Match Poker was devised by the International Federation of Poker (IFP) to reduce the element of luck inherent in traditional forms of poker, ensuring that it is a contest based on players’ skill and conforms to the accepted definition of a sport. While all sports contain an element of chance, most notably the unpredictable bounce of a ball, the definition used by SportAccord – the organisation of International Sports Federations – is that chance should not be integrated into the very core of the sport. However in traditional poker the element of chance inherent in the random dealing of cards is deliberate. It is the essence of the game and what has helped poker become a global phenomenon.
Match Poker is a team sport incorporating regular Texas Hold’em. Teams are split onto different tables 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). This means that 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. Each team’s combined chips are compared after every hand and points allocated accordingly. Players reset their stacks and the next hand begins. After a pre-determined number of hands the team with the most points wins. All action is recorded electronically enabling real-time automated scoring, animated replay and detailed analysis.
Match Poker was conceived as part of the IFP’s campaign to gain recognition of poker as a ‘mind sport’ by demonstrating to governments and sporting authorities around the world a new sporting format where it could fairly be said that reliance upon luck was removed. The response to the new format has been overwhelmingly positive. Because authorities have accepted Match Poker as “non-gambling”, events are no longer restricted to gaming-licensed casino environments and can be staged in any venue.
Now, this non-gambling form of poker looks set for a massive popularity boost in China after Alibaba Sports and Oceans Sports and Entertainment agreed to a sports partnership for the latter’s Match Poker product. The announcement that the sports division of the giant Chinese e-commerce group, Alibaba, is to link arms with Oceans Sports & Entertainment agency, to promote Match Poker in the East adds some realism to that bold statement. Under the agreement, Oceans will manage the on-ground event logistics and traditional marketing of Match Poker and the other sporting events in its portfolio, while Ali Sports “will introduce a comprehensive new digital ecosystem to improve the experience and value for the projects’ participants, audience, sponsors and business partners”.
Alibaba Sports, formed in 2015 by Alibaba Group, includes the world’s biggest e-commerce operation as well as a media, marketing, data and financial services powerhouse. Oceans is the leading sports marketing agency based in China and was listed on the Beijing Stock Exchange in 2014. Partnering with Alibaba could be a stroke of genius on the part of Oceans Sports, as the Chinese e-commerce company is one of the largest retailers in the world and immensely popular with Chinese citizens. In 2014, Alibaba claimed the title of the largest global initial public offering (IPO) ever when it raised a staggering $25 billion. Alibaba is quoted on the New York Stock Exchange and has a market cap of $173 billion -that,s makes Alibaba a company four times larger than Sheldon Adelson’s baby: Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
“The alliance between Oceans and Alibaba sport creates one of the most powerful forces in sports marketing anywhere in the world,” said IFP President Patrick Nally. “I am delighted that their energies, attention and resources will be focused on launching and promoting match poker and that they share my belief in its massive worldwide potential.”
Oceans chief executive Shoto Zhu told TotallyGaming.com that the partnership with the media, marketing, data and financial services powerhouse will play a significant role in driving growth of the mind sport. “China, as a nation, has embraced mobile and new technology quicker than expected,” Zhu said. “Young people today use their mobiles constantly, not only to communicate but to purchase and to be entertained. Poker is an attractive game for young Chinese and having a legal, non-gambling offer will be very attractive to the Chinese market. Alibaba’s massive e-commerce operation provides an exceptional platform on which to launch this mind sport. We see a very competitive environment in China so the development of Match Poker clubs, leagues and tournaments offers a natural opportunity, and Alibaba will help to deliver it on a massive scale.”
Suddenly, Match Poker is in the hands of one of the most powerful companies in the world. The initial target is to have as many as two million Match Poker players from China within the next five years, with revenues generated not from rake, as in traditional poker, but instead via subscriptions, pay-per-play, and media and sponsorship rights.