A New Amateur Poker World Champion is about to be crowned!
For most poker players, the winner of the WSOP Main Event is considered to be the poker world champion. However there is another poker world championship that also takes place annually and has done so every year since 1998. While millions of dollars will cross the tables at the WSOP, the total amount of money that changes hands at the Amateur Poker World Championship* (see bottom of article for disambiguation) is precisely zero. It takes place as part of the Mind Sports Olympiad (MSO), an event designed to find the best games players in the world, across a variety of familiar and less well-known board and card games, plus cerebral challenges. Its 25th annual edition is currently underway.
Over 100 different events take place the MSO, each awarding unique gold, silver and bronze medals for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers. The most serious participants seek to become the MSO Pentamind World Champion, which crowns its winner based on the top five scores achieved by each player across five different disciplines.
It Really Doesn’t Matter if It Rains or if it Shines…
Games like backgammon, chess, bridge, Scrabble, draughts and poker are amongst the more classical and well-recognised games. Beyond these stalwarts are a vast range of more modern, abstract and perhaps less familiar games such as Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Marrakech, Lines of Action and Battle Sheep. And for those with incredible mental abilities there are also speed reading, creative thinking and mental calculations world championships taking place at the Olympiad. Something for almost every nerd out there, myself included.
As per most live poker events in 2021, this is the second year that the competition has taken place exclusively online. Having held all of its previous editions live (in the UK), moving online has made the event more accessible to players from around the world and participation has grown significantly as a result. The method used to determine who the Amateur Poker World Championship is similar to the method used for determining the overall MSO World Pentamind Champion. There are 12 poker events and players can compete in as many of them as they like, with their best five results counting towards the leaderboard to determine the overall winner.
What do Points Make?
While the gameplay mechanics are the same as for a real money cash tournament, instead of cash prizes, points are awarded for each event based on finishing position/number of competitors taking part. The MSO points formula used creates what is effectively a very shallow “payout” structure, meaning that there isn’t a huge difference in the amount of points awarded between finishing positions. For example, all players in the top 10% of finishing positions will receive at least 90 points, while players in the top 20% will chalk up at least 80 points for their efforts. Typically a player winning an event will score around 99 points, while the runner-up will be just a point or so behind. Even a player finishing half way down the field will get in the region of 40-50 points. Its effectively a very gradual sliding scale with just a small weighting factor for finishing in one of the top 10 positions.
Not Cash Prizes
When the MSO was launched in 1997, the Pentamind had a £100k prize pool. Nowadays they compete for medals and glory only, with just a few of the individual events carrying sponsor supplied cash prizes. Sadly there are none for any of the poker events. Despite this absence of financial incentive, for most contenders, it’s more about the competitiveness; the need to defeat their peers and prove they are the best in the world.
Game Theory Shrewdies
The points structure lends itself to tight play for the most shrewd of competitors, as the system rewards consistency across several events rather than success in just one or two. A players who wins two events but busts early in most of the rest will not even come close to winning outright. A player who makes 2-3 final tables and grinds to the last 2-3 tables in a few other tournaments is much more likely to be crowned the Champ!
Twelve Poker Variants of the Apokerlymps
The 12 poker events that form a part of the Amateur Poker World Championship are all taking place as play money tournaments on PokerStars.net, which means there is no geo-restriction and players from pretty much all over the world can take part.
There is a wide variety of variants, including all the usual suspects plus the newly added Showtime format, in which all folded cards are discarded face up and remain visible to the whole table until the end of the hand. Given the time constraints, most tournaments had turbo formats, however this was changed mid-Olympiad following feedback by participants (on the MSO’s Discord channel) at the fast speed of some of the early tournaments. The 5-minute clock was increased to 10-mins for most of the remaining events. However for the HORSE tournament, the clock was set at 6-minutes, which was just as well, as even with such a short clock, the deep stacked and slow structured limit betting format ensured that it ended up being an epic 7-hour marathon. Contrastingly, some of the early tounaments in the series were only taking a couple of hours or so to complete.
