Poker in the Olympics?

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Imagine, if you will, a nearly 80-year-old Doyle Brunson, crutch and all, standing atop a podium. He removes his famous cowboy hat, its shadow passing by the glistening gold medal around his neck as our national anthem blares throughout the Empire Casino in London. It’s enough to make you weep.

The recent conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver has inspired us to look ahead to the 2012 London Summer Games with a hopeful eye that poker might be included as an exhibition sport.

No, we’re not kidding.

To buy into this you have to believe the Olympics is for competition and not just people who have athletic ability. They are, after all, called the Olympic Games, are they not? Hell, the National Spelling Bee is on ESPN every year, and clearly that takes no physical effort. So, why not poker?

Poker transcends age and gender, to put everyone on a level playing field, or felt. And isn’t that what the Olympics is all about? Plus, it’s not as if poker players would be “gambling” for a prize pool; they’d be going for the gold, just like any other Olympic hopeful. Golf and tennis have made appearances in the Olympics, and players in those individual pro sports have vied for cash for decades, yet they’re allowed to compete in the Olympics. And half the fun would be trying to figure out who would play for what country since so many international poker pros call America home. Daniel Negreanu for Team Canada? Johnny Chan for China? And what about Vanessa Rousso? She has dual citizenship in France and the United States. Would she say tapis or all-in?

If you can get past the gambling-athletic aspect and focus on our chance to represent our country then continue reading. If not, then we have a nice story for you on heart disease by Dr. Frank Toscano.

This by no means is uncharted territory. Gaming companies have gone on campaigns to achieve this lofty goal in the past. Even Full Tilt created a Web site (half jokingly) during its 2004 launch that touted the USA Poker Team. Yes, when sports such as baseball and softball get eliminated from a full Olympic roster, it’s hard to imagine making room for us. Still, everyone tries to hit a gutshot once in a while, especially if we’re getting the right pot odds. So how can we get there?

First we have to get poker recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee. This shouldn’t be too difficult since the IOC says chess and bridge are sports. (And don’t even get us started on curling!) Poker incorporates the strategy of chess and the random dealing of shuffled cards, just like bridge.   

Second, the IOC says poker must be “widely practiced by men and women in at least 75 and 50 countries, respectively, among four of the seven continents.” This might have been a stretch back when Texans were the only ones who could play hold’em. But with the boom spawning dozens of online poker sites, PokerStars’ Asia-Pacific, European, Latin American, North American and Russian poker tours, not to mention Europe’s World Series of Poker efforts and the Aussie Millions, poker is now global.

Another hurdle is the lack of an official international governing body that sets rules for poker, which is something we don’t have yet but is required by the IOC. We’d argue the Tournament Directors Association could fit the bill. TDA founder Matt Savage has traveled to just about every country where poker is played and run his tournaments using TDA rules. Plus we have the World Poker Association, which has the goal of promoting professionalism in poker worldwide and supporting the highest standards of ethical conduct in tournament poker activities. Let’s say we get these two married and have ourselves a governing body party!

Ultimately it’ll take a serious push from a PokerStars-type entity that has the ability and financial backing to reach millions of people to petition the IOC and get the ball moving. It won’t happen overnight, but it could happen if enough of the right people get behind it.

Oh, and if you could hurry up we’d appreciate it; Doyle’s not getting any younger.

We’ll see you at the tables.

Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long