For over 200 years, the game of poker had long been associated with smoke-filled card rooms, full of larger-than-life characters and tall tales of fortunes won and lost.
It was a world open to very few until 2003, when an accountant from Tennessee, with the unlikely name of Chris Moneymaker, won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event and transformed poker into a multi-million-dollar global industry, played by hundreds of thousands of people daily, both live and online.
Just like major sporting events, flagship poker tournaments were suddenly marketed and sponsored, televised and streamed online, to a multitude of viewers across the globe.
But for all the fame, fortune and glory that comes with poker in the modern era, the game still carries much of its clandestine baggage. This has made it incredibly difficult to truly legitimise poker in the mainstream.
But one form of the game is set to change all that…
What really is poker?
To the untrained eye, poker is perceived as a game of chance, much in the same vein as casino games such as roulette, craps, baccarat or electronic gaming machines (‘slots’), where luck solely determines the result.
The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.
In poker, a player must rely on not only the knowledge of how the game is played, but use their psychological and mathematical prowess to directly influence the outcome.
The great game theorist John von Neumann viewed poker as the perfect model for human decision making, for finding the balance between skill and chance that accompanies our every choice. He saw poker as the ultimate strategic challenge, combining not just the mathematical elements of a game like chess but the uniquely human, psychological angles that are more difficult to model precisely.
While in normal poker the random turn of a card can make a significant difference to your result, there have always been ways that thinkers have found that allow them to build on the skill inherent in the game.
This is where Match Poker comes in.
In Match Poker – a variant of the world’s most popular game of poker, No Limit Hold’em – you play the same starting hand of two cards, from the same position as thousands of other players, with the same five community cards coming out on the flop, turn and river.
Match Poker’s scoring system then ranks you against all of the players who played those exact cards – and against those exact cards. So, your play is judged not on how much you won or lost on a hand, but on how your play compares with that of every other player who played the same cards.
This innovation opens the door to some extraordinary possibilities:
a. being finally able to objectively determine who are the world’s best poker players.
b. being able to set up local, national and international teams to play each other in international mind sport events – perhaps even in the Olympics.
This concept first came about more than 10 years ago in the form of Duplicate Poker and was enthusiastically embraced by Professor Charles Nesson and his students at Harvard University Law School.
“I believe it’s time for [poker] to shake loose from the awful reputation it built up through its genesis as a gambling game. It has had an equally distinguished history as an academic pursuit … strategic thinking, taking risks based on limited information, empathizing with an opponent, and even showing strength from a position of weakness – are all skills vital for playing poker – and practising law.”
– Professor Charles Nesson, Harvard University
Becoming a World Sport
From the vision that Professor Nesson shared for the future of poker, the International Federation of Match Poker (IFMP) was born. A non-profit organisation, the IFMP serves “as the global governing body for Match Poker” and has run live international championships of this form of the game since 2011, with the very first event hosted on the London Eye.
Inside one of the London Eye’s capsules during the first ever Match Poker competition (credit MatchPoker.sport)
In May this year, the 2020 IFMP Nations Cup was the first of their championships to be hosted remotely and online due to the coronavirus pandemic restricting international travel.
Six sessions of 50 hands were played with 12 teams participating: Germany, Spain, India, South Korea, Ukraine, Lithuania, Singapore, Belarus, Poland, Australia, Taiwan and Ireland.
After an intense battle across two days of play, Ukraine managed to hold onto its lead against Australia and retained its hold on the championship trophy, with Lithuania, India and Taiwan following in third, fourth and fifth place respectively.
A World Sport
In 2017, Match Poker was officially recognised as a sport by the governing body of world sport – the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). Match Poker was granted Observer Status, making its legitimacy as a sport equal to that of Rugby.
“This is an exciting time for [Match Poker and the other Observers]… we will do everything within our remit to help them realise their full potential as International Federations within the global sport’s family and, one day, maybe become part of the Olympic program.”
– Patrick Baumann, GAISF President
Some may prefer their definition of ‘sport’ to include an element of physical exertion, so the fact is that Match Poker has, for nine years, been officially recognised as the fifth ever world mind sport, alongside games such as Chess and Bridge.
One key aspect that mind sports have, which regular sports lack, is the ability to play over the internet and thus quickly develop and maintain not only global fellowship and support for the game, but also provide an opportunity to compete on a regular basis to both novice and veteran alike.
The IFMP has now endorsed a new mobile app, Match Poker Online™, to bring the sport of poker into the spotlight and onto your device.
Using the exact same principles as a live Match Poker tournament, any player will be able to log into the Match Poker Online app, play a series of hands, and receive a ranking on how well they played those hands compared to everyone else who has played those hands before them.
After playing enough hands, the app’s sophisticated algorithm will be able to tell you where you rank in the entire world in the sport of Match Poker.
Best of all, it’s free to download and play*.
Through Match Poker Online, it is our hope that this app will forge a pathway for players to become part of national, international and, perhaps one day, Olympic teams of professional Match Poker “mind athletes”.
Match Poker Online will also become vital in a player’s education and training in mastering the game in all forms, providing feedback and coaching in real time through the use of the app’s special features, such as:
- Learning tools and puzzles, which will help you grasp the fundamentals of poker and an insight into implementing strategy to further develop your game;
- Our ‘Rewind’ feature, which not only shows you the action of the hand you just played but also details, at each juncture, what the best and worst players in the world did at that point;
- Famous Hands, where you can replay iconic hands from key moments in poker history and see how your play and results differ from that of the pros.
Naturally, Match Poker Online will also cater to those who are simply looking to play a private ‘home game’ with their friends, or jump into a standard single (STT) or multi-table tournament (MTT).
*Not all these features will be available on Day 1 of the Beta. Not all features will be free, but many will be.
As of now, we have completed the Alpha testing phase of the Match Poker Online app and we will be releasing an open Beta to the public in the next few months.
To ensure you receive notification for when the Beta goes live, as well as updates on the app’s progress directly from the mouth of developers, sign up at matchpoker.com/beta.
You can also follow us on social media and on our website.
From all of us at Match Poker Online, thank you and good luck – not that you’ll need it!