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Is Poker A Sport Or A Game?

Dominic Field

Jan 16, 2023

Is Poker A Sport Or A Game?

People often ask the question “is poker a sport?” and it always triggers much debate. Although coverage of top tournaments is often broadcast on sports channels around the world, many argue that poker is actually just a game. In this article, we’ll attempt to answer the question once and for all.

Definition of a Sport

Definition of a sportIn order to properly tackle the old “is poker a sport?” discussion, we should first address the meaning of the word. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a sport is defined as:

 “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

Here we have a clear starting point to assess whether or not poker is a sport. So let’s take a look at the case for the defence.

Physicality 

The first part of the dictionary definition states “activity involving physical exertion”. And this is usually the main argument against poker being considered a sport. After all, when we think of poker players, we don’t immediately conjure up images of finely tuned athletes. 

But there’s a very good reason why players talk about “grinding”. Playing for hours at a time is mentally exhausting and, the last time we checked, the brain is part of the body. Besides, there are plenty of other games, like golf, pool and baseball, which have always been known as sports. And yet they require very little physical exertion compared to boxing, football or basketball.

What’s more, there’s a reason why undoubtedly talented players like Doyle Brunson won most of their titles decades ago. As you age, your ability to play optimal poker for long periods declines. Simply put, the better your overall physical condition, the more endurance you’ll have. That suggests that physicality is at least somewhat important in poker.

Skill

According to the dictionary definition, the next characteristic required for poker to be considered a sport is a skill. This should be a straightforward one even for the most ardent critic, as it’s now widely accepted that playing poker requires skills. 

To be a success in this game, you must have a sound grasp of probability, plus concepts like equity and ranges. Poker also requires the ability to make the correct calculations and act accordingly whilst under intense pressure. Then there are other more subtle talents, such as acting, picking up on tells and discipline. The best players have all of the skills required to do this, either naturally or through much hard work and practice.

It’s very different to casino games like baccarat or roulette, where you’re entirely dependent on random outcomes. Yes, there is still a large element of chance in poker. But if you consistently make correct decisions, you will come out on top in the long run. Such players are unquestionably skilled. 

Competition

Poker Is A Competitive SportThe definition of the word sport also makes reference to teams or individuals competing. We can all agree that poker games involves competition since the whole idea is to deprive other players of their chips. 

In poker tournaments, those chips are all of an equal value and the longer you last, the greater your prize. Events like the Asian Poker Tour and World Series of Poker are worth millions of dollars and are comparable to other sports. But cash games, where chips are worth real monetary values, are also extremely competitive.

Any game where prize money is at stake is undoubtedly competitive. Not to mention the bracelets, trophies and leaderboards involved in many poker events.

Entertainment

The final reference in the definition of sport is entertainment. This is perhaps more debatable since a professional poker player is not simply playing a fun card game for the joy of it. There are bills to pay.

However, like in other sports, many players start out in poker because they genuinely enjoy the game. Turning professional comes later on.

For the average Joe playing a home game with friends, poker is arguably quite far from being a sport. Although all of the key elements are there, the fun factor is the main consideration. In fact, some apps and poker websites are built entirely around the concept of play. You can compete simply for bragging rights, with no real money involved at all.

Evidence That Poker Is a Sport

So is poker a sport or not? It certainly appears to satisfy all of the criteria according to the dictionary definition, at least. But there’s also a growing body of evidence to suggest that it might be more than just a game. 

For instance, the International Mind Sports Association accepted poker into their organisation back in 2010. Further, in 2017, the Global Association of International Sports Federations granted poker “observer status”. So while they don’t yet consider poker a sport officially, it could just be a matter of time. 

Is Poker a Sport? - Conclusion

Poker Requires Physical And Mental AttributesYou’ll often hear people asking the question “is poker a sport?” and the debate has certainly raged for a long time. It’s true that poker requires skills, as well as a blend of specific physical and mental attributes. But for many, the lack of extreme exertion means it can only be thought of as a game. They place it in the same bracket as backgammon, chess or other card games like bridge.

When looking at the literal definition of “sport”, poker does tick all of the boxes. At least to some extent. But for now, the discussion continues. So don’t expect to see Phil Hellmuth winning gold at the Olympic Games any time soon.