It was inevitable. The evolution of poker has made it a worldwide game. From a game that began, by most accounts, in France and moved to the fledgling United States in New Orleans and the "wild west" of yore, poker is now a game that transfixes the globe. In 2004, there was a very interesting website (www.pokerinathens.com) that, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, presented the notion that poker should be an Olympic sport. Now most would scoff at that, but I would have to say...why not?
A recent review of the list of recognized sports is a sobering look at what other activities are considered to be Olympic-worthy. Bowling, bridge, chess, dance, golf and even Tug of War are all officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee. When you take a look at some of the sports on this recognized list, as well as some of the sports that are actively in the Games, you realize that you are not looking at "physical" being part of the criteria.
What all of the previously mentioned sports have that earns them entry into the Olympic pantheon is a international federation. Poker is in great need of such a group, but that is a discussion for another time. What the great game of poker needs to do, as well, is to show the international appeal of the sport.
While the World Series of Poker attracts thousands from around the world, let's be honest; anyone willing to pony up the buy-in can take their chance at (and, in some cases, become) the best the game has to offer. The winner of the Main Event is recognized as the World Champion of Poker, after all. The tournament (and tournament poker is, but nowhere more true than at the World Series) is a game of survival, and the player who wins the Main Event deserves the accolades that come with it.
The Professional Poker Tour is a step towards removing the amateur from the equation. From a stringent qualification guideline, you have the best professionals in the game, and from around the world, battling each other for the prize, with no buy-in for the players to risk to be in the tournament. As the Tour is only in its infancy, it remains to be seen what will be its eventual outcome.
Why not take this concept one step further? For lack of a better term, let's call it "The Olympiad of Poker." Each nation would send its best players, with a maximum of four for each nation's team. The competition would not be limited to just the No-Limit game, either; all disciplines, from Razz to SHOE, Five and Seven Card, and the rest (around ten events, by my count) would have representation and be tested. Medals could be awarded to the top three, just like the Olympics, as well as the cash prizes. If you don't medal, you don't earn any of the spoils of the gods. You could also recognize the nation that did the best, the individual who is the overall champion of the event, and I am sure a multitude of other things.
The Olympiad of Poker could rotate among several sites at somewhere between either a two, three or four year interval. New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Paris, London, Vienna, Moscow and many others come to mind as great locations to demonstrate the worldwide appeal of the game. Furthermore, think of the angles that would come out. Who is the best player in the world? Which country has the best players? It would lend itself to great drama and national pride for the victors, and tremendous tragedy and wound-licking for the vanquished.
Maybe one day we will see it: Marcel Luske, carrying the flag of the Netherlands to the final table. Humberto Brenes waving the banner of Costa Rica as he takes a medal. Amir Vahedi, either carrying the flag of his birthplace, Iran, or his adopted home of America. David "The Devilfish" Ulliot proudly displaying the Union Jack and hearing "God Save The Queen" as he accepts his first place check and Olympic gold medal.
Yes, the money would have to be put up by someone. Yes, it would take a worldwide organization to be able to pull it off. And, yes, there would be a tremendous amount of debate as to the players who would compete. But the opportunity to demonstrate the international appeal of the game, as well as the mental and physical exertions of it, would be what our great game should reach for. Who knows, this may become a reality. Here's hoping to see you in (insert your location here) for the First Olympiad of Poker in (insert when you think it will happen)!