Is Poker a Sport? SportAccord to Decide on April 22

Is poker a sport? SportAccord Association seems to think so
Is poker a sport? SportAccord organization seems to think so

The discussion on the topic is poker a sport has been going on for quite some time now. Certain countries have recognized it as such. Decisions by some courts and organizations have acknowledged that skill element is prevalent in the game. However, to this day, there has not been a decision on a global level that would define poker a sport.

This could change on April 22 as SportAccord, the umbrella organization for Olympic and non-Olympic sports will be voting to officially recognize Match Poker as a mind sport.

SportsAccord set to declare poker a sport

According to currently available information, it seems that SportAccord is intent on formally defining poker as a sport at their next General Assembly on April 22. The decision is based on the recommendation made by the ruling Council of this organization.

If things go according to plan, International Federation of Poker (IFP) should become a full member of SportAccord. The IFP has more than 50 country members all over the world. Since its inception in 2009, it has been working to have poker officially recognized as a sport. It seems that their efforts have finally produced the desired result.

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Stop worrying about bad beats. In Match Poker, luck plays rather insignificant role
Stop worrying about bad beats. In Match Poker, luck plays rather insignificant role

Why is Match Poker a sport?

SportAccord will consider a particular variation of poker, called Match Poker. This variation, devised by the IFP, tries to eliminate the luck element from the game as much as possible. Texas Hold’em has been the only game played at the IFP tournaments so far.

In some of its elements, Match Poker is quite similar to Bridge. Players from different teams are seated at different tables. Every team gets to play every seat at one of the tables. Cards are dealt electronically, from the previously arranged decks. So, the Seat 1 on Table 1 and the Seat 1 on Table 6 (and every other table in the room), will receive identical cards.

At the end of every hand, the results are calculated. Since all players seated in certain positions receive the same cards, there is almost no luck involved. It all gets down to players’ skills. Since there is an equal number of players from every team at any particular table, once a hand is over, chips won and lost by every team are added up and the next hand starts.

Why is Match Poker a sport? Everyone plays the same cards, you can't really "get lucky"
Why is Match Poker a sport? Everyone plays the same cards, you can’t really “get lucky” (source: pokerfed.org)

Chip count is reset for every new hand, so players always start with the exactly same number of blinds. Once a set number of hands is completed, a team with the best overall score is declared the winner.

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It’s a whole new game

Match Poker is, in many aspects, very different from the traditional poker variations. Since randomness is basically removed from the game, it is very hard for someone to get lucky enough to end up a winner.

For example, one can get lucky catching a second pair on the river against the odds and have better results in that particular hand, but constantly putting chips in when behind is bound to result in a negative score.

However, there are some flaws to Match Poker that still need to be ironed out. A friend of mine was a part of the National Team during the IFP European Nations Cup in Cyprus in 2013, and as the tournament progressed, it became evident that teams that were behind had every incentive to play a very aggressive game with little consideration for the consequences.

Officially recognizing poker a sport could have huge impact on the popularity of the game
Officially recognizing poker a sport could have huge impact on the popularity of the game

Since there was a significant gap to be closed, the best way to achieve this was, again, by gambling it up and hoping that luck would come your way. This resulted in a lot of all-in moves that sort of defied poker logic but were appropriate given the situation. Perhaps this could be improved on by introducing “pot limit” rules before the flop.

For the most part, Match Poker is played like a cash game, as players’ stacks are reset at the start of every hand and they are usually quite deep. While this is undoubtedly the most complicated form of poker, perhaps having events where players have to utilize shorter stacks is not a bad idea either.

While there is always room for improvement, having poker recognized as a mind sport by an authoritative organization could have a big impact on the popularity of the game. And, while the decision by SportAccord has not been made official yet, all signs indicate that April 22 could be a major milestone for poker.

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