Is poker a real sport?


Fact Box

  • The origins of modern-day poker are varied, with roots dating back 1,000 years to a 10th-century Chinese emperor's domino card game, a Persian card game called As Nas, and a 17th-century French card game called Poque that was brought to America by French settlers. 
  • Poker player Antonio Esfandiari won the largest prize in the history of the World Series of Poker in December of 2020, taking home more than $18 million.
  • The first real-money poker game played online took place in 1998.  
  • In 2010, the International Mind Sports Association officially accepted poker as a 'mind sport' alongside other mind sports such as chess and bridge.

Jay (Yes)

Poker is absolutely a sport. The Oxford Dictionary defines sport as 'an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or a team competes against another or others for entertainment (or prizes).' In poker, players challenge each other at the same table or against multiple tables online in a competition to determine who has a winning hand to win prize money, and they do so with mastery and physical finesse.  

Yes, poker is a game—in the same sense that any activity involving cards and governed by a set of rules can be called a game—but it is also much more. Poker relies on skill, not luck. Players need to practice and hone their expertise over years of competition to be successful.

Also, poker tournaments at the professional level can last 8-10 hours. Poker players need to be physically and mentally tough to perform at their best. Many professional players run, swim and practice yoga to remain in shape. Poker also requires an intense amount of muscle control not to give away a 'good hand.' Players need to control their breathing, movements, heart rate, blink frequency, hands and arms while handling cards and chips, and even their voice inflection. Not doing so is a clear 'tell' that other players can pick up on, making it easy for them to defeat a player who is not in control of their physical faculties.

Finally, ESPN, which is known as 'the world's leading multinational, multimedia sports entertainment enterprise,' broadcasts the World Series of Poker, a move that places as much importance on poker as a sport as is placed on other traditionally recognized endeavors like football and basketball. 

Tyler (No)

While watching an intense poker match may be something to marvel at, poker is absolutely not a sport. And just because it involves competition, poker does not automatically qualify as an athletic event. 

Firstly, there is no physical exertion in poker. Even the sports that do not face any direct defense or competition require some form of athletic prowess. Sports like table tennis and golf may not appear to be very physically demanding, but they require a superb level of hand-eye coordination wholly unnecessary for a poker player. The only real physical movement in poker occurs when the player picks up or places down their chips.

Being a professional poker player certainly requires skill, but that is all. Playing a collegiate or professional sport requires grueling physical and mental conditioning, while sharpening a skill can only be done with repetition. Poker players do not need to spend hours in the gym to perfect their craft; they simply play more poker.

Poker is the only 'sport' where money is being gambled, a practice that is completely frowned upon in every other professional sport. Although players sign contracts in professional sports, they do not have the money essentially being waved in their faces throughout the entire competition. 

Further, sports are so celebrated in society because, among other things, fans appreciate the passion that players hold for their team and the city that they play for. Poker fails to gain that traction with fans due to the obvious fact that the only goal of a poker game is to win money.

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