Is Poker a sport?

At some point in most poker players lives they found themselves competing in a variety of sports. They may have played one of the major sports: Hockey, Football, Baseball, Basketball or perhaps a recreational sports such as Golf, Bowling, Tennis, or Curling. When a poker player sits down to compete. Could the game we all love to play be considered a sport? Before comparing poker to a variety of athletic, team or individual sports. Let us begin with examining the definition of a sport as well as defining sporting to help find out the requirements poker would need to meet in an effort to be classified a sport.

Sport by definition is: (noun) game, activity for pleasure, competition, exercise; enjoyment, or an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature. 

Sporting is: (adjective) of sport; behaving with fairness, generosity.

By definition the game of poker meets most of the requirements necessary to be classified a sport. But one glaring area not found in the game of poker is the fact that poker does not include an athletic element found in all major sports and most Olympic events or competitions and may be the reason that poker never be considered more than just a game. Words such as game, competition, activity, skill and enjoyment do in fact help to highlight why the question whether poker is a sport is a legitimate debate. Sports such as Golf, Bowling and Curling have faced similar scrutiny with regards to their classification as sports. Each have years of tradition, a popularity supported by mass quantities of fans and an exposure generated by television coverage that has contributed to their social acceptance as legitimate sports. The game of poker is still evolving or undergoing dramatic transformation in terms of the game, itʼs popularity and social acceptance. 

Examining the evolution of poker over the years will help highlight the stage of development the game of poker is currently. Historically, the game of poker in North America dates back hundreds to the days of the old west. Gun slinging gamblers cheating at cards for money and property deeds was the dominant image of the early days of poker. That was until Las Vegas casinos began to change it all for gamblers. Mobsters and organized crime did a great job of making casinos a relatively safe place for people to come and lose their money. Since poker is impervious to house advantage and unbeatable odds, it is understandable why poker has begun to shed the image of it being a game of gambling and has been replaced by a set of skills including mathematical calculation of probabilities. Even with the new image it was one event that proceeded to change everything! It was the E.S.P.N. broadcast of the 2003 World Series of Poker. That event was a combination of excitement generated by a lucky win of 2.5 million dollars by an amateur Chris Moneymaker and horrible bad beats to the top professionals. This event gave the world a reason to not only watch poker but to learn the game and try to earn their fortune playing the game. Since then the rest is history and we now find ourselves deep into the debate over whether poker has come far enough to be considered the next legitimate sport. Another game to under go such a dramatic rise in popularity. Going from a fringe sport to the public acceptance as a legitimate sporting event to now being at the height of itʼspopularity (quite possibly the 5th major sport) is the game of golf. The following will highlight the similarities and differences between the games of golf and poker.

The sport of golf has traditionally been viewed as just a recreational activity for rich older gentleman due to the lack of a pure athletic component. That perception all changed with the Tiger Woods era pushing the limits of possibilities and transforming golf into an athletic competition. This change coupled with a dramatic increase in popularity has catapulted golf into mainstream status held for the most part by only the four major sports. In recent years the game of poker has gone through its own boom in popularity, television coverage, increase in sponsorships and prize money and the rethinking of the status of golf in the sporting world. Below is a chart comparing golf and poker in a number of areas.

It is apparent that the game of golf with a rich history has evolved into a sport in which the worlds best can compete in an organized tour and be rewarded for their skill and achievements with very little risk. The game of poker is still in an infant stage of development and will require a governing body to spearhead the organization and development of the game of poker. In Canada the Canadian Poker Tour (C.P.T.) Is the governing body that has every intention of coordinating the game of poker, poker tournaments, standardizing of rules, and establishing a sound legitimate poker tour. With the cooperation of Canadian casinos the C.P.T. will help facilitate a continued growth in television exposure and sponsorships while aiding in maintaining the popularity of poker. Whether the game of poker will ever be regarded as a sport within Canada remains to be seen. As in all avenues of life critics will form a number of arguments against the game of poker ever being regarded as a sport.

It is just a game. Similarly to other skilled games such as chess, pool / billiards and darts the game of poker may always be listed in this category due to the lack of athletic and physical elements. Other games such as bowling, curling and some Olympic events might be meet the minimum requirements of physical and athletic elements necessary to qualify them as sports. The number one obstacle will always be the lack of physical and athletic elements. The luck factor that occurs from hand to hand and tournament to tournament also presents critics with the belief that the element of chance outweighs skill. Thus detracting from a players ability to take charge of their own game and control the future outcome of the event. The laws of human nature encourage a favorite and an underdog. To stay consistent with this idea the favorite or hero must win the majority of the time. The game of poker does not allow this to occur due to the randomness of the turn of a card and in turn the resulting fortune. Even though poker players do not have physical control over the event or their game the competition is pure, exciting and quite possibly unmatched in the sporting world.

No other sporting event offers every player: pros, wanna-beʼs, amateurs and first timers the opportunity to not only compete but to beat the best in the game for large amounts of money, awards and prestige. We all know that poker will never be an athletic or physical game but can the intense competition of skill amongst players be enough on its own to catapult the game of poker into the category of widely accepted sports. Only time will tell. Any poker player can tell the casual observer there is so much more to the game of poker than what is generally seen through poker on television. Poker may not perfectly meet the requirements necessary to be considered a sport. However in the absence of sport, poker offers the best

suitable substitute for a challenging competition available to everyone. Poker players form a community behaving in fairness and well not so much generosity which are both required to meet the definition of sporting. We all engage in the game for activity, pleasure, competition, enjoyment, require skill and are of a competitive nature. Which are all aspects of the definition of sport. Once again poker may not perfectly meet the requirements necessary to be considered a sport. But if we all keep playing the game we love so much, and we challenge ourselves to take the competition to a level not yet achieved then the next decade might reveal the answer to the question.