Teen Patti is – undoubtedly and historically – India’s all-time favourite card game. Played often at social occasions and increasingly at offline and online casinos, this so-called “Indian Poker” has defined the desi understanding of gaming.
Teen Patti has helped pass the message of safe gambling by setting generational standards for gratifying card games. We felt we need to provide some sound evidence for the reasons behind this immense popularity and wide social acceptance.
What is Teen Patti (Briefly, for the Uninitiated)
Teen Patti’s standing in Indian society is something Westerners have yet to understand and appreciate. It is the leading card game in most Indian regions and always a top casual gambling option for the locals.
तीन पत्ती, if you search for it in Hindi, is translated as Three Cards. And rightly so, since it is a variation of the British “Three Card Brag”, leaning towards contemporary Poker as well. Also known as Flush (or even Flash), nowadays it has perceivable popularity throughout South Asia.
The sheer simplicity and accessibility of Teen Patty are key: it can accommodate up to 10-12 people per table, with the only possible skill required being the “counting” of the cards. It is not associated particularly with gambling per se, and is a welcome pastime for holiday parties and family gatherings – from small groups to huge bashes; with guests spending from mere thousands of rupees (tens of euros) to up to several lakhs (INR 100,000 or thousands of euros).
Put simply, Teen Patti is everyone’s cup of tea and it never goes out of style.
Teen Patti: Roots of Popularity
Teen Patti’s popularity is owed to its close connection with Indian religious festivals, social gatherings and fundamental cultural heritage.
Diwali, above all, is the feast which brings families together and is the brightest of all Hindu celebrations. Diwali, however, comes along with certain social and household rituals which spice up the festivities. Card games where real rupees exchange hands are a must and, as such, Teen Patti is the main attraction. Suitable gatherings – house or club parties – tend to start a full month and a half before Diwali day and bring people together for a much-awaited game of fate vs. skill.
Being a firm Indian conviction, gambling on Diwali has its legendary justification. A common belief has it that the Mother Goddess in Hinduism, Parvati, played dice with Lord Shiva, her husband. She proclaimed that whoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper over the following year. Thus, Diwali is associated with wealth and games for money are almost a must around this period of the year.
Historical and Cultural Context of Teen Patti
The passion for Teen Patti goes well beyond Diwali, however. The game has its strengths and culturally determined connection with another Indian festivity – Janmashtami, the birth of Krishna. Being another important occasion for families to come together and bond, they regularly turn to casual gambling activities, with Teen Patti leading the way.
For many ethnic groups, it is practically an obsession. All family members play throughout the festivities, with kids participating equally and the hours-long sessions even “keeping their minds away from thoughts of food.”
Probably it is not the leading card game in all states and almost definitely not the leading gambling activity throughout India. For example, people in the South tend to prefer Rummy to Teen Patty for everyday occasions and at casual parties.
Even without looking exclusively at festivity periods, however, Teen Patti is popular pretty much everywhere, with states like Maharashtra and Gujarati going crazy for it. Thus, economically important metropolitan areas like Mumbai and Ahmedabad also end up largely defining urban culture and customs related to family gaming and social gambling. While once people used to play together, in their homes or at a house party, now they also turn to a multitude of online options. Players regularly coordinate such events via Facebook groups, WhatsApp channels and office chats groups.
There are, naturally, other slight differences between States and micro-regions. Janmashtami, e.g., may be celebrated on Sunday in the North and on Saturday in the South, West and East. Some may (still) consider it strictly a family matter, others look at Teen Patti sessions as a business or a party event. What’s common, however, is that common folk awaken their “gambler’s instinct” around such times of the year – if only because Indian history has taught them that “the gods also gamble and that’s why devotees do, too.”
Of course, fewer people than ever do it out of religious considerations. They do it mainly because everyone else does. And both Hindu festivals – Diwali and Janmashtami – warrant at least a month of regular Teen Patti sessions.
Ancient Gambling Habits
Indian History narrates of “gambling, drinking, promiscuous relations and exhibition of wealth” not being considered a taboo in ancient times. Especially for high society, these behavioural patterns are thought to have been natural.
India’s love for gambling and social gaming was first recorded by the ancients during the reign of Kansa (king of present-day Maharashtra). It was described in detail in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata – the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, traced back to between 2000 BC and 1500 BC.
