Is Poker a Sport?

When it comes to defining what kind of competitions are and aren’t a sport, it can get a little difficult. For example, pretty much everyone agrees that major sports such as baseball and football are in fact sports with athletes playing them. Even individual sports like tennis would qualify. But moving down the ladder of competitive endeavors, it gets a little tricker. What about bar games like darts? 

Another competitive activity that has some debate surrounding it is poker. While no one would argue it doesn’t require some level of skill, some aren’t so sure whether it’s a sport. Let’s take a closer look at answering the question: is poker a sport? 

How do you play poker?

According to SportsKeeda, poker is a card game that involves both skill and luck. There are multiple versions of poker one can play, but the hands are the same no matter what type of game it is.

There is a hierarchy of hands a player can get. After cards are dealt, players can then wager based on the strength of their hand. Their hand doesn’t necessarily need to be strong to place a large wager.

Players with a weak hand can place any bet they like and hope that the other player doesn’t realize the weakness of their hand. This is known as bluffing. 

Poker requires the ability to analyze both cards and people. Take Texas Hold ‘Em for example, one of the easiest poker games to play. Five cards are dealt communally to the table, while two are dealt to each player individually.

Players place bets, and it’s on them to determine the quality of the other players’ hands based on the bet they place, the probability of them having a specific hand, and any “tells” the players show about what hand they have. 

The argument against this game being a sport

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An ESPN piece about whether poker was a sport first set out to answer the question: what is the official definition of the term “sport?” Here’s what they came up with, from the American Heritage Dictionary: 

“1.) An active pastime; diversion; recreation.

2.) A specific diversion, usually involving physical exercise and having a set form and body of rules; a game.”

The best argument against poker as a sport lies with the “physical exercise” component of that definition. Poker players often sit for long periods of time, barely moving their bodies other than to throw their cards in after folding. 

When one thinks of sports, they think of action and activity. There’s very little of that in poker, as players remain stationary for the entire game or session.

There’s also no defense involved. No one is physically trying to inhibit a player’s progress during poker, which is a hallmark of many sports. 

The argument that poker is a sport

Of course, there is an argument that poker is a sport as well. By using the definition outlined above, poker definitely qualifies as a pastime, diversion, and recreation.

It is also most certainly a game. But the best argument for poker as a sport is that to be successful at it over a long period of time, you need a high degree of skill. 

Yes, it’s true that you’ll spend little physical energy playing poker. But mental energy? That’s a different story. Good poker players understand probability and statistics.

They must calculate their chances of winning or losing a hand within seconds. They also must be well-versed in reading the body language of opposing players. This requires an innate understanding of human psychology. 

Sure, some poker players can bet a lot on one hand without looking at their cards, and they may win a hand or two that way. But that kind of poker player isn’t successful over a long period of time. The amount of skill required to be a great poker player means it could definitely be identified as a sport.