A non-gambling variation of poker is set to get a major boost in Mainland China after Alibaba, the e-commerce giant announced that it has entered into an agreement with Oceans Sports and Entertainment to promote Match Poker, which is a non-gaming product in Mainland China.

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Match Poker, developed by the International Federation of Poker (IFP), is a form of poker where players play for points rather than money. A team-based sport, it incorporates elements from Texas Hold’em but hands are dealt through smartphones.  According to IFP, the structure of the game makes this version of poker a mind sport rather than gambling.

Under the agreement, Ocean Sports, a sports marketing agency from China will provide logistics for on-ground events and regular marketing while Alibaba’s sports division Ali Sports will focus on introducing a new digital platform to enhance the experience and delivery of the game.

Alibaba is one of the largest retailers in the world and has the distinction of holding the world’s largest initial public offering (IPO) when it raised $25 billion in 2014. Alibaba’s immense reach and popularity within China is expected to significantly improve the chances of Match Poker succeeding in the country.

In a statement, Patrick Nally, the President of the IFP said, “The alliance between Oceans and Alibaba Sports creates one of the most powerful forces in sports marketing anywhere in the world. I am delighted that their energies, attention, and resources will be focused on launching and promoting Match Poker and that they share my belief in its massive worldwide potential.”

Nally anticipates that Match Poker will be popular with both young consumers as well as poker enthusiasts as it is mobile-based and its format makes it possible to play it competitively, enabling players to form teams to participate in local and national leagues.

China has always been seen to have enormous potential as a major market player in the poker industry but since gambling is banned, providers have not been able to capitalize on the Chinese market. This non-gambling version may prove to be a game-changer and prepare the market for a future launch of poker cash games.

The partnership aims to reach two million subscribers in China over the next five years. Revenues will be generated from play-based subscriptions and media or sponsorship rights, moving away from the traditional rake-based model.

IFP launched Match Poker in 2011 which was known as Duplicate Poker during its initial launch. However attempts to widen the game’s appeal has been limited during the past few years but with Alibaba taking over, that will most likely change.

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