Later on – but much before the current expansion of the Indian middle class – such “elite” practices began to spread among the middle and lower classes. At some point, it is said that Lord Krishna himself had to stamp down on the growth in popularity of gambling.
The entertainment and positivity in gaming was, however, the main reason for its mass spread throughout the ages. Religious celebrations began being closely connected with game “festivals”, with both being extraordinary events and periods of the year. Those became legitimate occasions to “experiment with a few prevalent taboos”, namely gambling. Theoretically, after the end of celebrations, the routine settles back in but that is rarely the case even for casual players.
To this day, most Indians (including sociology and anthropology professionals) do not consider gambling deviance of a high order, allowing for a stable number of frequent players throughout the subcontinent. Many practices have become “socially acceptable” when linked with Krishna or some of India’s favourite religious festivals.
Teen Patti, to some, is considered a reflection of one’s fate, their random position in the world as represented by the three cards one gets – even in today’s largely secular, modern, digital society. It’s up to the player to deal with the risk, weigh the probability and above all, to assess the opponent and act accordingly.
Teen Patti is essential, no complications, therefore loved by many. And for Indians, it is a symbolic act of conquering oneself and the opponent, rather than a real or a dramatic loss. The sheer tension, even brief, is said to give these players a feeling of self-knowledge and connection with their traditions much more than any other innovative games which are alien to Indian culture.
Ever since the Supreme Court lifted the formal stigma on Teen Patti and Rummy, declaring them games of skill and not chance, they have been the driving force for many online platforms and mobile apps as well, as a 2017 report by KPMG found. “Few games have such mass appeal. [They] connect the common man to traditional social behaviour and habits.”
Teen Patti Origins and Links to Europe
Most local scholars, even indirectly related to the history of gaming, highlight the fact that India has played a major role in early gambling, with the first cards being used in India way before the Common Era. With time and more frequent trade and social contacts, European influence “took over”.
Unquestionably, after European traders set up their centres – Dutch, Portuguese, British and French – certain habits and pastimes began penetrating the daily life of their Indian counterparts. By the time of the establishment of the British Raj, these have been documented to include new card games and the interest for modern gambling “disciplines”. The British have certainly made popular betting on horse racing (which is still legal to this day). And they also introduced some new card games.
This is where we first come into contact with the concept of Teen Patti being a descendant of the Three Card Brag which is still popular in the UK. The Indian version is also known as Teenpathi or Flash and is most likely a twist on a simplified 3-card Poker.
No precise records show its inventors but it is emphatically considered a traditional game by modern Indians, both urban and rural. Modern versions have since sprung up but the classic Teen Patti remains a cornerstone for social gatherings.
Taash Parties and Teen Patti
Gambling in India during most festive periods is considered auspicious, we already found out. Whether for religious reasons or because of subconscious peer pressure, Taash parties (“Card parties” from Urdu) are an important part of social life.
While some play mostly around Diwali and Janmashtami, many Indians grew up with the memories of cosy family games; or even Bollywood heroes who manage to win a difficult game against a tough opponent. While playing cards is a “wholesome activity” with family and friends, Teen Patti brings the excitement and thrill of a mild transgression which is tolerated and can bring you luck and real rupees.
Social gatherings of all sizes, occasions and class levels enjoy this “Indian Poker” game. Great food, social mixing and friendly games are all a part of the setup, even when betting becomes serious. Typical stakes may start from INR 100 to 500 “blind” and INR 200 to 1000 “seen” (~ EUR 1 to 10), while players can end up winning or losing 100 times as much on a long night.
As much as they like to find skill behind their gaming, Indians believe in fate and enjoy interpreting people in such settings – they tend to conclude themselves and their game partners during such long Teen Patti sessions. Whether they are excitable and emotional, sly and quiet in their dealings, accentuate their misfortune heroically or simply look the part as seasoned gamblers, playing with ease and no emotion.
Thus, Teen Patti is an essential gaming experience for most Indians. Once sanctioned under the pretext of religious motives (honouring the Goddess of abundance and wealth), it is now a recurring – or even daily – an experience which is accepted to the point of being an expression of one’s wisdom.
Where Can You Play Teen Patti Today
Teen Patti’s is the defining Indian gaming experience. Where gambling evokes pictures of “mythological characters playing dice” over kingdoms and wives, gaming has a neutral and widely accepted character. Hence, the easy transition to online and mobile, with the immense popularity of Teen Patti naturally spilling over to virtual platforms.
