Op-Ed: Is poker a sport?

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Nov 21, 2010 Posted in Op-Ed | No Comments »

The World Series of Poker Main Event is often called the richest prize in sports, but is it really a sport? Even though poker telecasts can mainly be found on sports channels like ESPN and FOX Sports but does this lend credence to the ‘poker is a sport’ notion?

The short answer would of course be, NO! But the short answer would make for a very quick column! So let me explain why poker cannot be lumped into the “sport” category with other low-fitness-level games like bowling, golf, and even darts –all of which I think fit the description of “Sport” where poker does not.

Personally I think poker is a competitive activity, but not a sport. The reason I say this is because in my view there are two major factors necessary in order to call an activity a sport:

1.    Is the activity competitive with a clear-cut winner(s)?
2.    Is the prominent skill needed to compete a physical talent?

So on point #1 poker definitely fits the bill; the game is definitely a competitive affair that has a clear-cut winner(s). Coincidentally, this is why I don’t consider activities like figure skating, gymnastics and diving sports; even though they definitely fit the bill for Point #2 (as you’ll see below) there is no clear-cut winner, so in my mind they are athletic competitions, not sports. Speed-Skating, Hockey, Track & Field, Swimming and so on are all sports because we know who won –we don’t have to be informed by a panel of judges.

Point #2 is where poker loses its bid at becoming a sport, since unlike other easy-going past-times like bowling, golf, darts and curling –where success principally relies on a person’s motor skills — poker is primarily a mental game. Yes, people will argue that the ability to have the stamina to stay awake, and remain in peak mental condition, comes from being in good health. But this is a supplementary skill to the intellectual side of the game –I mean nobody would argue that performing 13 hours of Open Heart Surgery makes a doctor an athlete.

Let me look at the least active “sport” I mentioned above to explain why Darts is a sport and Poker is not –even though you expend about the same amount of energy at each endeavor. Playing darts involves hand and eye coordination and to be a proficient Dart player requires you to put in countless hours of performing a dexterous feat. On the other hand a poker player could fumble their cards, knock over chips, and fall out of their chair and it wouldn’t affect the outcome of the hand, because poker is not based on physical prowess of any kind, but on mental prowess.

So is poker a sport? The answer would be NO. Is poker a game? Again, I think the answer would be NO. So, what is poker? In my opinion poker is a competition the same as Chess or Backgammon.

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