A mind sport is a game of skill where competition is based on intellectual ability rather than luck or physical fitness. This definition covers many games from Uno to chess but not all mind games are recognized as mind sports: the official definition of competitive mind games currently applies to contract bridge, chess, go, draughts and xiangqi, and mahjong, as sanctioned by the International Mind Sports Association. Back in 2009, poker also won a provisional recognition as a mind sport, bringing it one step closer to becoming a bona fide sport rather than what it is seen today by many, a gambling game. Yet the game was still a bit too reliant on chance for it to become a true mind sport. Thus, a new breed of poker was invented, one that hoped to cater to the tastes of both the top poker players in Canada and beyond as well as the International Olympic Committee. Despite all this effort, the new game is not there just yet – but it has taken major steps toward eliminating as much chance from poker as possible. It is called “Match Poker”, and it’s not that different from the most-played poker variants today.
What is Match Poker?
In short, match poker is the team version of Texas Hold’em “typically with a pot-limit pre-flop and no-limit post-flop structure”, as the International Federation of Match Poker (IFMP) describes it. It is not played with actual cards but with tablet-like devices, and it’s not played for money but for chips with no monetary value. The teams are split into different tables, and each team member sits in a different position. The hands are identical for each position of each table, so every member of every team plays the very same hands in each round – every player in seat 1, no matter what team he or she is from, will have the same hand, and the table will have the same community cards as well. The hands are played as usual. At the end of the hand, a total of each team’s chips is calculated, points are given based on the number of chips won, the stacks are reset, and the next hand is dealt. Each hand is recorded electronically for analysis, scoring, and animated replay.
The match ends after a predetermined number of hands played. The team with the most points wins.
Poker at the Olympics?
The Global Association of International Sports Federations – formerly known as SportsAccord – is the umbrella organization for every sports federation in the world. The IFMP has applied for membership in this organization in 2017, backed by its then 60 national organizations and with the support of SportAccord president Patrick Baumann but the application was deferred at that time. The competitive version of poker still made some progress: the Ukrainian Ministry of Youth and Sports has officially recognized it as a sport last fall, and its membership continues to grow.
And the IFMP continues to work for Match Poker to get the recognition it deserves as a game of skill, not a game of chance. Perhaps some day we’ll see (match) poker recognized as an Olympic competition.