What we thought we knew…

Our team of Match Poker gurus have always been interested in our roots – in the origins of what is now the sport of poker. We learned that, in 2008, the Harvard Law Professor, Charles Nesson, became a keen advocate for this new way of playing poker.

I believed it was time for [poker] to shake loose from the awful reputation it built up through its genesis as a gambling game,” Professor Nesson explained. “It has had an equally distinguished history as an academic pursuit.”

Professor Nesson believed that strategic thinking, taking risks based on limited information, empathising with an opponent, and even showing strength from a position of weakness, were all skills vital for playing poker – and for practicing law.

So he introduced poker to his first year law students and the Harvard Poker Thinking Society and brought the game of poker, and its higher-level reasoning skills, to countless Harvard law students.

But the concept he took to them was not ordinary poker, but rather “Duplicate Poker” – based on the concept of ‘Duplicate Bridge’ – the form of competitive Bridge that is recognised as a mind sport. In Duplicate Bridge, all tables are given identical shuffles of a deck, which ensures that all the cards dealt to a table are the same at each table. This way, a player’s performance is only important in a relative sense; e.g. “given that you and your bridge partner were dealt a losing hand, did you perform better than all the other pairs that were dealt that losing hand?

Nesson was an enthusiastic supporter of ‘Duplicate Poker’. The premise was that if identical shuffles were dealt at two different tables, the person in position 1 on table 1 could be compared against the person in position 1 on table 2. The player who wins the most chips (or loses the fewest chips) out of the two of them could usually be said to have played that hand better or more skilfully. Aggregated over lots of hands, this game could separate the skilled poker players from the fish and the ‘luck boxes’.

The rest is history. Duplicate Poker was then taken up by the International Federation of Poker (IFP) as a way of turning poker into a sport. The sport was then renamed ‘Match Poker’, the IFP became the IFMP (to recognise that they promoted ‘Match Poker’), and they have been running international competitions since 2011. You can read more about the IFMP and the international events they have run here. Match Poker became a legitimate sport in 2017 when it was approved by the GAISF (the Global Association of International Sporting Federations).

But was Professor Nesson’s adoption of Duplicate Poker the first? After a little bit of research, an article on Cardplayer.com may point us towards Duplicate Poker’s creator.

The First Clue

In this article on cardplayer.com, the writer has interviewed a man named Randy Peterson, saying, “Peterson, a 53-year-old ex-police detective and a judicially recognized gaming expert, created the game [of duplicate poker] in 2001.

Peterson has built a reputation turning games of chance into games of skill, such as he did with Bingo. Could he have been the brain behind the game that would one day become Match Poker? Maybe it’s not that simple. In fact, the article makes reference to E-PokerUSA, who were also offering duplicate poker on their site at the time the article was written (2006). There certainly seems to have been tension between Peterson and E-PokerUSA with Peterson claiming that a patent he took out in 2001 was the final word on this topic. However, another discovery by our intrepid investigators may render this argument moot.

After copious digging, our team found evidence that this was not the first time the concept of Duplicate Poker had been elucidated. In fact, we found proof that Peterson did not invent the game in 2001. A detailed description of the exact workings of a game, specifically referred to as ‘duplicate poker’, had been published in Card Player Magazine eight years earlier, in a ‘poker strategy’ article in their August 13, 1993 issue…

The Discovery

Its title: The Game of Duplicate Hold’em… the Future of Poker Tournaments, by B.J. Altshuler and Dan Kleinman. You can read the two-page article transcribed on our website here.

15 years before Nesson taught his pupils the breakthrough game that was to become a world sport, these two Californian poker enthusiasts had explained the workings of the game perfectly: “Although players compete against players at their table, their real opponents during each round are the players sitting in the same seat at each of the other tables.

…it is possible to have a long string of “bad” cards or bad beats and triumph by limiting your losses on such hands. Conversely, if you have an abundance of great cards – but do not win enough chips on those hands compared to the other players – your score will not be good even if you win more chips than you lose.”

Is this article by Altshuler and Kleinman the first public exploration of the idea of duplicate poker? No. In fact, our investigators were able to dig backwards in time as far as March of 1993 to a letter written into Card Player Magazine titled ‘Some Ideas’…

Did duplicate poker – Match Poker’s predecessor – originate from a Letter to the Editor?

As plainly as this, an E. M. Wilkinson from Sydney, Australia, writes:

Here are a couple of ideas I had…

How about a poker tournament with the same spread of cards dealt to each table, a bit like bridge? The suggestion is a short-term way to find the best players in a group without the usual factor of good/bad cards getting in the way.

Described simply, yet accurately, have we here finally found the source of the idea for Match Poker? Could Match Poker have come full circle – originally conceived by E. M. Wilkinson in Australia, written about in a magazine based in Nevada, adopted by a professor at Harvard, Massachusetts, played for the first time internationally in London and then renamed by an international sporting body in Switzerland, only for an online version of the game to then be in development by a team back in Australia?

The answer is NO. We found out more! One last letter in Card Player Magazine may reveal the answer…

In the July 2nd issue of Card Player, 1993, a man known only as ‘Andrew Anonymous’ responds to E.M. Wilkinson’s letter of March 1993, with information that may finally reveal the roots of the sport of Match Poker…

The end of the line

He writes, “This is a reply to E.M. Wilkinson’s letter in the March 26, 1993, issue. The idea of “a poker tournament with the same spread of cards dealt to each table, a bit like bridge,” is not original”.

Andrew Anonymous may have evidence that the idea of this game existed before Wilkinson had “some ideas”. And this evidence points back to the author of the August 1993 article, when he writes;

About a fortnight ago, a Bruce Altshuler appeared at a Normandie Club in Gardena bearing a strange contraption… Altshuler explained to the small crowd gathered round him that his contraption was a “board” for “duplicate poker” along the lines of the “duplicate bridge” boards used commonly in the bridge pairs championships.

So it was Altshuler! “A fortnight before” Andrew Anonymous wrote his letter, before Wilkinson wrote about the idea (and some 8 years before Randy Peterson patented it), B. J. Altshuler had already been walking around displaying a hand-made aluminium board which held the duplicated hands to be dealt. This puts us at a date in June 1993, still after Wilkinson’s article. But wait, Andrew tells more:

This repeated a similar scene perhaps two months prior at the other poker parlor I have attended… shall we presume Altshuler has been peddling his idea and contraption at other clubs as well?

This takes us as far back as the trail goes. If Andrew’s memory is correct, this would date to early 1993, but is it before Wilkinson’s letter?

The answer probably lies in the fact that, if Altshuler already had already built and was displaying his contraption at this time, it stands to reason that the idea on which the contraption is based can be traced back at least as early as 1992 and so it was, most likely, his idea.

Regardless, the concept was memorialised in the August 13, 1993, article by Altshuler and Kleinman. They are therefore, probably correctly, credited with the invention of duplicate poker, to which the sport of Match Poker traces its roots.

So, from all of us at Match Poker Online, thank you Bruce Altshuler and Danny Kleinman for creating the game that we are so passionate about!

Tracing this history was like finding the meaning of life for us. It is further proof that what we’re doing is something that people want – to have the opportunity to compete internationally in the game that they love and be recognised as the best!

Make sure to read our article on how Match Poker has evolved from these humble origins as ‘duplicate poker’, to the IFMP’s Match Poker, to its future as a mobile app unlike any seen before: Match Poker Online.