets to vendor negotiations to capital investment decisions under uncertainty – and even extend to normal real-life decision making.”

Dhayanithy himself was introduced to card games when he was a child and used to actively participate in the family sport. Being a sports buff, he was fully convinced of poker through ESPN. Intrigued by the skill and strategy used by professional poker players, he started playing poker and he liked it.

Being a poker player himself, the IIM professor is very pleased that the course has proven popular and effective. Before every class, he plays a tournament and spends time studying about poker strategies, so that he can teach the class. 

Talking about the elective course, Dhayanithy says, “From about 60 students in its first year of inception, CSP is now sought by over 200 students. An almost equal batch proportion of boys and girls opt for the elective in their 2nd year. Most girls in the class are as competitive as the boys,”

Most students enjoy the classes which include playing tournaments, discussions, participating in live sessions and understanding business parallels as well as the business of poker itself. However, about 20 percent of the students still think of it as taboo. He tells them to not change their beliefs and experience poker for what it is. They still attend the elective classes,” he adds.

While poker has gained respectability abroad, it is still frowned upon and disapproved by many parents in India. However, with the advent of many online poker sites, Dhayanithy thinks this is improving.

When asked if he faces any issues with the parents of his students, he laughs and says “My students introduce me to their parents during convocation as their poker professor. All I do is say Namaste and try to get off the topic as soon as possible.” 

For the budding poker industry in the country, he says the best way to protect the game and help in destigmatizing the name is to promote brand ambassadors – poker players who carve successful careers for themselves. Further, they are well-spoken, free-thinking, intelligent and hard-working – characteristics that would resonate with the larger audience.

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