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Is Poker a Sport? - Part 1

Is Poker a Sport? - Part 1 0001

Like quite a lot of poker players, I was pretty awful at most sports when I was at school, then as an adult I entered a few marathons and got some reasonable times, I was happy enough just to have finished them. I then entered a local charity 5k fun run and managed to finish 3rd out of about 200 runners. This to me was an achievement and I immediately used my remaining stores of energy to ask the events organiser where the results were being published and where my medal was.

His reply:

"It's just a fun run".

I was devastated, this was an organised event and I was due a bronze medal, and more importantly I was due for this to be recorded somewhere where everyone could read (but nobody probably would) that I had come in 3rd place, Bronze medal position, in a real proper race with proper runners. How dare he reduce my achievements down to a mere fun run, in fact, where the hell was the Lord Mayor, the local newspaper and the people from Sky Sports?

And then I realised it was just a fun run, nothing serious, nobody cared, it was just a bit of fun.

I think it is the same need to feel validated I felt that day that many of us poker players feel when we describe poker as a sport. We all know that is a game of skill, with elements of chance, and to the non poker playing majority the element of chance seems to cloud their judgement of the rest of the game. The non poker player will look at poker in terms of a casino game and all the negative stereotypes associated with it, such as drinking, smoking and gambling addiction. When we poker players make the sport comparison, we are describing it as we want it to be seen - glamorous, disciplined and above all, skilful.

I have stumbled across many dictionary type definitions of sport, some of which I could have used because they would clearly define poker as a sport, however the following is from our good friends at the Oxford English Dictionary, not only are Oxford probably the most reputable but their definition highlights the problem people have with thinking of poker as a sport:

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

The competition we have no problem with here, poker is of course a competitive game against other people instead of the house. The skill element I hope nobody disagrees with because if you are a poker player and you don't accept the skill element involved then you probably are a very weak player and are welcome to my home game any time.

The clear difference between poker and other commonly agreed upon sports is the physical aspect, most impartial observers employ a no sweat, no sport system of judging whether something is a sport or not. Poker is far from a physical game, however anyone who has participated in a live tournament that spans several days will tell you differently. Those things are physically exhausting and to be able to play your best game after days of poker with little or no sleep is nothing short of actual physical ability. But using tournament poker as an advocate for the poker is a sport argument, that would mean discounting cash games and internet tournaments because of the fact they can be relatively short pursuits.

Tournament poker may be a test of endurance, but the dynamics of a single hand can hardly be considered anything but a mental activity. Doyle Brunson could hardly be considered an athlete, a senior citizen and rather on the portly side, yet he is still to this day one of the best players in the world.

Most people will never see past the lack of physical exertion when categorising what is and isn't a sport, however there are a number of physical competitions that are also questionable as sports, I'm not saying for one moment that any of these are not sport, in fact I think they are, just that the physical is not what solely makes them a sport:

Darts and Snooker

Are not physically exerting, the players will tell you differently just like we say poker tournaments are a hard slog, but these games are about hand-eye coordination. Both can take place in the pub, just as poker can take place in the casino, neither of which are hardly the setting for future Olympic bidding committees. Most Darts players are actually fat lads that couldn't run for a bus, yet they are eligible for sports personality of the year.

Motor Sport

The fact of the matter is I could beat any F1 driver in a race (on a not too bendy terrain) if I had a Ferrari and they had the granny wagon I call a car. Sporting equipment is paramount to the success of a motor sports team, and the driving ability of the pilot, rather than their physical ability, is what makes a difference.


Described by those that do it as the only sport, body building is an interesting paradox. On the one hand it is one of the most extreme physical pursuits, bodybuilders eat, sleep and breath weightlifting and take their bodies places they were never meant to go. On the other hand, they just stand there. They don't have to actually do anything extra on the day of competition, the competition is everything that led up to that point, and then a judge does the rest. Physical it may be, but the competition and skill elements are debatable.

There are a great deal of other sports that could be mentioned as questionable but I think I've made my point, that the physical is by no means what makes a sport a sport. I shall be picking up where I left off next week. This debate reminds me of another controversial topic for which there are no easy answers…..

...Is a Jaffa Cake a cake, or a biscuit? (A biscuit of course)

Ed note: There are no easy answers on how to build a bank roll. That is, unless you download Mansion Poker and claim a huge $1,000 bonus! of course.

What do you think?

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