Poker has had an interesting spot on the international stage for decades. If the National Poker Sports Association (NPSA) in Mexico gets its way, it will give the game more stability and a place alongside many mainstream sports.
Poker is a game most often associated with casinos, friendly games set up in the neighborhood and, if you’re in certain parts of Texas, a major fight between fans and lawmakers. Getting poker out of the casinos and allowing it to succeed on its own is the primary goal of the NPSA.
Since its creation in 2016 amid strict anti-poker laws in the country, the organization has focused on that goal. Changes taking place at home and abroad are allowing it to reinvigorate its efforts.
Poker Gains Recognition
The International Mind Sport Association (IMSA) now officially recognizes poker as a “mental sport.” This puts it in the same category as chess, bridge and other games. The classification was given to the World Poker Federation (WPF), an organization that has its roots in Latin American poker, on December 22.
Behind the WPF are the Brazilian Federation of Texas Hold ’em, the Argentine Poker Federation and the Pan American Confederation of Sports Poker (CPPD, for its Spanish acronym). They worked with IMSA to achieve the recognition, which the organization gave following a unanimous decision.
Florentino Coalla, the president of the NPSA and vice president of the CPPD, celebrated the decision. He feels it will also bring benefits to Mexico.
That country’s National School of Sports Trainers (ENED, for its Spanish acronym) issued a detailed opinion on the subject in 2017. It determined that poker met the characteristics to be a sport in Mexico, and the IMSA recognition adds more weight.
Among the considerations, the ENED cites that just like the practice of chess, which continues to apply to appear in the Olympic program, poker players use their “body, mind and spirit” to achieve success.
Any player who has endured a multi-table tournament knows this to be true. Poker is inarguably much more than the cards that are dealt, with players having to develop mental strategies to gain position on their opponents and win pots.
Coalla and the NPSA have already helped poker spread in Mexico. The efforts have established legitimate poker games in 19 states in the country.
This has led to the creation of competitive circuits, like the Mexican Poker Open, with more growth possible. First, however, the NPSA has to clear a very high hurdle.
Supreme Court To Weigh In
Following the launch of the Mexican Poker Open, next came the Mexican Series of Poker. It was an attempt to introduce new international competitions throughout the LatAm region. However, it ran into trouble as the first event launched in Mexico.
In January 2018, as the NPSA was preparing for its inaugural event in Cancun, the Ministry of the Interior came in and shut it down. Since then, it has been in a battle with the government to recognize poker for what it is – a game of skill, not a game of luck. In order to do that, it is taking its fight to the Supreme Court.
Coalla pointed out that chess is one of the most practiced sports in the world, but sports poker could topple it on the charts. There is a huge field of poker players in Mexico, but the number would be higher if the government would get out of the way.
The NPSA executive believes that, after COVID-19, the number of online poker players in the country exploded. There are now over 2.5 million and counting, according to Coalla. This makes Mexico the second-largest country in terms of online poker; Brazil is the largest.
Mexico has several poker pros on the regular circuit – four have $1 million or more in lifetime cashes, according to Hendon Mob. With the WPF receiving accreditation from IMSA and support growing in Mexico for greater access to poker, a monumental shift in the game could be coming in 2023.
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