On one hand, there is the ongoing success of local taash parties among colleagues and friends. Delhi has always been known as the centre of Diwali card bashes, with its gambling culture fueling a showing off. But local players who cannot wait for festivals or need to have a smaller-scale but regular access to Teen Patti or Rummy need to find alternatives.
They can visit the offshore casinos (with an entry tax) or travel to the few land-based casinos. Or they can simply tap into the vast potential of online platforms and mobile apps. Inevitably, Indian players have begun enjoying the latter at an increasing rate, keeping in mind that the country has the largest youth population and the second-largest mobile user base, globally.
Offline Teen Patti and most unregulated card games still present a certain element of legal uncertainty to players to this day. When outside of festival season and beyond the intimate settings of a family gathering or a friends’ party, it may lead to exemplary – although rare – cases of gambling tourism that lead to parties being busted. Although those may be uncommon circumstances and related to other promiscuity, high rollers and gambling enthusiasts would like to avoid.
A combination of all those practical reasons has led to a decline in sales in playing cards reported by distributors over the past few years. Sales of card decks still peak before Diwali but manufacturers have described in 2019 drops as much as 40% on an annual basis.
Teen Patti Going Digital
The truth is that ever since the mid-2010s the Indian online gaming industry has finally come of age. Western companies and game developers used to determine gaming and mobile App supply up until then, creating content for US and European markets.
This no longer being the case, we see investment in local desi content growing, shaping development plans and market offers. Currently, Octro’s Teen Patti is the highest-grossing game on Google’s Play Store in India. Furthermore, 3 out of the 5 top gaming Apps are mobile card games, with 2 out of those being Teen Patti versions; joining them is a Rummy App.
The same KPMG report we quoted reminds us that nowadays localisation is key to success in India. Content, graphics and languages (local vernaculars!) are crucial components to making the mobile gaming offer as user-friendly and attractive as possible to the immense Indian market. Its huge growth and potential, the increasing penetration of affordable mobile devices and the recent introduction of cheap data packages are all aspects we pointed out in our recent survey at ENV Media.
Are There Variations to Teen Patti Online?
Teen Patti winning combinations are somewhat different from Poker merely because of the number of cards. However, with the base winning combinations being the same, they are not the foundation for any innovative Teen Patti versions.
Indian Teen Patti players have always been looking to explore different probabilities, those being the main thrill of the game and the cause for alterations throughout the country. Some have had recognition on a nation-wide scale, such as Joker Hunt, Closest to 555, Card, Colour, Bust, Discard One, AK 47, the Five Card Stud and even the old Card on the Forehead.
That being said, the simple and original version of the game is what is mostly available online and in mobile Apps. Moreover, even when players have chosen their trustworthy online casino to enjoy a session of Teen Patti Live against a human dealer, variations are practically nowhere to be found.
Teen Patti in Popular Desi Culture
Teen Patti is an important part of Indian culture, it goes well beyond the gaming sector and group gambling experience. There is a 2010 Hindi-language thriller by that name; a 2019 English-language book named “Teen Patti: The Three-Card Brag” and many more references.
More importantly, there is an extensive amount of psychology advice, holiday tips and selling platforms exploiting familiar holiday reminders – all related to Teen Patti, Diwali, Taash parties and social customs.
Card parties continue being trendy enough, when physically possible. However, that is not always the case for many Teen Patti enthusiasts.
When a family member migrates (i.e. to Mumbai or abroad), relatives and friends meet online to play the game over a mobile App. And with chat options integrated, players say that the fun is still the same.
In light of further possible COVID-19 related restrictions and social discipline is called for, the appeal of a “healthy” dose of social online gaming among family members and friends and the size of the Teen Patti digital village does not seem likely to decline.
The Importance of Teen Patti in Indian Gaming Culture – a Summary
Social gaming and group gambling share a lot of background traits with India’s rich history and culture. Card games such as Teen Patti and Rummy, in particular, have entered popular culture to an extent of being more influential than their legal toleration and formal local availability.
Teen Patti is a game which is tied closely to religious festivities and family traditions, and as such it has helped define the acceptance of casual gambling which carries over its social validity and significance to this day.
Teen Patti’s historic popularity has spilt over to online platforms and mobile apps which have, in turn, stimulated further investments in creating local gaming content for India’s huge youth population and ever more influential mobile user market.