Few poker players have garnered as much attention over the last few months as Nikhil ‘Nik Airball’ Arcot. As one of the biggest personalities at the table on Hustler Casino Live’s streaming games, Arcot is known for a few things – particularly for buying in deep, and sending verbal barbs towards his opponents.
Up until a few days ago, Arcot was the second-winningest player in HCL history, up well over $1 million. After numerous successes and some serious reputation building along the way, Arcot took his show on the road away from Los Angeles to The Lodge Card Club House in Austin, Texas.
Arcot’s legend, and perhaps his infamy, grew as he cleaned up in his debut at The Lodge. He five-bet bluffed Doug Polk, and took a pair of big pots off Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates – running his mouth the whole way, and going as far as telling Cates, “You’re my bitch,” after running a successful bluff.
In the polarized world of poker, Arcot has his fair share of vocal supporters and detractors in the HCL chat, on Twitter and Reddit, and beyond. With his recent explosion into the poker consciousness, it’s easy to wonder what Arcot thinks about his reputation.
“I think the attention is both fun and annoying,” said Arcot. “Sometimes I wish it wasn’t a thing, but that being said, yeah – I find that I get a kick out of being the villain.
“I’m just having a good time. I get a kick out of everyone getting all worked up about things that I think are irrelevant,” Arcot continued. “I just think it’s all entertaining. To me, poker is a game. Even if people are playing for a living, it’s still a game. I want to have fun when I play this game, and so I’m going to make it fun for me. If you can’t handle that, to me, that’s your problem, not mine.”
It’s clear that Nik Airball is usually having a good time at the table, unapologetically playing poker the way he wants to. That usually includes winning significant sums of money. So how did he get to this point, playing in these high-stakes games on the Hustler Casino Live stream?
“I find that I get a kick of of being the villain.”
From Arcot’s point of view, it all happened in a slow, roundabout way. Born in Oregon, Arcot picked up poker while attending college at New York University in Shanghai. After graduation, Arcot went to work in New York, while his then girlfriend, now wife, went to school in Los Angeles. During his travels, which included short trips and several stretches of living in Los Angeles, Arcot struck up a friendship with Ryan Feldman while Feldman was working on Live at The Bike.
“I used to watch that live stream every day, religiously,” said Arcot. “I moved to LA for two or three years, and played in Ryan’s games all the time off-stream, and once or twice on the other stream. Then I went back to New York for a while.”
Arcot remained in touch with Feldman despite being away from the game, and Feldman eventually moved on to create the HCL stream alongside Nick Vertucci. When Arcot made plans to return to the West Coast permanently, the wheels for what would become his meteoric rise were set in motion.
“I moved back to LA in March 2022, and Ryan said just come and play whenever,” Arcot said. “I came and played a couple times, I enjoyed it, and then it kind of escalated from there.”
Arcot has never been shy, either at the table or on social media, about making himself the center of attention. Being on a live stream with hole cards up, and big sums of money on the line, would seemingly be all the motivation Arcot could ever need. And yet, he says there’s more about the HCL stream and big games of that kind that continues to pull him in.
“I think a lot of the enjoyment is the characters that you get to be around – really fun people, really smart people,” said Arcot. “And the thing I get the most kick out of is just the stupid shit that happens in the funny moments. More than the strategy or winning a big pot. Yeah, it’s nice to get their money, but when something really funny happens, that’s when I’m really enjoying being there and that’s really what I live for.
“I feel like we get that shit on the Hustler stream a lot more often just because of the cast of characters, where everyone’s unique and fun.”
Winning is generally a lot more fun, and offers Arcot all the more opportunity to gloat as he builds a reputation as a villain, at least to some. But that momentum seemingly came to a halt in a hurry at last Friday’s HCL $100/200/400 game, as a series of six-figure pots against Ethan ‘Rampage’ Yau went in the wrong direction for Arcot. While Rampage dug himself out of a $400K+ downswing in a single night, Arcot recorded a $759,200 loss.
Things didn’t get much better on Wednesday night, as Arcot dropped another $170,000 on stream. For his part, Arcot publicly seemed to brush off the big loss in stride.
The drama spilled over from the table to social media over the weekend, Arcot got himself entangled in a multi-directional Twitter beef. After Vertucci stated during a live stream that Garrett Adelstein was not going to be on any HCL streams for the foreseeable future, stemming from the fallout of the jack-four hand and cheating accusations involving Robbie Jade Lew, Adelstein got to bantering on Twitter.
Amongst Adelstein’s tweets, Arcot caught a stray in the comments.
Naturally, for anyone who has paid any attention to Arcot, he swung back. After calling out Adelstein for cherry-picking the lineups he played against, among other accusations, Arcot replied to a suggestion from Polk that Nik and Adelstein should play a deep $500/1000 game with the kind of response the poker world has come to know him for.
HCL regulars came to Arcot’s defense, including previous nemesis ‘BlankCheckBen,’ in the comments. Drama escalated further when Arcot spoke to Polk on stream Wednesday and pulled Matt Berkey into the swirling chaos with more trash talk and challenges. Berkey replied with shots of his own during a long rebuttal and counter-challenge on the OnlyFriends podcast later in the day, and Arcot found himself as the center of attention in the poker world – a position he seemingly loves to be in.
Whether or not anything materializes in the days or weeks to come in terms of high-stakes grudge matches, Arcot will likely continue about his business at the table. That involves four to five nights a week of poker, including a couple of streams, a co-hosted $25/50 Pot Limit Omaha game on Thursday nights at Hustler Casino, and some private games in and around LA. He may even dabble in some more tournament poker, as he did in December when he finished 214th in the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas.
Until the next challenge presents itself, be it Adelstein, Rampage, Berkey, or someone else, Nik Airball wants one thing about his approach to poker to be clear.
“I’m always happy to play with anyone.”