Trying to get an answer to the question – is poker a sport? – is like drawing blood from a stone. It’s far from straightforward and depends on who you ask.
In this article, we present the case that poker is undoubtedly a mind game that can be regarded as a sport based on the parameters used to define many of the other games that we all know and love.
So, is poker a sport?
Sport is defined as any skilful competition between individuals (or teams) for the purposes of entertainment. Therefore, it’s easy to see why poker can undoubtedly be regarded as a sport with those parameters considered.
Poker requires a high level of skill and strategy to outplay any opponent at any stage, be it in a friendly game at home or a high-stakes poker room at a casino. While some casino games (like baccarat) are entirely down to luck, poker is all about the skill and experience of the players sitting around the table.
Of course, there’s an element of luck involved in poker. But what sport doesn’t have luck? Be it a deflected goal in soccer or a fortuitous bounce into the hole on the golf course, all sportspeople rely on luck from time to time to supplement their skill, ability, and strategy.
Equally, poker is highly entertaining, with huge global audiences tuning into live poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker throughout the calendar year.
When you look at the winners of significant poker events over the years, it’s little surprise to see the best generational poker players with the most prize money and bracelets. Their success is defined by their skill, not merely by the luck of the draw.
Poker as a “mind game”
On the flip side, some people have a problem with poker being a sport as it’s a card game played by people sitting around a table, and it doesn’t require much physical exertion.
But in this respect, poker is similar to pool, snooker, and darts, all of which are considered sports. To be one of the best poker players in the world, you don’t need to have an athletic body type. But you do need a great deal of mental acuity and concentration.
Therefore, poker has been defined as a “mind game” and often draws comparisons to chess. Sitting down at a poker table requires hours and hours of concentration. It also rewards players who are good at reading people and those who can develop a poker face to shield their current hand from other players.
While poker players might not have to be able to run a five-minute mile, the amount of concentration required to excel at poker is remarkable. We would go as far as to say that the mental challenges posed by poker are perhaps only comparable to those experienced by chess players, such is the difficulty of succeeding at the poker table.
The WOW and entertainment factors
People spend a lot of time worrying about classifications, and it would be fruitless to try and convince everyone that poker is a bona fide sport. But to get to the bottom of this debate, we want to highlight the number one reason why people worldwide are drawn to sport – for entertainment.
Whether you support a soccer, basketball, or rugby team or have a favourite golfer, tennis star, or snooker player, you tune into sport in the first place to be entertained. Why would you bother with the sport if not to be entertained?
When it comes to entertainment, poker has the WOW factor. When you tune into high-stakes poker games and realise that the players at the table are playing for millions of dollars, you quickly buy into the pressure and what is at stake.
Watching the best players in the world go up against each other in a no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament at the WSOP is as entertaining as any other major sporting event on the calendar, be it the US Open tennis, the Masters golf tournament, or even the Super Bowl.
There is so much at stake, and players are playing for glory at the poker table, just as athletes in other sports are trying to become the best in the world in their disciplines.
So, as far as entertainment is concerned, poker is just as much of a sport as any other individual or team-based competition. If you disagree, tune into a high-stakes poker tournament or cash game live and see for yourself.
Our verdict: is poker a sport?
Without getting caught up in a semantic debate, there’s no reason why poker cannot be regarded as a sport. That being said, we think the best classification for poker is that it’s a mind game or mind sport due to the incredible mental acuity and concentration required to be the best in the world.
No matter how you regard poker, it is skilful, competitive, and entertaining, making it as worth watching as practically any other sport or game on the planet.