The debate as to whether or not Poker is a Sport rage on…

Over the years opinions have differed on the subject of poker being a sport, and the argument continues. On the one hand, some focus on the skill factor (for example), thus suggesting it’s a sport, while on the other there are those who see it as a game of chance.

Although poker was officially awarded the title of “Thinking” a few years ago by the International Minds Sports Association (IMSA) – this does not necessarily mean that everyone accepts such a judgment. According to the IMSA, poker joins the group of chess, drafts, and bridge.

While it is true that the distribution of cards is determined by a random principle no different to our being unable to influence where the ball lands in roulette, there are so many other factors that do indeed fall under our influence as poker players, and it’s this human influence that demands acknowledgment.

We make decisions by ourselves, independently of others. Add to this the fact that poker is a game of mathematics and definable probabilities, and that we as players approach the game based on our understanding of such key elements, with some being more skillful than others, and the skill factor easily outweighs that of luck.

A characteristic of sport is the importance of training and generally working on our game to improve and so on, and this is absolutely typical of poker. Professional poker players work hard on their game and spend a lot of time analyzing not only their own strategies but those of others, too. Furthermore, top players subscribe to the old adage of a healthy body leading to a healthy mind. The old-fashioned stereotyped view of hard-drinking, chain-smoking, out of shape people in a smoke-filled room is no longer relevant (and never really was). Poker – just like sport – sees the better player (and the better-prepared player) win!

A casual player who just plays for fun can never be as good as someone who takes the game seriously on a daily basis, and such a truism is one of the things that points quite clearly to poker being a sport.

It is a fact that, in the long-term, the better player prevails but, in the short-term, even total beginners can beat the best in the world thanks to the luck factor. This is the key argument of those who claim poker is not a sport, but a game of chance.

Let’s take football as an example. How often does it happen that top teams lose to amateurs? Of course, in 20 such matches, we can be pretty sure of the results, but there are exceptions. Sometimes the so-called no-hopers emerge very lucky winners. Accidents do happen. So, again, based on such criteria, poker still fits as a sport.

Conclusion

It will be good news for the poker world if the game is given an official, objective definition. However, the word ‘sport’ isn’t conventionally associated with what we do in poker as it’s usually linked to different forms of movement, play and competition, relating more to physical activities. We know that poker doesn’t require physical exertion – hence the similarities with chess, or bridge, and consequently being categorised as a brain game.

But if you play poker professionally, or for any length of time, then of course there are absolutely physical elements as it’s imperative to maintain focus and to be able to analyse just as clearly after many hours as. As with chess, top poker players are aware of the health requirements, and it’s simply not possible to stay at the top of your game, being just as effective after the 200th hand as after the first, without being physically fit.

As it stands, there are increasingly more opinions coming to the fore that firmly class poker as a sport, and as sharing the same prerequisite conditions to justify such a definition. Clear ‘official’ definitions would certainly make a big difference to the industry on numerous levels, but this might take a while given the public perception of poker as a gambling game of chance…

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Daniel Berger

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The last changes of the page “Is Poker a Sport?” was made by Daniel Berger on January 21, 2021