2021 Mind Sport Olympiad Poker Event Winners
|Badugi||Maciej Brzeski||-NUTDRAW 16-||-REALLY THO 11-|
|Five Card Draw||Juan Francisco Garcia de la Banda||Haakon R. Monsen||-TRACTORPOPS-|
|Heads Up NL Hold’em||-SUZETTE BB-||Ankush Khandelwal||-ANNIEP755-|
|NL Hold’em||Francesco Fiordoliva||-LAWLESS43-||-AKJOSEF1891-|
|PL Omaha||-PREDWESTNIK-||Pietro Rossi||Piero Zama|
|PL Omaha Hi-Lo||Martin Berestovski||Ben Collister||Jordi Alexander|
|Heads Up PL Omaha||Martin Berestovski||-KEVUCHI-||-SAM JOHN150-|
|Seven Card Stud||Nunno Torres||Parker Pulver||Martyn Hamer|
|Showtime NL Hold’em||-HVYCHVY466-||-URKACHMO-||-TJPOOL 20-|
|Six Plus Hold’em||Ian Coventry||-PJCE57-||Luis Santos|
|6-Max NL Hold’em||?||?||?|
At just past the half way stage in the competition, last year’s winner Martin Isaac (who was also the 1999 World Intelligence Champion), was not in the running. But last year’s runner up Jamie “Reevio” Reeve was already matching his 2020 efforts in second place and was aiming to improve on his previous silver medal finish. Reeve is no stranger to poker, having once worked as poker manager for the now defunct online bookie and poker room Blue Square. With five events to go, he was in second place and it was certainly not out of the question that he could go on to take the title.
Reeve is one of the players who first took part in the MSO when it moved online in 2020:
“I have been aware of MSO for a few years, but the live events in London always seemed to clash with a family holiday. Therefore the online only event in 2020 was my first attempt at the games, and I loved it!”
While he is also having a go at some of the other games on offer at the MSO, Reeve says:
“It is realistically just poker for medal opportunities, but I enjoy playing various other board games and card games so will enter some of the other events for fun. Only one poker event can count for your Pentamind score, so I was happy to just make the Top 100 (in the Pentamind) overall last year!”
He has a more traditional poker background, playing cash and tournaments for real money (not points) both live and online. Having moved-on professionally from the poker world some years ago, his love of the game was reignited last year when he switched his occasional live home game to the online PokerStars Home Games club, during the first Covid lockdown. Despite the MSO poker not being played for real money, Reeve approaches it with a fine tuned game plan, optimised to best achieve overall success in the competition:
“If anything I take these events more seriously than the real money games! There is a cash tournament running every minute somewhere, but the MSO series is only once per year. The opponent play can be unpredictable due to the low/no barrier to entry though, so need to be wary of that in the early stages.”
Know Your Poker Onions to Win
“Knowing the game mix is important. There are 12 events total with some games far less common than No Limit Hold’em. Therefore having a broad experience helps a lot and is hard to prepare for quickly. Understanding the points formula is also key. A traditional cash tournament disproportionately rewards the top few finishers, whereas the MSO points have a very gradual scale. Therefore making risky plays to increase the chance of winning one event could harm your scoring for the overall title.”
What does Reeve think about his opponents and the standard of play he is facing this year?
“To be honest I don’t know much about the other players. I have seen Dario de Toffoli mentioned in previous results tables and in the Pentamind documentary, but don’t recognise any names from my previous forays in the real money poker world. I’m sure there are plenty of smart opponents with lots of experience though, so hopefully will be another exciting finish.”
However, results in the second half of the competition did not see enough improvement from the Londoner and by the penultimate event, victory was already mathematically out of his grasp.
Diving In Deeper
Etan Ilfeld has been the MSO’s event’s Chief Organiser since 2010, when he stepped in to help out after the event had failed to secure a venue for that year’s competition. Originally from California, he had grown up playing chess and first attended the MSO as a player in 2008 when he first moved to London. An entrepreneur who runs his own publishing company, Etan is also a keen games and poker player. In addition to organising the Olympiad, he likes to participate and took the gold medal in the 2010 Amateur Poker World Championship and followed it up with a bronze in 2016. He is also the inventor of Diving Chess, a variant of the game where you only have as long as you can hold your breathe to make each move.
