Muskan Sethi wasn’t born to walk the straight and narrow path. The fire to do something different burned hot since childhood. A tomboy and a dreamer as a child, she’s grown up to be the first Poker player in the world to be recognised by a President for her achievements in her sport.

As India’s first Professional Woman Poker Player, she’s already gone up against the best players in the world and shown them that she’s a force to reckon with. Muskan knows better than most how quickly things can change - in the game, and in life. With a poker face that belies her inner strength and fortitude, this is a woman prepared, and ready, to go the distance.

Tell us about your growing years

I was always interested in cards, in my family, it was a tradition on Diwali to play cards. I started with simple card games, and was soon playing more grown up games, and even winning! My parents never played cards, but my dad used to watch Poker tournaments. And it was those times of watching these with my dad, and having him explain what the game was, and how well respected it was, that I began to get interested in Poker.

Before taking up poker professionally, what was your plan career wise?

I’ve always been a dreamer, and as a kid, each week I had a different plan for what I wanted to do in life. Sometimes I was even passionate about some of these things, but I was still looking for that one thing that I could do and never look back… for the rest of my life. I was always looking for a really cool way to make a living, and it had to be something that allowed me to also help others and keep my mother’s charity work going. For a while there I was on the path to play tennis professionally, but an injury prevented me. I knew I wanted to do something with sports, and something that involved some creativity… I didn’t want to do the usual 9 to 5 thing.

How did you get into playing poker professionally?

When I was around 18-19, I found Poker on Facebook and started playing for free. I took that very seriously and I used to play for hours every day… this went on for months. My boyfriend, who is now my husband, used to play poker with his friends from University. So now I had someone to go to with my questions. One time I played a free tournament where out of 700,000 entries, they selected just 4 people and I was one of them. I went to Barcelona to play for $1 Million, with the biggest names in the Poker scene. That was life changing. By the time I was back, I knew this was it. I never looked back. When I’m playing Poker I’m really happy. This is something I’ll be doing all my life.

What were your initial challenges?

Like anything else, Poker also comes with it’s own teething troubles, there’s a lot of skill, a lot of studying involved. Transitioning from recreational player to pro changes the way you look at it - this isn’t just fun for me now, it’s my livelihood! Of course, initially, there was a bit of a backlash because a lot of people don’t look at Poker as a sport, and that’s okay really. But my family did get calls from all over Delhi, when I really started playing. To a very large extent, it’s my mother’s support during that time that’s given me the confidence to follow my dreams and keep doing this even though it’s so different from what everyone else is doing!

So what separates the recreational players from the pros?

As a recreational player, you just play. It’s fun. But as a pro, there are so many other facets to consider - you have to really manage your monies, there’s a lot of studying to do. Every decision you take on the table reflects on your learning of life, and everything else. Your strategic acumen develops over the years with experience, hard work and study. It’s a mind sport. Which means that emotionally, physically, psychologically, it takes a lot out of you. So, you need to be in balance.

As a sponsored pro, I had gone to Amsterdam for a tournament. I was cruising along, playing well, playing with a lot of confidence. And just before the end of the day, before you bag your chips and move to day 2, this really competent pro came to my table, and he destroyed me. That’s when I decided to study and get my skill in place. It’s fine to have passion, and naturally pick up things, but that wasn’t going to be it for me. That’s when I realised that this game isn’t just about fun, it’s a skill based game.

One satisfying moment in your career till now?

Definitely the national award. There I was, sitting among these women who had accomplished so much in their lives… and was thinking, with all the challenges thrown their way, each and every one of these ladies has fought for what she has achieved today. It was such a proud moment for me, and for the Poker community.

One learning that you will remember always?

You’ll never be good enough, so you can never stop learning. Never think you’ve learnt enough or know enough. If you’re a student for life, you’ll keep pace, and keep evolving with your environment.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I would say before and during any prestigious poker tournament, because it’s a chance to really make my dreams come true, to make my country proud. I’m usually an Online poker player, so I’m happiest during in person tournaments. Even when I’m a victim of the variance, I still feel like a million bucks when I’m at tournaments.

Poker apart, I’m really passionate about animals and in particular dogs. I’ve been working on a project for dogs, and you’ll hear more about that soon.

What does being Self Made mean to you?

Being Self Made is about creating your own path, and writing your own destiny. It means not waiting for anyone else to give you the opportunity or the information you need or anything for that matter. It means really listening to your heart, and figuring out what makes it happy, and then going out and doing it.