International Poker Federation Aims To Legitimize Poker
"I've always been cross that poker has this seedy reputation," says Holden, in his official capacity as the first president of the International Poker Federation an organization founded in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2009. The game doesn't need cleaning up, he insists, but its perception among the general public does.
Under Holden's leadership, the IFP, which is comprised of 35 national teams, is lobbying to win poker recognition as a game of skill rather than chance and in particular as a "Mind Sport."
This is more than semantics. IFP is aiming to be a recognized sporting federation, which according to its website "gives players the right to play poker safely and legally, both online and in bricks and mortar establishments."
According to the group's web site, the International Poker Federation "serves as the governing body to which National Poker Federations can affiliate. Its goal is the promotion of poker as a Mind Sport played without any discrimination as to race, sex or creed."
In making his case for treating poker as a serious "mind sport", Holden brings up an interesting argument:
The point he says, is that unlike with other casino games, a skilled poker player is waging favorable odds. Take bridge, for example, he says, which has a safe, suburban reputation that is somewhat at odds with its history.
"They fought long and hard to make bridge respectable. We hope to put poker on the same road. People bet on chess and bridge but the world acknowledges that beneath that, these are fascinating, strategic games. It's been slower to accept that about poker."
The broader issue however is attitudinal change, which may take generations. "Many schools run their own bridge clubs, and no parent group would be up in arms if a teacher were to use bridge to explain a maths question to teach probabilities and game theory," says Holden.
"But there would be a stigma to an afterschool poker club. But they both have much to teach: It sharpens your ability to calculate. You need to know what your return on investment would be, what chips are available to be won, what you have to hazard to win it. On top of the math, there is psychology, the need to follow the moods of a player over the course of long game, to recognize fear, panic, frustration, aggression, all of our foibles, is great practice for business, relationships and life."
Can the strategic parts of the game be separated from the gambling associations? Or is poker forever doomed to be perceived as "seedy", as a "back room game"?