Back to Live, back to Reality
While it was due to the pandemic that the MSO eventually found its way online, Ilfeld explains that the future is likely to be a bit different even when things return to normal:
“The pandemic has pushed us online and the future will be a mix of online and offline play. Poker has always been a part of MSO–including our Amateur Poker World Championship which finds the best all around poker player at MSO. We hope to have even more poker variants in the future. We were delighted by PokerStars addition of Showtime, which made its debut as an MSO poker event this year.”
Regarding the standard of play in the MSO poker, Ilfeld remarks:
“I’d guesstimate about ten to twenty percent (are regular real money poker players). Several of our top poker players are also poker pros including former Pentamind World Champions Andres Kuusk and Ankush Khandelwal.”
Previous Amateur Poker World Champions
|2012||Ankush Khandelwal||Levi Henderson||Mike Dixon|
|2013||Mike Dixon||Ankush Khandelwal||Bharat Thakrar|
|2014||Ankush Khandelwal||Andres Kuusk||Martin Hobemagi|
|2015||Martin Hobemagi||Michael Cresswell||Tige Nnando|
|2016||Michael Cresswell||Josef Kollar||Etan Ilfeld|
|2017||Tige Nnando||Zoltan Erdos||Harold Lee|
|2018||Bharat Thakrar||Josef Kollar||Tomas Kryzius|
|2019||Archit Yadav||Dario de Toffoli||Martin Hobemagi|
|2020||Martin Isaac||Jamie Reeve||Dario de Toffoli|
Sitting Sweet but in a Sticky Situation
With just two events left to go, the leader was Italian Dario de Toffoli. De Toffoli is a previous Amateur Poker World Champion, having lifted the title in 2008. He is also a former two-time Pentamind Champion, having been declared the ultimate game-playing super-brain in both 2002 and 2012. He’s been in the medals in the Amateur Poker World Championship for the last two years, having taken bronze in 2020 and silver in 2019. Looks good for a third medal in as many years, but it may be hard for Dario to hold onto his current lead to secure the gold.
Leaderboard after 10/12 Events
|1||Dario de Toffoli||449.35|
Mathematically just a few players can overtake de Toffoli to win the title. This includes several of those in the current top ten plus Ankush “GameKing51” Khandelwal, who is well back in the field in 19th, but only has four good results so far to his name. A strong final table finish could potentially see him lift the title he has claimed twice before, in 2012 and 2014. Ankush, an online cash game pro from Nottingham, is also the defending Pentamind Champion, having won the prestigious event four times in total and for the last three years in succession.
This year Ankush currently sits in 3rd place and will need to achieve at least two further podium finishes across different events to lift the Pentamind title once again. But with just one day to go, he is running out of time, although a victory in the last poker event would go a long way to help him achieve both Amateur Poker and Pentamind World Championship successes.
But with back to back wins in the PL Omaha Hi-Lo and the Heads Up PL Omaha, it is Estonian Martin Berestovski who is perhaps looking like the most likely winner. With two events to go, his 5th best result is considerably lower than those of the top two, meaning it is easier for him to improve his score than those above him.
The final event is 6-max Hold’em and will take place later today (Saturday September 4th), after which the Amateur Poker World Champion for 2021 will be known. Full results from all the tournaments can be found on the MSO website.
The author of this article took part in most of the poker events, purely as research for writing the article and in the process was lucky enough to pick up a silver medal in the H.O.R.S.E. poker event. Ride ‘em Home!
*The Amateur Poker World Championship should not be confused with the World Championship of Amateur Poker, which has been run by the Amateur Poker Association and Tour (APAT) since 2007. The key difference between the two events is that the MSO’s Amateur Poker World Championship does not involve real money at all. It defines the game as ‘amateur’ for this reason, rather than due to the status of its participants as either amateur or professional players. The APAT version is a real money event that is intended only for amateur players and excludes professional players from participating. The MSO’s Amateur Poker World Championship however, does not exclude professional players from taking part…come and have a go in 2022 if you think you’re good enough to beat the Pentaminders!