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'Match' Poker Begins Process For Olympics Consideration

Hold'em Variation Receives So-Called 'Observer Status'


Poker at the Olympics?

Earlier this month the Global Association of International Sports Federations, which says it works closely with the International Olympic Committee, announced that activities such as arm wrestling, foosball, dodgeball and poker achieved what is called “observer status.”

The Switzerland-based group said that receiving the distinction is the first step in a process toward a potential debut at the Olympics. Maybe retired swimmer Michael Phelps, a well-known poker enthusiast, will be able to add to his record 28 Olympic medals.

“We warmly welcome our first observers," GAISF President Patrick Baumann said in a statement. “This is an exciting time for them and for us and we will do everything within our remit to help them realize their full potential as International Federations within the global sport’s family and, one day, maybe become part of the Olympic program. The new sports debuting at Tokyo 2020 and at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympics are evidence that the pathway is there.”

Sports like karate, surfing, rock climbing and skateboarding will make their debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which apparently bodes well for a “mind sport” like poker.

The decision to create the so-called observer status was unanimously agreed upon by delegates at the GAISF General Assembly in Aarhus, Denmark, earlier this year.

What kind of poker could be allowed at the Olympics? It’s called “Match Poker.”

According to the International Federation of Match Poker, based in Lausanne, Switzerland:

“There is no gambling in Match Poker and the sport is available to players of all ages and genders worldwide. Match Poker is best showcased as a team sport where the element of chance inherent in the ‘random draw of cards’ has been removed. This makes Match Poker entirely different from variations used in the gaming sector.”

Basically, it’s Texas hold’em that tries to distill the skill factor from the game, which would classify it as a sport in the eyes of international associations. It’s typically played as pot-limit preflop and no-limit post-flop.

Teams are split onto different tables (the IFMP uses four-person teams as an example) with one player from each team in each of the different seat positions. All players start each hand with an equal number of chips and receive their cards on a digital device. The same cards are dealt at all tables (hole cards and community cards). In other words, every player in seat 1 (each from a different team) has identical cards. The same is true in every other seat.

“This allows the best players and the best teams to be identified,” the IFMP said.

Each team’s combined chips are compared after every hand and points are allocated accordingly. Players reset their stacks and the next hand begins. After a pre-determined number of hands the team with the most points is declared the winner.

The format sounds very similar to what was used earlier this year in the high-profile heads-up match between a group of four elite poker pros and an artificial intelligence program developed by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The machine convincingly won the “Brains vs. AI” re-match, in one of the first instances of a computer program beating top human competitors. The contest further solidified the role of skill in poker.

The IFMP acknowledged that the luck factor in traditional poker is “the essence of the game and what has helped poker become a global phenomenon.” However, if poker is to make the Olympics, it would have to remove chance from the “core” of the game.

GAISF represents 109 International Federations, and according to its website receiving observer status will allow Match Poker to “grow and develop” and possibly receive full membership status.